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PHOTO: Lennart Tange/Flickr
It’s easy to find reasons not to add chickens to your family or home life, but having a small outdoor space shouldn’t be one of them. There’s a simple loophole to keeping chickens in small spaces: bantams!
Bantams are breeds of chickens that are smaller than standard-sized birds—some only weigh a few pounds. There are “true bantams,” which are breeds only available in the bantam size, and then there are bantam varieties of standard-sized breeds. Some of both types are offered in this list of favorites.
The great thing about bantams for an urban or suburban flock is their tiny footprint (so to speak). They eat less, take up less space, cost less to care for—and their housing is smaller, so it costs less, too! And yet they are just as easy to care for as a flock of standard hens might be. Below, you’ll find some of the best bantam breeds for beginners, families, seasoned standard-breed chicken keepers, and everyone in between.
But First: Bantam Care
Because of their unique feathers, several breeds of ornamental bantams offered in this list have a few special management considerations.
Mind Your Climate
Firstly, some, like the Silkie, don’t fare well in cold, wet climates. In those regions, Silkies need reliably insulated housing and protection from the elements. Others, such as the Brahma bantam, Mille Fleur d’Uccle and Cochin bantam, have furry, feathered feet. In a free-range situation, feathered feet rarely pose a problem, however, in a confined coop/run, wet or muddy conditions may lead to feet and leg complications. With these breeds, it’s best to set up a dry, covered run before getting your birds, and have a management system in place to keep bedding free from excessive droppings and moisture at all times and throughout all of your region’s seasons.
If your outdoor space is rather tiny and your birds will spend much of their time confined to a coop without access to grass or bugs to forage on, consider offering greens and kitchen scraps as a supplement to their regular poultry feed. You may choose to grow a small window garden with a few greens just for them, or offer any fresh fruits and vegetables from your kitchen that don’t make it to your table. Just remember to always offer poultry grit to help with digestion.
All chickens are susceptible to predation from other animals—usually raccoons, weasels and domestic dogs are the likely culprits in urban and suburban areas—but because bantams are all generally on the small side, even small breed dogs and some house cats may prey on these demure chickens. Silkies, in particular, are at risk for predation because they can’t fly, so they can’t perch very high or escape dangerous situations. Take extra precautions with bantams by creating a secure housing set-up, monitoring the coop for potential gaps or weak points regularly, and locking your birds up in the coop each night.
1. Barred Plymouth Rock Bantams
Like their standard-sized counterparts, Barred Plymouth Rock bantams pack a punch of personality and make one of the most perfect backyard chicken breeds you could add to your flock. The Barred Rock bantam is friendly and personable. Hens are great layers of brown eggs, and both sexes are great meat birds. For a bantam, the breed is rather cold-hardy, so it’s a wonderful addition to a backyard flock in a colder climate. It would prefer to range freely, but it’ll take what it can get and tolerate confinement if that’s what is available.
2. Buff Brahma Bantams
Like the Barred Rock bantam, Brahma bantams are another wonderful small version of a full-sized breed. Like their standard-sized doppelgangers, the Brahma bantam is gentle and quiet, cold-hardy and makes a great overall pet. Brahma bantam hens lay well, like other breeds in this list, make excellent setters and mothers. The Buff Brahma bantam sports a bright-golden body with black tail feathers and black-laced hackles—quite a stunning bird!
3. Cochin Bantams
Like the Silkie listed below, the Cochin bantam is an ornamental breed, prized for its calm disposition—which makes it an excellent breed choice for a family flock—and its fluffy appearance. Also called Pekin bantams, this breed originates from China, and when allowed to hatch eggs, the hens make wonderful mothers. Like other ornamental breeds, bantam Cochins are not rock-star layers, but they require very little space and their range of color varieties (buff; partridge; golden laced; barred; mottled; and black, white and red frizzle, to name a few) mean you’ll always have some beautiful birds in your flock.
4. Mille Fleur d’Uccle Bantam
If you’re looking for a showy, eye-catching bird, the Mille Fleur d’Uccle bantam may be the gal for you. The name translates from French meaning “thousand flowers,” and indeed, the Mille Fleur’s plumage appears to bloom before your eyes, with the most beautiful feathers appearing after the bird’s first molt. The breed has both heavily feathered legs and a bushy beard, to boot.
The Mille Fleur is considered a “true bantam,” meaning there is no standard-sized counterpart, as the Barred Rock and Brahmas both have. As an ornamental breed, don’t expect an abundance of its tiny eggs to grace your nest box, but if you have an eager up-and-coming 4-H-er in your family, this bird might be a wonderful addition to your flock come showtime. Mille Fleur d’Uccle are sweet and friendly birds.
Ah, the sweet and silly-looking Silkie. The “lap dog” of the chicken world, as it’s affectionately known, is a petite bird that makes the perfect pet chicken. Indeed, I’d wager a bet that the Silkie is the most popular smaller-sized chicken breed among backyard keepers. Given its gentle temperament, it’s an ideal companion for children, and its demure size and no-fuss attitude lends well to micro-flocks in either urban or suburban areas, where confinement is necessary for safety or to meet city or HOA regulations.
The Silkie is not considered a “true bantam”—it’s simply bred to be on the smaller side. Its fluffy appearance is attributed to its unique feathers: The barbs and shafts of the feathers don’t “lock” to create a stiff feather like other chicken breeds and birds. Instead, the feathers resemble the down of a young chick—both in appearance and to the touch. The Silkie is considered an ornamental breed, for this reason; however, it can certainly pull its weight around even the smallest homestead. Silkie hens are fairly good layers of cream-colored eggs, often go broody, and when allowed to hatch eggs, the hens make excellent mothers. For some of the challenges and special considerations in keeping Silkies, their tolerance to heat is one of the best reasons that they’re worth the effort. Silkies thrive in warm climates where heavier breeds might suffer.
Whether your bantam is a great layer of tiny eggs, a wonderful mother hen, or simply a beautiful showboat in your backyard, there is a miniature chicken breed for everyone.