Brahma chicken. The giant chicken breed.
Several years ago, I was teaching a poultry science lesson to high school agriculture students about various chicken breeds. We were going over the basics like Cornish crosses, Rhode Island Reds and other really common breeds.
One of the students that I taught raised his hand and asked me about the giant chicken breed. He had seen a video somewhere showing a massive chicken coming out of a chicken coop. It was a rooster and it looked like he barely fit out of the doorway of the very normal-sized chicken coop.
I wasn’t familiar with whether this was a true video or not, so, like any good teacher, we skipped the rest of the lesson and researched this remarkable breed. I’m rarely caught off guard when it comes to something animal-related, but I was curious to know if this was a real chicken or if it was a hoax.
I was surprised to learn that the breed was in fact real. The video that we saw was likely created to make the breed appear even more massive than it actually is (although the breed is pretty big!).
I’ve since gotten some Brahmas of my own and we’ve fallen in love with them. If you want a chicken that is going to turn heads or cause cars to slow down when they’re going down the road (which happens pretty frequently around here) then you’ll want to look into the Brahma chicken breed.
What is the largest breed of chicken?
The largest breed of chicken is the Brahma. They’ve always been a bigger breed, but lately many breeders have focused on creating larger and larger Brahmas to create the massive birds you can find today.
How big is a Brahma chicken?
You may have seen pictures of the giant chicken breed floating around the internet. These birds are very big when it comes to chickens, but sometimes the videos and images that you see online are a tad misleading.
One video that I noticed included a large Brahma rooster and a very small chicken coop. The chicken coop was actually more realistically sized for smaller bantam chickens or even quail. The opening for the coop was pretty small, so when the rooster walked out of the coop, he looked massive.
So how big are these giant chickens?
Most individuals are going to weigh somewhere in the ballpark of 10-12 pounds. That’s large in chicken terms; most ‘large chicken breeds weigh 8-10 pounds.
With that being said, some hens can weigh up to 14 pounds and roosters have been known to weigh as much as 18 pounds. Again, this isn’t the normal, so don’t freak out if your Brahma chickens don’t weigh that much when they are grown.
Brahma background and history
In the 1850’s, many people became obsessed with buying large chickens, especially the Brahma and Cochin breeds. This popularity of buying laying hens in Europe and the U.S. was called ‘Hen Fever’.
It’s not entirely clear how the Brahma breed was developed. It’s pretty controversial and a hot topic among avid Brahma breeders.
What is known is that the breed was developed in the U.S. Large breeds of chicken were imported to the U.S. from China and had a major influence on the breed. There also seems to be some influence from Chittigong fowl from India in the Brahma breed.
The Chittigong fowl provided the stamped head and comb of the Brahma that you see today.
When the breed was developed, there were no poultry associations or written registries for chickens, so the Brahma breed was presented under at least 12 different names.
The name Brahma was developed by the publisher of The Northern Farmer, T.B. Miner in 1853 or 1854. His reason was simple. He wanted to save space on the printed page.
The breed became widely recognized, and sought after, when a breeder named George Burnham sent nine Brahmas to Queen Victoria of England. This publicity stunt made the breed’s popularity surge. Before sending chickens to the Queen, a breeding pair of Brahmas cost $12-15. After the Queen received hers, breeding pair prices jumped to $100-150 per pair.
The high quality stock that Burnham sent would become the base for the dark Brahma variety. Dark Brahmas were developed in England and shipped back to the U.S. later.
When the American Standard of Perfection was first printed in 1874, the light and dark Brahma were included. It wasn’t until 1924 that the buff Brahma was accepted and a breed standard was created.
For about 70 years (from the mid-1850’s- 1930s) the Brahma breed was a very popular breed for meat. You may think that the large size is what lended them to becoming a leading meat chicken breed, but that’s not quite the case.
Most Brahmas were harvested as broilers when they were young. Usually, the broilers were slaughtered when they were less than ten weeks.
Older chickens could feed an entire family and were popular as roasting birds.
Brahma Chickens Today
Brahmas aren’t usually raised as meat birds today. Instead, they are kept as laying birds and pets.
The Brahma breed lost popularity as a meat bird when more ‘commercial’ breeds like Cornish crosses took over the market. The giant chicken breed wasn’t as popular since it was slower-growing and consumed more feed.
Brahmas today can still be used as family dual-purpose birds. They make wonderful backyard chickens to have since they are docile, calm, quiet and of course, pretty to look at.
Breed Standards and Appearance
The Brahma chicken is easily recognized by its large size and feathered feet. The toes and shanks of the legs are feathered, which gives them a cuddly appearance.
Brahma chickens also have a ‘beetle brow’, which means the forehead slightly overhangs the eyes. They also have a small pea comb.
In the United States, there are only three color variations: light, dark and buff. The British breed standards for Brahma chickens include a few more color variations: dark, light, white, gold, blue partridge and buff Colombian.
Brahma chickens are gentle giants. They may be intimidating because of their large size, but they are very calm and docile.
Brahma hens tend to be high in the pecking order since other hens in the flock are usually intimidated by their size. With that being said, they are rarely bullies and tend to get along with all other chickens in the flock.
