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A Guide to Brahma Chickens: The King of Poultry

A Guide to Brahma Chickens: The King of Poultry

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The Brahma chicken is often called the “King of All Poultry” because of its size, vigor, and strength. If you have been looking for a variety of chicken to rule your roost, or you want a chicken that provides plenty of meat while still maintaining a dual purpose classification, then you should consider the Brahma breed.

Are you interested in learning more about the Brahma? In this article, we will take a deep dive into the Brahma’s controversial history, their well-known behavior, and the unique characteristics of the whole breed. Read on to get a complete background on this chicken before adding them to your flock.

Is the Brahma chicken right for your flock?

  • Attractive breed that is great for both kids and beginners
  • Lays about 130-150 large brown eggs each year
  • Dual purpose chicken provides eggs and meat
  • Very cold hardy, however is not well suited for the heat
buff brahma chicken

Background & History of the Brahma Chicken

The Brahma chicken breed has one of the most controversial origins out of all the chicken breeds. Even chickens with an ancient lineage like the Silkie chicken have more concrete facts known about their origin story than the Brahma.

These chickens are thought to originally have been bred by farmers and chicken keepers in the early ages of America, or bred in India and adjoining parts of China and then almost immediately brought over to America by immigrants. 

Brahmas were likely bred from very large fowls the settlers imported from China via the Shanghai port. However, it wasn’t only Chinese and American stock used to create this incredible specimen of a bird.

It seems clear to most scholars that the breed also has some Indian fowl involved in their original breeding. The Chittagong fowls from modern-day Bangladesh (then India) were involved to a small degree. They had a heavy influence on the stamped head of our modern Brahma and their comb characteristics.

These features set them apart from the Shanghai breed known as the Cochin, which was initially credited for most of the breed’s genetics.

Interestingly, while these birds garnered all kinds of favor and accolades on North American shores, they were neglected in India and China.

buff brahma chicken

Most of the Brahma’s lost history is because of the lack of written standards in the early days of America. In addition, there were no poultry associations or registries that helped us keep track of the Brahma during their development.

Another issue of the time was the lack of standardization and clarity. For example, the Brahma chicken was originally being presented under about a dozen different names. It wasn’t until after poultry associations started being formed and poultry judges were appointed that there was more of a standard set for the chicken.

Judges finally gave the Brahma chicken its name in 1852, when poultry judges came together in Massachusetts to decide once and for all what this chicken was. 

At this convention of poultry professionals, the name Brahmaputra (often misspelled as brahma pootra) was chosen to pay homage to their origin species. It gets the name from the River Brahmaputra, a stream in Assam where the breed either originated or where their ancestors came from, depending on the accepted origins story.

The name was later shorted to “Brahma,” but they are still officially Brahmaputra chickens. The credit for the shortened name goes to T.B. Miner, who published The Northern Farmer at the time. He shortened their name in 1853 or 1854, for a practical reason, to save space on his pages!

Nowadays, they are widely recognized as Brahma chickens. However, you might also hear them called Burnham chickens, Shanghai chickens, and Gray Chittagong chickens to avoid confusion. Why Gray Chittagong? Read on for more of their quirky history.

Although the chickens had likely been around for a while, no one is clear exactly when they were developed, and they weren’t well-known until the early 1850s. Their popularization came from an enterprising chicken farmer, Mr. George Burnham. 

Mr. Burnham wanted to promote his unique chicken stock. To do this in the best way possible, he contacted the current queen of England, Her Majesty Queen Victoria. He sent her a gift of nine of his finest Brahmas and publicized the gift widely. 

When the royal family accepted them into their flocks, the prices and desirability for the birds skyrocketed. The price for a pair of Brahmas escalated almost overnight from an average of $14 per pair to $100 to $150. 

Burnham’s pride in his stock wasn’t unfounded. His birds proved to be of high quality and formed the foundation for the Dark Brahma variety developed in England. These birds were later shipped back to America to tie together the modern lines of Brahma chickens we have today.

Because of the age and popularity of the Brahma in the United States, they are classified as a heritage breed. Regardless of their heritage status and original popularity, the breed numbers fell into despair after the 1930s when other breeds of chickens began hitting the market and dominating the meat and egg production scene.

