Bantam Chickens: Small But Mighty

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We got our first bantam chickens in 2002 entirely by accident. I had ordered turkeys from a hatchery, and the box included 15 tiny chicks! We already had Buff Orpingtons and Silver-Laced Wyandottes, so I knew immediately that these were much smaller than standard-sized chickens.

As the weeks passed and the chicks feathered out, I discovered that we had Frizzle Cochins, Old English Game, and Japanese bantams. I became an immediate fan and have always had bantam chickens on the farm ever since!

While standard-sized chickens are classified as meat birds, egg layers, or dual-purpose chickens, most people would consider bantams to be purely ornamental. But I disagree.

What are bantam chickens?

Bantams simply refer to the size of the chicken, not the breed. Bantams are available in many breeds, just like standard chickens. In fact, many standard breeds have a bantam equivalent — kind of like some breeds have miniature equivalents.

There are also a few breeds that were developed as bantams and have no larger counterpart, such as the Sebright and the Silkie chicken.

What do bantam chickens weigh?

It’s typically said that bantams weigh about one-fourth as much as standard chickens. While weights of standard breed chickens are reported in pounds, weights of bantams are usually reported in ounces because most are less than two pounds.

Sebright Bantam Chicks
Sebright Bantam Chicks

Can you eat bantam chickens?

Yes! We love bantam chicken meat! When they reach three to four months of age, we pick the nicest and prettiest roosters for breeding, then we butcher the rest of the males.

Sebright Bantams roosting
Sebright Bantams roosting (L to R, rooster, hen, rooster, hen)

One bantam cockerel makes a perfect meal for two people. We cut along each side of the spine to remove it, then we cut down the middle of the breast bone. Each serving includes a leg, thigh, breast, and wing. I love to marinate them in a lemon-garlic wine marinade for a few hours and then grill outside.

How big are bantam chicken eggs?

Bantam chicken eggs weigh about half as much as a large chicken egg, so when a recipe calls for one egg, we use two.

I also love to keep boiled bantam eggs in the refrigerator because one makes a delicious high-protein snack that’s quick and easy.

How do bantam chicken eggs taste?

Bantam chicken eggs taste just like eggs from standard chickens.

9-year-old Sebright Hen
9-year-old Sebright Hen

What else are bantam chickens good for?

Bantam chicken hens are famous for going broody and being amazing mothers. I have a friend who lives off-grid and can’t have an incubator and uses bantam Cochin chickens to set large chicken eggs and even turkey eggs.

This is not true of all bantams, however. The Sebright is just one example of a bantam breed that rarely goes broody. I’ve had them for nine years and never had one go broody.

I have also never had a banty hen decide that she no longer wanted to be a mother after a week or two of setting. Once they set, they are committed!

And then they are fiercely protective mamas. I’ll never forget the day I saw one of our dogs running like his tail was on fire. When I finally did see his tail, I realized a banty hen had attacked herself to his back end with her claws in his hair and flapping her wings violently against him!

If you want a breed that is truly sustainable and will reproduce without your assistance, bantams can’t be beat!

Bantams are great for people who only want a few eggs for their family, especially if they don’t eat a lot of eggs. Rather than getting only two or three standard size chickens, you could get five or six bantams, creating more diversity in your flock.

Bantams are also perfect for people who don’t have a lot of space in their backyard or don’t have room to build a larger coop.

And if you don’t like the idea of butchering your old hens, bantams are much cheaper to feed during their retirement years since they are so small.

Do bantam chickens need any special care?

Bantam chickens as a whole don’t require any special care. You might think that they would have trouble with cold weather due to their small size, but ours have weathered our cold Illinois winters just as well as our standard-sized chickens.

If you want to use electric poultry netting, be aware that bantams can walk right through the openings. Since they are flock animals, they rarely do, but it’s possible. The poultry netting can protect them from ground predators as long as they stay inside the netting, but not if they decide to go on walkabout.

Because of their small size, they would be more likely to have problems with flying predators such as hawks and eagles. To help protect them if they are free range, you can make sure there are small A-frame huts available around the pasture where they can run to hide when they see the shadow of a raptor flying above them.

If your bantams are in a chicken run that doesn’t have a cover, then you could run single strands of wire across the top of the run every foot or two to disrupt the flight pattern of a flying predator.

Why bantams?

Someday if I only need a few hens for our own personal egg production, I want about half a dozen bantams. They are beautiful and sweet with great eggs, and they come in a variety of colors and patterns making them the perfect lawn ornaments and pets with benefits.

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