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The Brahma is a very slow-growing chicken that devotes a considerable amount of time growing into its massive body.

Once-celebrated Brahma chicken is making a comeback

By Don Schrider and Jeannette Beranger

Photography by Jeannette Beranger

In the mid-1800s, a phenomenon known as "Hen Fever" overtook both England and the United States, and it became all the rage to keep and breed chickens.

The Brahma chicken was one of the stars of Hen Fever and helped create the craze with its arrival shortly after the 1843 treaty that opened all of the ports of China to trade with the western world. Many of the first Brahmas arrived in the west by ship as provisions for meat and fresh eggs.

Only the hardiest birds survived and when the ships reached their ports, the birds were sold, gaining additional profit for the traders. They then spread to England, where an early breeder, George Burnham, made great strides in promoting the breed when he made a fine gift of nine Brahmas to H.M.G. Majesty Queen Victoria.

The birds' impressive size was unlike anything westerners had seen with some roosters weighing more than 18 pounds, though most were closer to 12 pounds. The breed quickly gained the title, "King of All Poultry," and was a leading meat breed soon after its arrival until well into the 1930s, when the chicken industry began to change and faster-growing American breeds began arriving on the scene.

The breed became largely ignored and, as a result, the Brahma is now categorized as under "Watch" by The Livestock Conservancy on its Conservation Priority List, which means there are fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the United States.

The conservancy uses this list to bring attention to livestock and poultry breeds such as the Brahma and to connect them with people interested in becoming involved with saving a rare breed.

The Brahma is a very slow-growing chicken that devotes a considerable amount of time growing into its massive body. To accommodate this growth the birds are famous for their ravenous appetite.

To find out more about the Brahma chicken, visit:

Once mature, they can fatten easily, so attention must be paid to the weight of breeding birds to avoid fertility problems associated with obesity. Its peacomb, coupled with its large body size, make the Brahma well adapted to cold climates but the feathering on its feet and legs are a disadvantage in places with very wet climates or poorly drained soils.

The birds are exceptionally hardy in cold temperatures, but heat and humidity can be a real problem for the large roosters, so they are not well suited for Southern states.

Indeed, during a particularly hot summer in Michigan, breeders Kim Aldritch and his wife Kendra, who have been in the Brahma business for 14 years and are members of the American Brahma Club, had to install air conditioning in their barn to ensure they didn't lose any birds.

The Aldritches' best success with hatching is done with incubators because the massive hens can be clumsy and will crush eggs and chicks.

But once hatched, the chicks take a full year and a half to fully mature and attain the impressive body that the "King" is known for.

Jeannette Beranger is Research & Technical Programs Manager for The Livestock Conservancy. Don Schrider is an author and noted poultry breeder.