Agriculture.com Staff 02/07/2011 @ 2:42pm
Getting your Bantam
Bantam chickens are a great way to raise beautiful ornamental poultry without taking up too much space in the backyard. Weighing in at 16 to 30 ounces, these diminutive birds share the characteristics of full-sized domestic chicken breeds, but come in a much handier package. Bantams are capable of adapting to almost any environment and are often hardier than ordinary chickens. They make excellent pets because they require little upkeep, tend to be low in cost, and are generally friendly and personable.
Check local laws
Before you commit to the idea of raising bantam chickens, it's best to check your local laws and ordinances. Bantams, despite their Lilliputian dimensions, are still considered poultry. If you live on a farm, this probably isn't a relevant concern. But for those living within the city limits, it's best to check to make sure you're not breaking any laws by raising your birds. "There's been a resurgence of raising poultry in cities or towns; a lot of times those restrictions will limit males because of their crowing and so forth," says Phil Clauer, a poultry specialist at Penn State University.
Select the breed
Next, you'll want to speak to a breeder and make sure you've done your research regarding the bantam breed or breeds you'd like to raise. Each type of bantam has different needs regarding how much space and what kind of environment it will need to flourish. With 350 breeds to choose from, there are almost endless options for your personal preference.
"They come in any size, color, and shape. It comes down to what's attractive to you," says Clauer. "Certain breeds are better than others, depending on what you're looking for."
Be careful with genetics
When seeking out bantams to purchase, be careful where you shop. "Always try to get your birds from a legitimate breeder, not from auctions where you run into disease and other problems," Clauer says.
Beyond the possibility of disease, the birds you're likely to find at flea markets and auction sites won't be true bantams. Excessive crossbreeding is a common problem in the bantam world, often producing genetically strange birds that are too large to be bantams but too small to be full-sized chickens.
"That's always been a problem in domestic bantams. Everyone likes to cross different colors to see if they can create the next interesting color pattern," Clauer says. "A lot of the birds aren't true breeding bantams - they're too large or have unusual color patterns. This is something we run into on a regular basis." The breeding is especially important if you intend to show or sell your bantams. Purebred bantams will fetch a substantially higher price if you decide you want to sell them.
"Just like dogs or cats, if you have a high-quality genetic line of a particular breed, it will have higher value than a crossbreed," Clauer says.
While crossbreeding bantams will occasionally yield an unusually beautiful or strange looking bird, it's not worth the trouble; you'll never get a similar one simply due to the genetic instability of your flock. Maintaining the purity of the breeds is high priority to the bantam community.
Build a shelter
After you've established the breed of your choice, go ahead and build a shelter. Bantams are small birds, so it won't take much. Just make sure that the coop has no drafts, is well insulated, and has enough ventilation.
To achieve this, make two openings, one above the other, on the south or east side of the coop, and cover them with cloth.
If you are interested in raising more than one variety, be sure to keep the breeds separated to prevent their bullying or even cannibalizing one another. This can also happen among the same breed if you put two males together in a pen that is too small.
If you're raising your bantams from chicks, be sure that their first week is spent in a comfortably warm 95° F. environment. For every week that passes, you can turn the heat down 5° in the coop until you've reached the environmental temperature. Be sure to keep their litter dry and their feed and water clean.
Select the feed
Bantams eat commercial chicken starter mash until they're 8 weeks old. After that, you'll want to gradually switch them over to growing mash.
While their size indicates uselessness as a food source, surplus bantams can be butchered and eaten just as any full-size chicken. Older birds will have tougher and darker meat than their younger counterparts (the same as ordinary chickens) but are still very palatable.
Collect the (tiny) eggs
As far as eggs are concerned, bantams produce them proportionate to their size. "Bantams are typically a one-fifth miniature of the full-size chicken, so the eggs are going to be at least a quarter of the size," Clauer says. "There are no differences in nutrition; the proportions are the same -- just smaller."
If you intend to use your bantams purely as a source of eggs, you should consider raising a breed that is better suited to higher egg production. Typically, the bantam variation of full-sized chickens that are adept at laying eggs will be a similarly good choice for egg production.
Be aware that the more productive egg-laying breeds tend to be more flighty. "They tend to be a little more active, a little more high strung," Clauer says.
With those birds, don't wear loose, floppy clothing that may be perceived as a threat or challenge. If you're looking for kid-friendly birds, high-strung breeds may not be right for you.
While bantams may not be the most useful or functional variety of poultry, their unique size and comical mannerisms will make you smile every time you head towards the coop.
"Bantams are neat little things in the bird world," Clauer says.