The Brakel (Braekel) Chicken
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Stuart Sutton, United Kingdom
Although not exceptionally rare, the Brakel (alt. Braekel) breed always needs more keepers and is also a historic, interesting race. In Flanders, Belgium where it originates, the “Brakel Hen” is known as the oldest large laying breed that still exists today, the Ardenner being the oldest Belgian breed of the French speaking Waloon area of Belgium.
According to the Association for Promotion of Belgian Poultry Breeds, the Brakel was already known in the Oudenaarde and Nederbrakel region around 1400. From this region, the Brakel slowly spread to the extent that was a familiar site in most farmyards across the country. This is why the breed was also known as the “Farmyard Hen.” Other names for the breed were “The Everyday Layer,” “The Grey White Neck” and “The Nun’s Hen.” They were admired by the people who kept them because they laid well and provided a good table bird; the meat had a slight game flavor.
The name “Brakel” is without any doubt derived from the name of the villages Op- and Nederbrakel. Within the triangle area of Ninove, Geraadsbergen and Oudenaarde, the Brakel was bred intensely and the birds were sold at the local markets. Because there were so many birds being bred, their appearance varied greatly. Some birds had a horseshoe pattern in the feathers while others had a straight band, which is still demanded in today’s standard. Due to the breed having so many looks, the various areas that bred them also gave them different names. For example: “La Poule dÕHernies” and “Het Hoen van Ronse.”
Additionally in the village of Chaam, in the Netherlands, another variety of the Brakel — one with orange eyes — was discovered. Interestingly Mr. Vander Snickt, a leading poultry expert of the time, was the first to say that he considered the Brakel and the Campine to be essential the same animal — the Campine becoming smaller due to the more arid sands of La Campine environment on which it lived.
The effect of climate and soil had a great effect on the growth of each breed with the rich Flemish soil helping the Brakel increase its size. In fact, in 1884, it was proposed after consultation to recognize two distinct races of the lighter Campine and the heavier Brakels. Recognizing the two races meant that two special clubs were established.
In 1896, a club for the defense of the Kempen (Campine) grouse was founded in Antwerp; in 1898 came the first special club for Braekel Grouse in Neder Braekel. This reduced the rivalry between their respective followers until after the First World War, when the old debate began in earnest again. In 1925 the National Union decided to recognize the two races as a unit under the name Kempisch (Campine) — Brakel. But the Second World War, then the import of U.S. hybrid chickens meant almost the final blow to this beautiful Flemish race, as many valuable breeding stock were slaughtered and the number of pure Brakels in Belgium left could thus be counted on one hand.
In 1969, the situation had become so bad that an urgent appeal to assemble all the remaining Brakels in order to try to save the breed was published in the national press, but unfortunately this was a total failure. In 1971, the second Brakel club was founded and more exceptional efforts were made to round up all existing Brakels. Only a small number were found: two Silver Brakel hens, a Silver rooster from Germany and 12 eggs, as well as the last remaining golden rooster. From these few birds the Brakel was revived to the numbers we see today— quite an achievement.
The Brakel’s characteristics are that is a fairly quiet, proud and majestic breed that is very well adapted to the vagaries of the Belgian climate. They are easy to handle and look after and will provide regular large fresh eggs. The number of eggs per year lays around 200. The shells are white and the eggs weigh about 65 grams. They are very rarely broody. They are capable of flight in extreme circumstances and are best kept in largish pens.
The body is rectangular in shape with a deep breast and a well-developed abdomen. The tail is half-opened in both sexes. An adult rooster weighs about 5.5 pounds and an adult hen about 5.5 pounds. Brakels are relatively heavily pigmented birds. The eyes should always be as black as possible in both sexes and the hen often shows dark flecks on the base of her comb, which is a breed characteristic. The comb is single, large and should fall over to one side in the hens. In the roosters it has to be upright. The earlobes are white but often present a bluish sheen and are almond-shaped. The shanks are always slate-blue. The male has a fairly impressive array of tail feathers, the sickles being well developed and well arched.
The typical barring of the Brakel is unique and the barred varieties are by far the most popular varieties. Especially the silver variety is quite common. Other recognized varieties are gold, lemon, white-barred gold, barred white, selfwhite, black and blue. Recently also white-barred lemon Brakels were bred.
Although relatively common in Belgium — especially the silver Brakel, which is kept in the North of Belgium, but is also to be found in the South — the Golden Brakel is slowly but steadily disappearing. The other barred varieties are all rare to very rare and the nonbarred varieties are all very rare even in its native land. A reasonable number of Silver and Golds are also bred in the Netherlands, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.