If you’re looking for a docile, sweet-natured breed of chicken to raise, the Brahma just might be the right choice for you. This breed, often called the “King of Chickens”, can be raised for eggs or meat, although the Brahma’s relaxed temperament makes it the perfect backyard pet, too.
The Storied History of the Brahma
Few breeds of chicken have a history as remarkable as that of the Brahma. Their history is plagued with controversy, but we do know that the breed was developed in the United States from birds imported from Shanghai, China. The imported Chinese birds were what we know today as the Cochin breed.
When compared, Cochins and Brahmas do look strikingly similar–both are large with feathered legs, and both breeds are known for being very docile. However, Cochins have a single comb, with the Brahma having a pea comb.
After its development, the Brahma breed received significant positive press in 1852. A Brahma breeder named George Burnham sent nine Brahmas as a gift to England’s Queen Victoria. The gift was offered in an effort to promote the breed, and it worked–the price for a pair increased nearly tenfold, from $12-$15 to $100-$150.
Until the 1930s, the Brahma was also the bird most commonly raised for meat in the United States. Since Brahmas are large–they routinely weigh 10 pounds or more–they were an economical choice, and just one could feel a family. However, as faster-developing production birds rose to prominence, Brahmas were replaced as America’s most popular meat bird.
Today, Brahmas are regarded as a “heritage breed” of chicken by the Livestock Conservancy. This organization identifies breeds as at risk for extinction and encourages poultry keepers to raise them. It’s a stark contrast to Brahma’s former popularity. But as more keepers discover this good-natured, versatile breed, Brahmas are slowly making a comeback.
The Breed Standard and Appearance
Part of the appeal of Brahma chickens comes from their distinctive colors. The American Poultry Association recognizes three color varieties:
- Light–These birds are white in color with black feathering on their heads and tails. These black feathers usually appear to be laced in white. Light Brahmas are generally heavier than Dark Brahmas.
- Dark–These birds appear to covered in an intricate, lace-like pattern. Feathers are primarily dark with white lacing. Roosters tend to have more white, especially on the hackles and saddle feathers.
- Buff–The Buff Brahma looks much like the Light Brahma, with the white feathers being replaced by a soft golden color.
Brahmas are also known for being very large chickens, and their ample feathering makes them appear even larger. This video of a Light Brahma rooster may help give you an idea of the sheer size of some of these birds. Roosters are often about 12 pounds, with hens weighing about 10.
These birds have an appearance that’s often described as both sturdy and proud. They appear to stand tall, and their thick legs are covered with ample feathering. They have what’s known as a “beetle brow,”
which means that their forehead reaches slightly over the eyes. This gives them the appearance of a prominent brow.
They also have pea combs. Since these combs are small and close to the head, they aren’t as susceptible to cold as breeds with larger combs. This feature, combined with their dense feathering and thick down layer makes them very resistant to cold. In fact, their dense feathering means that Brahmas are often uncomfortable in hot, southern climates–they’re ideal for poultry keepers who frequently experience colder weather.
Personality and Temperament
In one word, the Brahma can be described as calm. These birds are easy keepers who seem to enjoy interacting with people, and many owners even describe them as being huggable. Especially if you raise your flock from the time they’re chicks, Brahmas are likely to be interested in people, and they’re easy to handle.
Any chicken keeper knows that even small flocks can be filled with drama–some of the more active breeds tend to pick fights and reinforce their pecking order, sometimes with bloody results. However, Brahmas are very tolerant of other birds, even those of different breeds. In fact, they’re so peaceful that you can often keep multiple Brahma roosters in the same flock without incident.
These are also birds who tolerate confinement fairly well–they aren’t as active as many breeds, and they can be contained with fairly short fences. Of course, some of this is due to their size. While they are muscular birds, their sheer weight makes it difficult for them to fly, and their quiet nature usually means they’re content to meander around a fenced yard.
Though they were once a popular meat breed, Brahmas are known for their laying ability. In particular, they are prized for their ability to continue laying even in cold weather. Brahma eggs are a soft brown in color, and they tend to be fairly large.
Of course, you can’t expect a Brahma to match a true production breed in terms of eggs laid, but they lay very well for birds of their size.
And while it isn’t quite the same as egg laying, Brahmas do have another advantage–they tend to be fairly broody. Hens will faithfully sit on their nests, and they are usually attentive mothers to chicks. That said, if you intend to use them for their setting capabilities, you may need to protect the chicks when they’re very small. Because Brahma hens are large, they may accidentally injure or kill chicks if they step on them.
Health Issues and Care
Generally speaking, the Brahma is an extraordinarily hardy breed of chicken. However, there are a few things you’ll need to pay attention to if you choose to add them to your flock.
The first issue is that of feathering on the feet. When clean, the Brahma’s additional feathering adds to their majestic look. However, because the feathering touches the ground, it’s prone to getting mud caked onto it. If your birds end up walking through mud in warm weather, it isn’t likely to cause any issues.
However, if the feet become muddy in winter, they need to be cleaned and monitored closely. If the feathers become wet or muddy and then freeze, it can cause frostbite, which is very painful for the chickens. In severe cases, it may even mean parts of their toes need to be surgically removed.
The other issue is heat. Brahmas are birds who do best in cooler climates–their heavy layer of down and large body size mean they have trouble keeping cool in the summers, especially if they’re kept in a warm climate.
To keep Brahmas healthy and comfortable in the summer, make sure they have access to shade and plenty of fresh, clean water. If you only have one or two and have the space in your home, you can even occasionally bring them inside for a few hours to give them a break from high heat.
4 Tips for Raising Your Brahmas
As chicken breeds go, Brahmas are relatively easy to raise. The following tips will help you create the optimal environment for your new flock:
1. Spend Time With Them–Especially Early On
Most Brahma owners describe their birds as being very friendly. If you want to keep your birds as pets, spend time with them, especially when they’re young.
Frequently handling and talking to chicks helps them get used to you and learn that you aren’t a threat. With time, your Brahmas will likely eat out of your hand or even come up to you to let you pick them up.
2. Offer a Secure Coop With Plenty of Space
With any breed of chicken, it’s important to give them a coop that protects them from predators. If your coop has an attached run, make sure you can shut your chickens into the house portion of the coop at night–this adds extra protection from predators.
When you purchase or build a coop for Brahmas, make sure they will have extra space to walk around. Commercial coops often are advertised with an estimate of how many birds they can hold. Since Brahmas are larger than most breeds, you may want to reduce this estimate in order to make sure your chickens don’t feel crowded.
3. Be Sure to Keep the Coop Clean
Since the feathering on their legs can easily become dirty, be sure to regularly clean and sanitize your coop. A clean coop also helps keep your birds healthier and happier.
4. Give Them Space to Roam
Brahmas are slower-moving chickens than most, but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate room to explore and forage. If you can’t let your birds be free-range most of the time, consider a coop with an attached run.
A covered run is ideal since it protects them from sun and rain. If your birds will be outside in the heat, be especially careful to make sure they have access to water and shade.
Whether you want a flock of reliable winter layers or a few backyard pets, the Brahma is an excellent choice. These people-oriented birds are quiet, easy to contain, and peaceful, and they coexist easily with other breeds, too.
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance flock, a few Brahmas (or many!) can add some joy to your life.