How to Keep Bantams
Bantams do not give you as many eggs as larger chickens, but they are often the preferred choice for people aspiring to be self sufficient on a smaller property.
They can provide adequate eggs for a small family; and as smaller animals, they can be easier to look after when you have a limited amount of space. You do need to understand how they differ to bigger birds, and choose appropriate breeds though.
Bantams are smaller versions of the standard chickens used in farming and production; in fact they are about half the size or less of a larger chicken breed. They lay less frequently than some of the standard chicken breeds, with a typical bird laying around 150 eggs a year. Their eggs are usually smaller in size – but they are still edible and a fun size for kids!
Bantams, like all chickens, love to graze on grass - but are preferred for the family backyard as they do less damage to garden beds and the lawn, yet are still useful for reducing garden pests and cleaning up kitchen scraps.
Bantam roosters are busy birds, they are very protective of their hens and quite noisy for their small size, in fact they crow just as loud as a large breed rooster – so think carefully before keeping a bantam rooster on a smaller block! There are council restrictions on keeping roosters in many areas, especially more suburban locations, so check that out before making a decision to keep one.
Choosing Your Bantam Breeds
The first decision that must be made once you’ve decided to keep chickens as pets is whether you prefer the standard (normal sized) chicken or whether you’d prefer bantams (smaller chickens). The decision you make may also be because you actually love the look of bantams and prefer them as pets. Or it may be based on the amount of room you have to keep your chickens, or whether you want lots of larger sized eggs from your chickens every week. If you want lots of large eggs every week then you are best to opt for the standard sized hen. If you have limited space, or just like the idea of smaller colourful birds as pets, and are quite happy with smaller eggs and slightly lower production, then the bantam may be right for you!
Generally “bantam” refers to a miniature version of a standard breed. However there a number of “true” bantams meaning they have no larger version. These include the, Belgian, Dutch, Rosecomb, Japanese and Pekin, bantams.
Bantams require a third of the space of a standard chicken, live around 4-8 years and lay around 4-5 eggs a week depending on the breed.
Bantams enjoy free-range backyard living but require a clean, dry and safe coop to call home at night – just like any other chicken. Chicken coops can be purchased in a variety of materials and sizes so there are many chicken coops available these days that would be perfect for bantams. Small coops are relatively inexpensive and come in timber and mesh or corrugated tin and mesh. You can even buy movable coops that can be moved around the garden, if you don’t always want your chickens roaming free or you would like them to turn over and at the same time fertilise your vegetable patch for you! Typically though bantams require less space and can therefore require smaller coops.
However no matter what you buy or build their housing should:
- Be dry and clean
- Have access to clean water
- Well ventilated
- Contain clean bedding and materials for nesting –such as straw, hay, and grass clippings.
- Contain perches
- Be secure and safe.
They would need to be kept in a secure coop at night – preferably with perches where the chickens can roost off the ground. Make sure your yard is secure and dogs cannot get in when you are not around.
Bantams have no special dietary requirement outside of what is recommended for all chickens, and like all chickens they enjoy a variety of feeds, including:
- Kitchen scraps - most fruit, vegetable, and bread and cake scraps from your kitchen are great for chickens to scratch and pick at. Scraps should not form the basis of their diet though, because low protein foods such as this will lower their egg production. Avoid very salty food scraps because they can be poisonous to birds.
- Good quality layer mash – this is specifically formulated to give your hens balanced nutrients. You can feed this dry or slightly moistened – on cold days hens love a nice warm mash, just like us!
- Grains – chickens love scratching around for grains and if they are on a deep litter such as hay or straw it also turns that over and keeps it dry at the same time. Wheat is great as a scratching grain and you can add a small proportion of barley if you like: 1/5th barley to 4/5th wheat is about right. Feed grain at night because it takes longer to digest and the birds will not need to feed again until morning.
- Grass - all chooks love to pick and scratch at green feed – you can even give them grass clipping from the mower if fresh.
- Shell grit for calcium – this keeps the shells of their eggs hard; this is important if you don’t feed your chickens a commercial layer mash (commercial mash has calcium added).
- Granite chips or other hard grit is important for your chickens if you feed grains to them, as they use the grit to grind their food.
- Clean and fresh water should be available to them at all times.
Bantams are usually healthy and have no more health problems than other chickens. There are however a few signs of a sick bird signs to look out for, such as:
- runny eyes
- excessive sneezing
- excessive feather loss (except during moulting)
- decreased egg production
- lame leg
- dropped wing
- loose/watery droppings
The most common diseases other health problems in chickens:
Leucosis: also known as big liver disease – it is a viral disease that can be transmitted from one hen to the next or also through their eggs. This can cause hens to be very sick and sometimes die – it is more common in older birds (over 6 months old). There is no treatment for this disease. To prevent this problem buy your chickens from respected sources
Mareks disease: this is also a viral condition that presents as tumours on vital organs and the nerves – it causes paralysis of the legs. Younger birds under 6 months of age are susceptible. This disease is prevented by vaccination of day old chicks - so once again check before buying and buy from a known source.
Bacterial infections: this is the most common disease likely to affect chickens and can be prevented with good hygiene, good nutrition and making sure that your birds are not fed contaminated, mouldy or rotten food.
Internal Parasites: intestinal worms such as round worms, hairworms and caecal worms are common in chickens. This is more of a problem if your birds are free range, as the parasites’ hosts are beetles, earthworms and slugs. The chicken ingests the parasite when they eat these insects. Parasitic worms can give birds diarrhoea, make them listless, lose weight and lower their egg production. Treatment varies according to the parasite; your vet can give you treatments suited to chickens to prevent infestation.
External Parasites: fleas, lice, mites, scaly leg mite, and ticks can all affect your chickens – although this problem is more common in over-crowded conditions then in free-range birds. Good hygiene in their house such as changing the litter frequently and allowing them to free range goes a long way to preventing many of these parasitic problems. If you suspect external parasites then you may need to speak with a vet or poultry expert to determine what the problem is as treatment varies accordingly.
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