Fortunately, in the last 20 years, heritage breeds and diversification of flocks have been making a comeback. This movement has helped the Brahma chicken climb out of the “Watch” list. Now they are classified as a “Recovering” species.

Light brahma hen and rooster

Temperament & Behavior

One of the most significant reasons for a Brahma’s favor among those that raised chickens was their easygoing personalities. They were unrivaled regarding their behavior on the farm as a large breed chicken that was still calm and docile instead of dominating.

These chickens are often a good option for kids or those beginners raising chickens trying to start a new flock. If you want them to become similar to a pet enjoying the company of humans, you can efficiently train them to be comfortable around humans. They even become pretty good at cuddling.

These chickens are a gentle, giant chicken. If your child is intimidated by them at first, give them time to adapt to the size of the chicken. Then, all you need to tame your Brahma is a handful of treats. In time, your Brahma will learn that the best place for treats and love is in your lap.

Because of their calm personality, they handle confinement exceptionally well and are not very active compared to Mediterranean breeds like the Leghorn. Instead, the Cochin in them keeps them in a small radius around the yard.

Due to their large size, they are not very flighty and cannot fly over structures that try to contain them, even low fences. Beyond that, they are simply not that inclined to try unless terrified.

The Brahma hen is well known to go broody in early summer, with the rest of the year seeing them quite relaxed about the state of their eggs. From April to June, they are likely to sit as a broody hen on their nests. 

Keep an eye on the baby chicks when they first hatch. A Brahma chick needs to be guarded against trampling for the first couple of days due to the mother hen’s large size.

The Brahma breed is moderately noisy. They don’t produce a considerable amount of noise compared to other chicken breeds. No matter how docile the breed is, though, the Brahma cockerel will crow. If you are worried about the noise level, you might want a hen-only flock.

buff brahma chicken with baby chicks

Breed Specifics & Traits

Brahmas were immediately recognized for their practical qualities as a large bird. They are good egg layers for their size. They are also widely considered to be a superior winter layer compared to other chicken breeds. They produce the majority of their eggs from October to May.

More importantly than their skill at egg-laying, they were long considered the leading meat chicken. From the 1850s until about 1930, the public held these chickens in the highest esteem as a meat bird. For those 70 years, the Brahmas were at their height of popularity. 

When used as a broiler, Brahmas are harvested young, between only 8 to 10 weeks old. A large, fully-grown Brahma chicken can feed a moderate-sized family, which is why they were often kept for meat on farms and homesteads. Even now, their size, temperament, and usefulness make them a common family fowl.

Appearance

While there is a variety of appearances and colors a Brahma can have, they tend to come in three distinct varieties. Specific color patterns and plumage types might set them further apart or make them more valuable in some cases. 

The three primary varieties include:

  • Light
  • Dark
  • Buff

The names are highly suggestive. For a bit more of a visual, you can expect the light Brahma chicken to have contrasting white and black feathers. The white feathers tend to have a gray undertone, while the black has a white stripe around their edges to make them distinctive. 

The dark Brahma varies based on its sex, unlike the other colors. The Brahma rooster will have a solid black body, breast, and tail with silver saddle feathers. They can also have a silver shoulder area. The hens have greyish wings, breasts, and bodies with black penciling. Their hackles are black with grey penciling.

Finally, the buff Brahma chicken closely resembles the light Brahmas feather pattern. In place of the white color, buff takes its place. The warmer coloration often makes them a favorite among breeders and those that take their chickens to exhibitions.

You should note that they don’t breed true to color if you intend to breed these chickens. So whether you have a “light” or a “dark” Brahma, you can get any color type from them.

light brahma chicken

Size & Weight

The standard weights for Brahmas as set by the American Poultry Association are 10-12 pounds for cockerels and 8-9.5 pounds for hens.

The Brahma breed also holds the record for the second-largest standard weight with a mature bird and can weigh 18 pounds!

Their body shapes and appearances are pretty recognizable compared to other chicken breeds. They tend to be a heavy-boned breed, as you might imagine from such a large chicken breed. They have a pea comb and very small wattles. Hens display a dewlap between the wattles.

The Brahma’s head is highly characteristic of the breed. They have large, broad heads with a characteristic “beetle brow,” so-called because of its shape. 

