Bantam chickens offer a fowl-raising option for homeowners with small backyards. True bantams are miniature chickens with no standard-sized equivalent, although some varieties of conventional chickens are bred as bantam-sized birds and offer the same benefits to owners of small properties. There are more than 350 varieties of bantam chickens. Despite their size, many bantams dislike confinement in small spaces and aren’t ideal for small yards. Others do well with just a little room to move. All bantams fare best with a small coop to protect them from the elements and predators.
This smallest of the true bantams thrives in confined spaces. The Serama, developed around 1995 in Malaysia from several bantam stocks, is docile, friendly and amenable to human handling. These chickens weigh in at 7 oz. to 21 oz. Their eggs are small, too, about 1/5 the size of a standard Grade AA large chicken egg. Seramas come in a variety of colors, including white, black, wheaten and red with a black breast. Seramas do not do well in cold temperatures, and they’re not prolific egg layers.
This true bantam breed dates to the early 1600s, when Japan’s elite began breeding the fowl as garden birds. Like many bantams, the Japanese variety is docile. Males weigh up to 26 oz., females as much as 22 oz. They require more maintenance than other bantams, because their feathers are vulnerable to staining and tearing when caked with dirt or mud. They can handle cooler, wet weather if they can retreat to a small, warm coop. They lay more eggs than many bantam breeds. Japanese bantams come in hundreds of color combinations.
Another true bantam, this 150-year-old variety is shorter than other types, at under 10 inches. What Pekins lack in height, they make up for in rotundity, with an average weight of 24 oz. The birds, which originated with Chinese royalty, walk low to the ground and will damage nearby vegetable gardens with their foraging activities. Pekins are receptive to taming and training. They make good pets for first-time chicken owners or kids, though some males can be territorial and aggressive. Pekins are prone to foot problems from compacted mud, so they’re better-suited to dry climates or indoor living.
Named for their soft, fur-like feathers, these largest of the true bantams are still little and docile enough for most small backyards. Silkies tip the scales at 28 oz. to 35 oz. They first appeared in art and literature in the 1200s, after explorer Marco Polo wrote about the birds following his travels in China. Silkies are gentle, nurturing birds that enjoy human attention. They’re good egg-layers and will even incubate other birds’ eggs if they lack their own. Silkies have blue, almost black, skin with feathers that are white, black, blue, buff or gray. Their legs and feet are feathered as well. Unlike most chickens, Silkies have five toes rather than four. They come bearded or non-bearded.
Miniature Standard Chickens
Miniature versions of standard fowl also work well as bantam substitutes in small yards. While they’re not true bantams, smaller varieties of Leghorn, Wyandotte, Sussex and Rhode Island Red chickens weigh about as much as bantams. These diminutive breeds are likelier to tolerate confinement than many bantam varieties, because they’ve been bred to live in coops for egg-laying and meat production.