This spring a YouTube video went viral featuring a giant chicken. It was so popular the video made it on the late-night talk shows. The video featured Brahma chickens. While the video was impressive because of the chicken’s size, they are not the tallest chicken breed. That title belongs to Malay chickens.
For Mandy Meyer, owner of Fowl Mood Farms, Malay chickens were the first large fowl game breed she started to raise for show.
“I discovered the Malay breed while browsing the Livestock Conservancy list of heritage breeds,” said Meyer. “I was looking at photos and information of the breeds most at risk of dying out in the US.”
They were novel and unique, and she wanted them. “I had never seen anything like them before,” recalled Meyer.
Tallest Chicken Breed
“They are like the Great Dane of poultry breeds,” said Meyer. “I was intrigued by their size, their looks and the difficulty in finding them. I also enjoy showing breeds that are not as common as other standard types of large fowl.”
Standing between 26 to 30 inches tall, it has been said this breed can eat from the top of a barrel or dining table. The breed attains its towering height from its characteristically long neck and legs, and upright carriage of the body.
The Malay chicken is an ancient breed, possibly dating back around 3,500 years ago. In 1830 it was chic to have Malay chickens in poultry collections in England. By 1846 the breed had made it to America with the Black Breast Red variety being added to the American Poultry Association in 1883. Ninety-eight years later, the white, spangled, black, and red pyle Malay chickens were recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1981.
Interestingly, Malay chickens are said to be involved in the origin of the popular Rhode Island Red chickens, which dates back to a fowl bred in Rhode Island in the mid-1800s, hence the name of the breed. According to most accounts, the breed was developed by crossing Red Malay Game, Leghorn, and Asiatic stock.
The first step for those interested in raising and breeding Malay is finding a reputable breeder. Once a breeder is found, you may even have to have your name put on a waiting list.
Incubator hatching is recommended to prevent brooding and chick injuries. Keep a close eye on the young chicks when brooding and moving to outside pens since they seem to be sensitive to getting coccidiosis.
A possible reason Malay chickens are listed as critical is because other breeds have a faster rate of growth for egg and meat production, which makes the Malay chicken less favorable. Malay chickens are also on the list of which chickens lay brown eggs. However, they lay only over a short period of the year. And while they are a very large breed, they are slow to mature.
But this shouldn’t deter you.
“They are wonderful just in their novelty and size, and they can be quite friendly,” Meyer says.
Because of their large size, flocks are safer from airborne predators. However, their large size means they cannot fly and must be cooped at night to keep them safe. They just simply are too heavy to get up in a tree on their own.
The Malay chicken has many unique characteristics. Male vocalization is hoarse, short, and monotonous, kind of like a roar. The comb is low and thick, and strawberry shaped. Their beak is short, wide, and curved. According to the Livestock Conservancy, the expression of the Malay is snaky and cruel; its pearl eye color and overhanging brows contributing much to this appearance. Feathers of the Malay chicken are close to the body, lacking fluff, and are very glossy. Their legs are yellow with remarkably large scales.
Meyer says the breed needs a lot of work because of the limited gene pool.
“I continue to work with the breed mainly to preserve an old and very critically endangered breed but they are fun to show and they draw a lot of attention due to their size and expression,” she adds.
Chicks need a low-protein food so they don’t grow too fast as it can cause bone and muscle problems if they do. Meyer has noticed that good gut health is key to good immunity. Probiotic supplements while being brooded and while being introduced to the ground help them fight off coccidiosis. A good deworming program also helps them remain healthy as they grow. The ability to free range on fresh grass and access fresh air promotes healthy birds. While some breeds can handle a confined area, the Malay chicken does best in larger enclosures.
“Once you find a reputable breeder and obtain birds, I believe you’ll be hooked,” Meyer says. “They are fun to watch as they grow and have their own quirky personalities. They always get lots of attention at shows and if kept properly are a beautiful bird to see.”
Do you have a Malay chicken or two in your flock? If so, do you have any stories or tips to share?
Originally published in Backyard Poultry August / September 2017 and regularly vetted for accuracy.