Their entire body is relatively long and wide but very deep. Their level back sweeps up into their tail beautiful, short tails. You should also note that they have feathered feet and feathered legs which might need some maintenance in muddy areas.

dark brahma chicken

Health and Life Span

Another one of the most significant pros of the Brahma chicken is its hardiness. These birds can withstand a range of climates, but they are more cold-hardy than heat-hardy. Therefore, they are not the best fowl breed for southern climates.

Due to their ability to survive in the cold and even exceed their egg-laying numbers in the cold months, they are best kept in the north. The only thing you will need to watch out for is any frozen mud balls or water clinging to the feathers on their shanks and around their toes, which can cause frostbite.

The quality of care and what you want to use them for will at least partially determine a Brahma’s lifespan. Like many other chickens, Brahmas can live between 5 and 8 years.

Unfortunately, the inability to fly very high or very far because of their size does keep them grounded more often than not. When it comes to keeping them contained, this is a good thing. Yet when it comes to protecting themselves or escaping from predators, they are still left grounded.

On the flip side, they can put up a pretty effective fight when fighting for their lives because of their size. It is still best to protect them and their coops well. They won’t want to wander far from the chicken coop unless you are outside anyway.

Brahmas survive and even thrive in areas with dry, well-drained soils and moist, cool climates. They shouldn’t be left in the mud. Ensure their coop is on a piece of land that stays high and dry.

The tight feathering pattern of the Brahma chicken helps it in more than just their looks. It protects the chicken from insects and the cold. It also helps them stay resistant to pests like lice, ticks, or bites from mice and other creatures.

Brahma Chicken Eggs

The Brahma chicken lays a decent number of eggs, averaging around 130 to 150 eggs a year. Therefore, you can typically expect a hen to lay three brown eggs per week. These eggs will range from medium to large, but the color tends to remain a consistent shade of light brown.

Brahmas can start laying eggs when they are between 6 and 7 months old. If you have a hen that will mature during the year’s colder months, she might not start laying until she is a year old.

brown chicken eggs

Where to Buy

One of the easiest ways to find Brahma chickens is to search for breeders and hatcheries on PoultryFinder.com.

Cackle Hatchery offers Brahma chick and hatching eggs, including the adorable bantam Brahma, at a very affordable price and can be shipped to your doorstep. Cackle Hatchery is our preferred and recommended hatchery. While most hatcheries require orders of at least 25 chicks, you can buy as few as three chicks from Cackle. They are a family owned hatchery and have been in business since 1936. 

Summary

Brahma chickens are an excellent option if you want a backyard chicken that has outstanding characteristics. They are docile and sweet-natured even though they are a large breed chicken. Brahma chickens tend to get along with other chicken breeds and kids, making them a favorite for the chicken keeper. Practically, they are beneficial as both egg-layers and for their meat.

Consider the Brahma chicken as a heritage addition to your current flock and enjoy their personalities for years to come.

Brahma Breed Review

Breed NameBrahma
TypeAsiatic, dual purpose
SizeLarge fowl, Heavy breed
Heritage BreedYes
Average Weight5-8 pounds
Weeks To Maturity 9 months
Average Life Span5-8 years
Color variationsLight, buff, dark, black and white
Egg SizeLarge
Egg ColorBrown
Egg Production150 per year
Dual Purpose Yes
TemperamentCalm and docile
Beginner FriendlyYes
Kid FriendlyYes
Heat TolerantNo
Cold TolerantYes
Comb TypePea comb
BroodinessModerate
FlightinessLow
Noise LevelHigh
Unique TraitsFeathered shanks and toes, Beetle brow

FAQ

Are Brahma chickens good egg layers?

Brahma chickens are good egg layers for their size, averaging around 130 to 150 eggs a year.

Are Brahma chickens friendly?

These chickens are a gentle, giant chicken. All you need to tame your Brahma is a handful of treats. In time, your Brahma will learn that the best place for treats and love is in your lap.

How many eggs do Brahma chickens lay?

The Brahma chicken lays a decent number of eggs, averaging around 130 to 150 eggs a year. Therefore, you can typically expect a hen to lay three brown eggs per week.

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