We are predisposed to look at small, fluffy creatures and declare them “cute,” and the bantam chicken is one such creature.

Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim

The animal is, as the name suggests, a smaller or miniature version of a standard chicken, often only a quarter of the original animal’s size and weighing in at just about one to two pounds as compared to the four to seven pounds of regular chickens.In truth, bantam chicken expert Dr. Kelvin Manubay says, the only difference between regular chickens and bantam chickens is that you need less than half the work to manage bantams. “You feed them less; you house them in smaller pens; your cleanup is easier; and the noise they make is much less. They are more manageable and may display better forms and characteristics. They also (command) a higher price when being bought or sold.”

Lost Origins

The history and exact origins of bantam chickens is unclear but Dr. Manubay shares that records indicate that the type came from South East Asia where small native chickens like the Philippine red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus or the ‘labuyo’) have been bred with other domestic breeds from across the Orient.“The tireless Japanese breeders who are known for developing extreme forms and feathers have done a lot to perfect bantams.

Today, bantam chicken keeping has developed into a popular hobby in UK and the US. These days, bantam chickens are bred as pets and show birds,” he explains.The appeal of these birds was brought home to him when he was not allowed to bring home domestic farm animals like chickens, pigs, horses, and cattle. In a city setting, he could never care for them without disturbing the neighbors. “All these changed when I encountered the bantam chicken. I was allowed to keep bantam chickens because they were small and easier to manage. Even their crowing was ‘small’ and did not affect the neighbors,” he shares.Like many other first-timers, the novelty was what initially attracted Dr. Manubay. “I found them unusual because of their minute size and their being able to easily breed in a small cage. They were also very easy to handle and feed. I eventually discovered that that there were other forms and breeds available, with some that are truly very showy.”

Don’t think that cuteness is the only weapon in this chicken’s arsenal. “Bantams are smart. They alert each other when there is a predator or threat around. They call on their mates when food is available. Hens have been known to be protective of their chicks. Bantams may be trained as they respond well to those who feed them. Some varieties like the serama can be trained to stay in just one place for hours,” he explains.

Easy Pets

Good news: yes, you can keep a bantam chicken. “(They) make good and easy-to-care-for pets. There are about a hundred varieties to choose from, ranging from the most common looking ones to the really exotic and fancy ones. They come in different colors and patterns, and their plumage comes in different styles.”These styles include the silkies, the frizzled the crested, the booted, the long tailed, and even the naked neck types, Dr. Manubay enumerates. “They can be very docile and frequent handling can make them very tame. They are easy to breed and a breeding pair can be easily kept in a small cage.”

A Polish bantam.

As mentioned earlier, noise isn’t going to be much of a consideration, especially if you keep a single pair. “Only the males crow and (the noise) isn’t even half as loud as (that of) the regular sized rooster. However you have to make sure about ordinances in your vicinity about keeping chickens. A pair or two kept inside a fenced wall or within the house is manageable and their sound will not really bother the neighborhood.”

Bantam roosters may crow at night when a light nearby has been switched on. It is best to cover their cage with dark fabric to keep them from crowing at night, he advises.Don’t think though that bantam chickens can just be left to their own devices. You still need to keep them well-fed and watered, with their surroundings kept clean. “Taking care of bantam chickens, like any other kind of pet, requires time and dedication. They have to be fed twice a day, have clean water at all times and their cages have to be cleaned at least twice a week,” Dr. Manubay explains. “They must be protected from rain and drafts and kept in cages where rodents can’t reach them. A dry clean roofed area would be good for them.”

You won’t have to handle bantam chickens all the time, not unless you want them to be as tame as dogs and cats or you want to train them. Neither do they need bathing, “…but they do like an occasional sand bath. Hobbyists who join shows, however, have been known to bathe and groom their bantams. This includes clipping the nails, beak, and spurs when they are too long,” says Dr. Manubay.Who then is an ideal owner for a bantam chicken? Definitely the first ‘qualification’ is to be a bird lover who is not allergic to feathers. Also, “Handlers have to have firm but gentle gripping hands.” This way the incidence of injuries to the little birds can be minimized.

Care Lessons

How do you know if your bantams are healthy? “Healthy bantams have clear eyes, clear nostrils, and clean vents. Their feathers should not be ruffled, and they should always be alert. Their crowns and wattles should be red and not pale or blackened. They should be breathing through their nose and not through their mouths. Their stool should be firm and of good texture. They should always be eager to eat,” says Dr. Manubay. Owners must feed their bantams twice a day and allow them to free roam in a bigger area at least once a week, he adds. Letting them free range out of their cages once a week helps them in their grooming, as scratching and foraging on the ground helps keep their nails and beaks trimmed. “They love to roll on sand and soil as this is their way of bathing.”

No need to worry; when the sun sets, bantam chickens will always go home to roost in their own cages. But it’s best to make sure they go home and are protected from the weather, as bantam chickens are easily affected by abrupt changes in it.How about eggs and breeding? Dr. Manubay explains, “A bantam chicken can lay up to 150 eggs a year; (they) are very good brooders. A rooster can be paired with up to 7 hens at a time but the ideal should only be 1 male to 3 hens.” When you’re breeding bantam chickens, don’t overfeed them, as this can reduce their breeding and laying capacity.A good diet for bantam chickens, according to Dr. Manubay, contains grains, legumes, greens, and occasional fruit as treats. Grit composed of shell, clay, sand, and coal is beneficial for their proper digestion.

Mealworms and other insects also help as a source of protein.Did you know that bantam chickens can get along well with cats and dogs, especially if they have been exposed to these animals from an early stage of their growth? But this isn’t always the case; most of the time, bantam chickens prefer to be left alone.

Want to show them some affection? They like to be rubbed around their crown and wattles, and soft caresses on their backside and bellies comfort them.Just take care because the cocks often fight with other cocks to gain control of the pecking order. It is best to separate cocks from each other.You should also separate sickly bantams from others. A slight cold can easily spread and so will any virus present.

This first appeared as “Good Things, Small Packages” in Animal Scene’s May 2015 issue.