Brakel chickens are one of the oldest chicken breeds in Europe. Also known as Braekel, they were once so common that they were nicknamed “the farmyard hen.”
Brakel chickens have become quite rare since World War II. They’re now considered a rare breed, even in their native Belgium.
But they are stunning birds with dramatic coloring and lots of confidence, so thank goodness they’re making a comeback. They’re perfect for those who want a reliable layer that is independent and attractive.
The world of historic chicken breeds is an exciting and beautiful one. Ancient European chicken breeds are known for their beautiful feathering, graceful bodies, and hardy constitutions.
It can be an expensive world, of course, as these breeds are often rare and hard to find. But the chickens are definitely worth the time and effort it takes to find them.
Brakel Chickens are one of the many heritage breeds of Belgian chickens, with breeding records dating back to the early 15th century.
They were developed as laying birds. These hens were called “everyday layers” because they are some of the strongest, most consistent layers in the heritage breeds. They can lay around 200 moderate-sized white eggs each year.
As hardy, easy foragers, they can keep up their solid laying even while getting most of their nutrients from forage.
They are not large birds. There were two distinct varieties of Brakel chickens – large and small. The larger birds – still very much on the small side – and the smaller birds interbred so often though, that they eventually became indistinguishable.
Now, there is only one variety of Brakel, and the much smaller, bantam version of the breed. The bantam Brakel was developed in the early 20th century and looks similar to small Campine chickens.
Brakels are bustling, active birds. They have pleasant, even tempers but aren’t overly friendly birds. Brakels were bred to be farmyard layers, not family pets. They like scratching around the barnyard, looking for grains and insects, not snuggling or being petted.
Brakels are usually not broody birds. They like to lay their eggs and then get moving again. They’ll happily wander and keep a wary eye on their surroundings.
There are a few color variations in Brakel chickens, but the most common by far are the silver penciled and gold penciled colorations. Brakels have solid-colored necks with white ears and a single comb. Both males and females have a wattle.
Brakel chickens have slate blue-colored legs and feet with no feathering on the feet. Overall, they’re a sleek, clean-looking bird with dramatic tail feathers in the roosters and lush, soft feathering in the hens.
Males are rarely larger than five and a half pounds, while hens rarely reach five pounds and generally grow to about four pounds.
Brakels are not an auto-sexing breed. If you’re lucky enough to find Brakel chicks near you, buy a few extras in case your batch is primarily male.
You won’t be able to tell until the chicks start to feather out. Then, you might notice longer, pointed tail feathers in the males. Males also have larger and faster-growing combs.
Brakels are some of the highest producing of the heritage breeds. They start laying earlier than other heritage chickens and produce about 200 eggs yearly. The eggs are medium-sized and white.
Because they’re moderate layers, bred to spend a long, prolific life on a family homestead, Brakels can keep laying until quite late in life. They will keep producing for many years if they have room to forage, plenty of quality food and water, and a cozy laying box.
Brakels aren’t meat birds. They were developed as layers, and their meat has a slightly gamey flavor. If you have a recipe book from your old-world, European grandmother lying around, you’ll find Brakels fill in nicely for wild game birds in many of those old-world recipes!
But, if you’re looking for a delicately flavored chicken for the table, the Brakel is not your bird.
Since these birds are small and gamey, they do nicely as a replacement for quail and pheasant or in a smoked chicken salad. But because they don’t have much meat, only butcher them when you need to. Don’t bother raising Brakels for meat.
Brakels are amazing foragers. These birds are all business when it comes to finding food in the yard or field. Like so many heritage breeds, Brakels are bred to be easy keepers when it comes to food.
Heritage breeds were developed when pre-made poultry food was not even on the radar. These birds are designed to grow happy and productive on foraged grains, seeds, insects, and leftover vegetables and cereals from the house.
While modern-day Brakels appreciate a regular portion of layer pellets, they can thrive on a primarily foraged diet.
Be aware that the Brakels’ love of foraging and light bodies will enable them to fly right over any fencing without a roof. Brakel chickens are powerful flyers who can escape from any uncovered yard.
Brakels are healthy, hardy birds. They tolerate both heat and cold very well. Despite somewhat prominent combs in the roosters, Brakels do well in snug but unheated coops, even during cold winters. They also do well in hot weather.
Health and Wellness
Brakel chickens are generally healthy birds. They’re notably resistant to many of the diseases that plague modern coops. This might be because they are such an old breed or because they spend so much time out foraging.
Still, it’s good to watch for general chicken health concerns like sour crop and coccidiosis.
Of course, even the hardiest chickens will suffer if they don’t have the right conditions. Remember to keep your coop clean, make sure your chickens have access to fresh, clean water, and watch for common coop pests and diseases like mites, infections, Avian flu, and respiratory issues.
Also, keep your birds safe from predators by building a secure coop with solid doors, and no holes for predators to sneak through. An invading fox, weasel, or fisher can wipe out a healthy flock in one night.
Brakel chickens are stunningly gorgeous birds that bring beauty and dignity to any flock. While they aren’t excessively friendly, they’re calm and gentle. Brakels are some of the oldest and most beautiful chickens in the world.
Brakel chickens are good layers who can continue laying relatively late in life. They produce consistent, white eggs throughout most of the year. They can lay on a diet primarily consisting of forage.
They are beautiful birds with stunning plumage and sleek, graceful bodies. Both hens and roosters are a lovely addition to the barnyard. There aren’t many birds that can beat the Brakel for beauty.
These excellent foragers can keep your feed bill low. If you give them space to forage, they’ll need little supplemental grain throughout the year. Since Brakels are small birds with hardy, self-sufficient little bodies, they can thrive on low amounts of feed.
Brakels have a rich history as medieval European chickens. If you’re a history buff or a traditional food fanatic, Brakels will be a perfect addition to your heritage homestead.
No bird is perfect. Brakel chickens are beauties, but they aren’t for everyone.
They aren’t meat birds. Even if you like a gamey flavor in your chicken, Brakels are small birds that produce a small roaster. They aren’t dual-purpose birds if you’re looking to stock your homestead with breeds that can do double duty.
Because of the roosters’ large combs, they are at some risk for frostbite in the winter. While Brakels are more cold-hardy than many other large combed birds, be aware that a freezing winter can be challenging.
If temperatures dip below 0°F in the winter, insulate your coop well and ensure your birds have enough food and water to fight off the chill. Chopped pumpkin, fed in the evening, is also a great way to help your birds keep warm.
Brakels are rare. They’re challenging to find in the United States, but many breeders specializing in rare types will have them because rare breeds are experiencing a resurgence in many areas.
Being excellent foragers and flyers, they can be difficult to keep contained. Ensure your coop and run have wiring on top and below to keep your birds from escaping.