What's a Bantam?
For backyards with space issues, bantam chickens are a natural fit. Bantam chickens are bred specifically to mature at a size much smaller than an average adult chicken. The idea of breeding diminutive birds is an old one, traceable to ancient Indonesia. Most contemporary bantams weigh in between 16 and 30 ounces. Bantams require less feed than larger chickens, and accommodations such as nesting boxes and perches demand reduced space. Though not primarily marketed as food producers, bantams can lay eggs roughly one-half to two-thirds the size of a normal chicken egg and, in some markets, are valued for their meat.
Careless breeding can produce larger birds. As a rule, smaller bantams are more desirable, but runty birds should be avoided.
Familiar Breeds, Miniaturized
There are a variety of bantam bird breeds, and many of the most-recognizable full-sized birds have banty counterparts. Plymouth Rocks, with their alternating bars of black and white feather rows, and green egg-laying Araucanas are especially popular, as are bantam Orpingtons, Delawares and Cochins. One of the more prevalent full-sized birds, the prolific Red Island red, also has a bantam counterpart, a breed that's popular at chicken shows and competitions.
Game Birds: Brutal Beauties
The game bird is a classification of bantams less tied to a recognizable, full-sized farm bird. Originally developed from ancient fighting cocks and introduced to England in the 19th century, Old English game bantams can be categorized into two groups: The Carlisle exhibits a horizontal back with a large breast, while the Oxford displays a more angled back.
Modern game birds exist as well, but outside of poultry shows, the distinctive bantams are recognized more for their variety of striking colors than lineage. As they are descended from fighting birds, with little change introduced since their development, care must be taken to prevent males from engaging in bloody, often fatal, battles. Dubbing, or removing the comb and wattles from a bird, helps to this end, as fighting cocks will grab at dangling appendages to exact victory.
Game birds do not lose the fighting instinct in their genes and two roosters will fight to the death. Special care must be taken to prevent fatalities when two roosters are present.
Silkie Bantams Double Down on Cuteness
Though eggs and meat potential are valid reasons for bantam ownership, most keepers of these miniature chickens do so because they make beautiful, if unconventional, pets. This, of course, explains the popularity of silkie bantams, a breed of bird who lays few eggs and offers next to nothing for meat. What silkie bantams do provide, however, is a heaping helping of cute. Due to a feather structure that differs from other birds, silkie feathers appear more like puffy fur than anything, and these silklike feathers cover their entire body, from the majority of a silkie's head down to the bird's feet. Silkie bantams also boast blue beaks, skin and feet, and they sport five toes compared to the average four in most chickens. The bantam breed cannot fly and requires very little space, so it's possible to fill a small area with these little, strutting puffballs.