Anyone who has kept bantam chickens will tell you that they are the most delightful, colourful and captivating characters.
A bantam is a small variety of chicken. There are some True Bantams and there are some that are small version of established full-sized breeds.
The name comes from the city of Bantam in Indonesia, which used to be a busy port. European sailors restocking on live fowl for sea journeys found the small native breeds of chicken from the region to be most useful.
A true bantam has no large counterpart, and is naturally small. Such birds are often popular for show purposes. Show Poultry Southern Africa lists eleven true bantams.
Most large chicken breeds have a bantam counterpart, sometimes referred to as a miniature. Miniatures are usually one-fifth to one-quarter the size of the standard breed, but they are expected to exhibit all of the standard breed’s characteristics.
Bantam chickens have many advantages. They require half the amount of space needed by large fowls, thereby reducing costs for the construction of coops and runs, as well as their housing obviously taking up less room and being easier to construct. In addition to that, bantams eat much less than full sized chickens. They are easily tamed and make good mothers.
Most are good layers – their eggs are firm, highly-coloured and delicious. If you are following a recipe, double the number of eggs needed if you only have bantam eggs. They are also very good at incubating eggs of other poultry.
Many bantams are excellent foragers and they do not wreak as much damage as their larger counterparts in your flower or veggie beds. They eat a variety of insects and will add manure to your soil.
When buying bantams look out for:
- Smooth, shiny, full plumage;
- Intensely coloured red comb and wattles;
- Alert and shining eyes;
- Relatively firm, well-formed droppings
Healthy bantam chickens are active and curious, busily picking and scratching for food, frequently dusting and preening and free of parasite such as mites, fleas or ticks.
Housing and feeding bantams is similar to that of large chickens. They need to be protected from predators, as well as dogs and cats, especially if you have chicks.
The breeds that have larger counterparts are also divided into soft feathered and hard feathered. English Game, Black or Buff Orpingtons, Polish, Brahma, Auracana, Australorp and Koekoeks are common.
This is part of a series on common chicken varieties in South Africa called Choose Your Chicken. For more, click here.