The Brahma is a large breed of chicken developed in the United States from very large birds imported from the Chinese port of Shanghai. The Brahma was the principal meat breed in the US from the 1850s until about 1930.
There has been considerable controversy over the origin of the Brahma. It appears to have developed in the United States from very large birds imported from the Chinese port of Shanghai, which were thus known as “Shanghai” birds. It is likely that limited cross-breeding with Chittigong chickens from what is now called Bangladesh gave the Brahma the distinctive characteristics of head shape and the pea comb that distinguish it from the Cochin, another breed that derives from the “Shanghai” birds.
Brahmas were first exported to England in December 1852, when George Burnham sent nine “Gray Shanghaes” to Queen Victoria as a gift. The Dark Brahma variety was developed by English breeders from this stock, and later re-exported to the United States.
The Light and Dark Brahma were included in the first edition of the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1874; the Buff variant was added in 1924 or 1929.
The Brahma was the principal meat breed in the US from the 1850s until about 1930. Some birds were very large: weights of about 8 kg (18 lb) for cocks and 6 kg (13 lb) for hens were recorded.
The Brahma is a massive, stately bird, with an upright carriage and a large head. When standing, they should almost appear to form a V, and should stand fairly tall—males more than females. Feet should be strong, with feathers extending all the way down the middle toe, and plumage should be held more tightly than in the Cochin.
Weights average about 5.5 kg (12 lb) for cocks and 4.5 kg (9.9 lb) for hens.
The Brahma is a good winter layer of large brown eggs; eggs weigh approximately 55–60 g.
The American Standard of Perfection recognizes three Brahma varieties: light, dark, and buff. The light Brahma has a base color of white, with black hackles edged in white and a black tail. The cock’s saddle feathers in a light Brahma are striped with black. The dark Brahma has the most notable difference between cock and hen. The hen has a dark gray and black penciled coloration with the same hackle as the light whereas the cock has black and white hackles and saddle feathers, and a black base and tail. The wings of a dark Brahma are white-shouldered and the primary feathers (remiges) are edged with white. Buff Brahmas have the same pattern of black as light Brahmas, except with a golden buff base color instead of white.
The Australian Poultry Association has accepted black, blue, partridge, crele and barred varieties of Brahma in addition to the standard light, dark, and buff.