If you’ve spent any time researching chicken breeds, you’ve likely come across the term “bantam.” The tiny Booted Bantam is pretty, sweet-tempered, and makes a great pet. The showy Japanese Bantam doesn’t serve much of a purpose for eggs or meat, but is a great pet and show bird who will happily rid the yard of bugs. The Silkie Bantam is an adorable and friendly ball of fluff. No matter their name or looks, a “bantam” is much smaller than the average chicken. There are some things a backyard farmer should know before choosing bantam birds over standard chicken breeds.
Fully grown bantam chickens are only 1/3 to 1/5 the size of their standard breed cousins. Most standard breeds have a miniature counterpart, but a true bantam has no large counterpart. Their small size makes them an excellent choice for those with limited space. Whether kept for a pet or for production, bantams don’t require as big of a yard or a coop as do their cousins. Bantam hens are frequently broody and can even be used to hatch other bird’s eggs. They are great show birds, love foraging, and lay small, delicate-looking eggs. Some bantam breeds lay up to 150 eggs annually, but their eggs are only ½ to 1/3 the size of regular eggs. Other bantam breeds lay very infrequently. If you’re after egg production, do your research to find the perfect breed before buying chicks.
Named after an Indonesian port city, bantam chickens were a favorite among sailors due to their small size. What better way to obtain fresh food on a long journey? These birds didn’t take up much space and were easy to care for. Among the more popular bantam breeds are the Sebright, Belgian d’Anvers (Bearded or rumpless), Pekin, Rosecomb, Dutch, and Serama. The American Bantam Association currently describes 57 breeds in its Bantam Standard.
Be extra careful for predators, because the bantam chicken’s small size makes them very vulnerable to cats and other backyard prey. Foxes, hawks, coyotes, and wild cats will make an easy meal of your flock; some sources say that the average lifespan of a free-range bantam chicken is 1-3 years. That’s pretty poor odds. Provide your birds with a secure coop and always put them inside at night. In the winter, be sure to provide them with a heat source. Bantam chickens eat the same feed and have the same watering requirements as standard birds.
Bantam chickens are an attractive and loving addition to any backyard. So long as there is a little grass, there’s room for a bantam or two. Active, friendly, and docile, bantam chickens are raised as pets far more frequently than they are for food. Provide them with adequate shelter and protection, nutritious food, space to roam, and social interaction and you’ll be enjoying your bantam chicken’s company for years to come.