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"Artists devote their whole lives to the production of beautiful pictures – works of art. In one sense, this whole labor, this genius, appeals to the aesthetic part of our nature. It is the very reverse of utilitarian. But in its true and highest sense, art is the very height of utilitarianism. It is of the greatest practical benefit to humanity. It develops sources of pleasure to the world known where art is unknown. It affects those who never saw a real artistic effort. It reaches up to every palace and down to the humblest hut, and its effects are manifested everywhere, to the good of humanity.” - Sternberg (1894) writes on harmony


King of All Poultry

 

Brahmas have a somewhat vague history. There is some speculation that they and cochins arrived in the US from the Far East as a single population of which some individuals had pea combs and some had single combs. Alternatively they may have been developed here in America from crosses between cochins and Malays. Regardless, this is the very breed that sparked our national obsession with poultry back in the mid 1800’s. Since that time they have been squeezed through a few bottlenecks, have been ‘split in two’ by a major fork in the road, and now have been elbowed to the rear bleachers by both politics and economics. At One Earth Farm we are busily stirring the coals and fanning the fire – and yes we have added quite a bit of kindling – in the hopes of reigniting the passion for poultry this breed once inspired in our country.    

Being an extremely large fowl with heavily feathered shanks and toes and small pea combs brahmas are well suited to Wisconsin winters. Originally bred to be a dual purpose roasting fowl, the breed overall has since lost much of its utility. Show strains are massive and breathtakingly beautiful, but are a bit short on brains - and way short on utility and fecundity. Hatchery strains are usually undersized and far less regal, though they do still produce a fair number of eggs. Our strain has been selected according to our interpretation of the breed standard in which hardiness, utility, and fecundity all weigh in as heavily as size and type.  

In the year 2000 I set to work creating the buff laced brahma. It was not an accidental happening by which these birds came into being, but rather it was a purposeful melding of a form of which I am a fan and of a pattern of which I am enamored. To my mind the two seemed like a perfect marriage - the pattern was soft and supremely elegant and the type was stately but unquestionably homey. Such a flock would remind people that art sprang from agrarian roots, it would remind them why they sigh with both delight and melancholy at the sight of an abandoned old barn that has refused to lay down against the torrent of factory farms, and of course it would remind them why they plant tulips and clutter their suburban coffee tables with “Country Ways” type magazines. I am a romantic, an artist, and a geneticist. I offer my buff laced brahmas as a candle held against the dark abyss of ugly monoculture type thinking. These birds spring from the stillness and beauty that is intrinsic in all of us; they are me turning the other cheek to all the ugliness modern agriculture has heaped upon this world, and they are me surrendering to the eye of the needle.

Mine is a very hands-on approach to poultry; how many finger widths between the keel and the pelvis, how solid is a bird in the hand, how bright are its eyes, and how large and moist is its vent upon the equinox of spring. It is this most basic form of evaluation that has steered this fancy flock down a path quite unlike that of other common brahma varieties. If a hen doesn’t lay her eggs in the nest or if she prefers the coop to the open-range she is quickly escalated to the rank of stew hen. And if a rooster lacks the instincts to roost or the chutzpa to breed naturally he is crowned broiler rather than breeder.


 

From the onset, this project was intended to be an exclamation that beauty and utility do indeed spring from the same well. At every temptation I have avoided turning this population into the hothouse flowers that so many ornamental and heritage fowl have become. These birds forage in compost under skies dotted with raptors, dust themselves in the cool moist earth of hedgerows that have shaded generations of fox, and take little notice of even the coldest of Wisconsin winters.

There is no other heavy breed fowl that boasts the buff laced color pattern - indeed, in the entire world my strain are the only buff laced brahmas in existence. I am assisting breeders around the world in developing new flocks of this variety, and I have now begun the work of locating other dedicated breeders here in the USA interested in joining me in their continued refinement. As others take these birds into the future, into new climates, into show pens, and into different styles of management it will be my joy to see them diverge and adapt - for these birds have proven above all else that this is their greatest charm.


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For additional photos please visit our brahma gallery.

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