Brahmas are perfect birds for families with kids. They’re patient and sweet and tolerate handling well.
Brahmas have heavy bodies and aren’t good fliers, making it easy to contain them.
Are Brahma chickens friendly?
Yes! Not only do they look sweet and cuddly, but they are usually just that. Brahmas are perfect for people that are scared of birds. Don’t let their large size deter you; they’re very friendly and gentle birds.
What are Brahma chickens used for?
In the early 1900’s these giant chickens were raised primarily as meat birds. Their large size allowed them to feed entire families. When they weren’t being used as meat birds, they made reliable laying hens.
When commercial meat breeds appeared in the early-mid 1900’s, Brahma chickens became less popular. Today, they are listed as a recovering breed by the Livestock Conservancy.
The recent interest in backyard farming and homesteading has helped to bring this magnificent breed back from the brink.
Today, Brahmas are kept as dual-purpose birds. They are quite useful as backyard chickens. Their large size still allows them to feed an entire family. You can harvest them young, while they are smaller and more tender. You can also harvest older birds and cook them low and slow for a tasty meal.
Brahma hens that you don’t want to eat can be kept around for eggs.
What color eggs does a Brahma chicken lay?
Most hens will average 3-4 eggs per week. Eggs laid by Brahma hens are large in size. Brahma hens lay eggs that are brown in color. They aren’t speckled, but are a uniform, medium brown color.
Brahma hens are known for being broody, and will often try to sit on eggs in the summer months. If you want to allow your Brahma hen to hatch eggs, you’ll need to use some caution.
Brahma hens are large and have been known to accidentally crush their chicks. Keep an eye on Brahma hens that have small chicks since she might lay on or step on her chicks and not realize it. Once her chicks are a few days old, they’re usually large enough that she won’t accidentally trample them.
When many hens start to slow egg production down for the winter (usually October-March), Brahma hens are often cranking up their egg production. If you have a mixed flock, you may want to consider adding a Brahma or two just to ensure that your winter egg production doesn’t completely plummet.
Brahma hens will help keep fresh eggs on your table all year long.
Common health issues
Like many heritage breeds, Brahma chickens tend to be fairly healthy. There are a few things that you need to watch for though with this giant breed.
The feathering on the feet and legs can be a cause for a few health issues if you aren’t careful.
All chickens with feathered feet are subject to developing frostbite on their feet and toes in the winter. But, wouldn’t having feathered feet help keep their feet warmer?
Yes, if you’re careful. Feathers on the feet can become wet and muddy if your chickens are trampling through muddy areas. In cold conditions, this moisture can freeze or create frozen mudballs on the feet and toes. If these aren’t removed, they can chill the feet and toes, leading to frostbite.
With that being said, the feathers on Brahma feet and legs do help the chickens to handle freezing temperatures better as long as they stay dry.
The feathers on the legs and feet can also help to hide leg mites. Check your Brahma’s feet and legs frequently for scaly leg mites.
Feathers on the feet and legs can also get pulled out. When a feather on the foot or leg is pulled out, it will bleed heavily. If you notice this, don’t freak out; it’s an easy fix. Clean the wound from the missing feather as best as you can. A styptic powder or a little cornstarch can stop the bleeding. The feather should grow back within several weeks.
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Although these giant chickens are, well, quite large, don’t be tempted to feed Brahma chicks like you would a meat chicken. That goes even if you’re planning on eating your Brahmas! Brahma chickens are slow-growing naturally.
If you feed them a diet with high protein that is intended for fast-growing meat birds, then you could be setting them up for potential health problems, like water belly. Avoid feeding them too much protein by starting them off the same way that you would feed a growing layer chick.
Bumblefoot is another concern for Brahma chickens. Although all chickens can get bumblefoot, which is an infection in the foot, usually caused by a wound that didn’t heal properly, Brahma chickens are more at risk because of their large size.
When Brahmas jump down from a roost or a perch, their heavy bodies put pressure on their feet and can cause small wounds on the bottoms of the feet if they jump on something sharp. Keep a close eye on your chickens’ feet since they won’t usually show signs of bumblefoot until the wound has become very infected and needs serious treatment.
Where to find Brahma chickens
There are many hatcheries that offer Brahma chickens for sale. Buying from a hatchery is one of the best ways to purchase chicks. You’ll be able to find unique breeds, colors and even specify whether you want roosters or hens.
Most hatcheries today allow you to order chicks online and then deliver them through the mail to your local post office. It’s my favorite way to get chickens.
Another benefit to ordering from a hatchery is that you’ll be getting a healthy bird. Look for hatcheries that are NPIP certified. These hatcheries have undergone rigorous testing and provide vaccination programs to make sure that their breeding animals are the healthiest that they can be. This means that you’ll be getting chicks that shouldn’t carry disease or have serious health issues.
You can also check out the American Brahma Club.
You may be able to find Brahma breeders near you.
Is the Brahma right for you?
If you’re looking for a family-friendly breed that can be used for meat or eggs, then yes.
Brahmas are best suited for colder climates. If you live where summer temperatures soar, then you’ll need to think about ways that you can help to keep your Brahma chickens cool in the summer. If your winters are nippy, the Brahma’s thick feathering will help to keep them warm and cozy in frigid temperatures.