The Brahma is often considered to be an ancient breed, hailing from the Brahmaputra River of India. It is true that its ancestors did come from that vicinity, and also probably from China via the clipper ships of yore. However, the Brahma as we know it today is an American creation, developed by crossing several of the old Asian chicken breeds, probably in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
While it was the Americans who developed the Brahma, it was the British who made it wildly popular. In 1852, a Mr. Burnham presented Queen Victoria with a small flock of Brahmas, which by all accounts she promptly fell in love with. And when Queen Victoria approved of an animal of any sort, the people on both sides of the Atlantic promptly followed suit. Brahma chickens quickly boomed in both popularity and price, a good breeding pair fetching as much as $150.
It is hard to imagine, but both the original Light Brahma of the United States and the Dark Brahma created in those early days by British fanciers were even larger and taller then than they are today. While the breed was exceedingly popular for exhibition, it also had a steady following among those bringing meat birds to market, and indeed was considered the finest breed for the table for decades. This changed, however, with the industrial chicken-breeding revolution of the 1930s, when hefty, fast-growing broilers became popular.
But these days the Brahma has little to fear, as it is quickly regaining its popularity. Its beauty and dignity won it favor among many hobby farmers and backyard chicken keepers looking for something a little different. The Internet has fostered this trend—a video of a particularly large Brahma rooster recently went viral and prompted many to add the breed to their flocks.
The primary purpose of the Brahma is still exhibition, although it does have modest potential as a dual-purpose breed for homestead-scale meat and egg production. Probably its greatest strengths in the world of homesteading are the capabilities of the female as a superb broody hen and the male as a guardian of the flock.
Another interesting contribution the Brahma has made to the poultry realm is a genetic one. The Brahma has been used to develop many new chicken breeds, and with judicious crossbreeding it can be used to establish new color varieties within existing breeds.
Few breeds are as docile as the Brahma. They are extremely easy to handle and tame, and they quickly warm up to human interaction. In fact, they may demand attention from their people friends (particularly if treats are involved).
The large size of the Brahma seems to encourage respect from the other chickens in a mixed flock. However, they never abuse their position by bullying the other chickens. Brahma hens do sometimes receive excessive attention from roosters, so care may be needed to prevent injuries.
The Brahma hen, while not usually considered overly broody, has strong instincts to hatch eggs. She also makes an excellent mother to the chicks.
The Brahma rooster is a strong favorite among all who have known him. He is too dignified to be as outgoing as the hens, but he is nevertheless extremely docile and remarkably calm. Bad actors can be found among roosters of any breed, but the typical Brahma male is well-mannered. While he does have strong protective instincts, he is highly unlikely to attack without provocation.
Overall, the Brahma is a hardy, healthy breed that should present no difficulties to the attentive chicken-keeper. It tends to thrive from day one and typically hatches quickly with few problems.
This said, the Brahma does have a few special requirements, although they are relatively modest. First, be aware that it is a large breed that needs a lot of feed when it is growing. Hungry chickens may resort to picking and cannibalism if their nutritional needs are not being met, so make sure young Brahmas have access to all the feed they want. They are not at all prone to obesity at this early stage, so rationing out the feed will likely do more harm than good.
Second, the Brahma does not particularly enjoy hot weather. However, it can easily make it through the summer without too much discomfort if provided with access to shade and fresh, cool water all day. (Note that chickens of all breeds really should be provided with this level of care.)
Finally, several health problems can arise from the feathered feet of this breed:
- Toe injuries caused by mud balls.
- Frostbite caused by a buildup of snow.
- Scaly leg mites and other external parasites.
- Profuse bleeding from broken feather quills.
Keeping the chickens in clean, dry quarters with access to a place to dust bathe will prevent most foot problems. During wet weather, periodic foot examinations can be beneficial. Balls of snow and mud should be removed as necessary. If a mud ball is particularly firmly fixed, try softening it in warm water before removal. Mites can be treated with diatomaceous earth. Bleeding quills can be stopped up with a pinch of corn starch and the application of pressure.
- Excellent disposition.
- Adaptability to both cold and hot climates with proper care.
- Adaptability to both confinement and free-range systems.
- Tendency not to fly over fences.
- Good winter egg production.
- Large eggs.
- Excellent brooding and mothering instincts.
- Large carcass.
- Unsuitability for poorly drained soils.
- Large space requirements in both coops and runs.
- Need for sturdy perches and large nesting boxes.
- Hearty appetite.
- Slow maturity.
- Below-average egg production.