Chickens are classified into groups based on several factors such as size, where the birds originated from, shape, colour and comb type. There are basically two sizes of chicken breeds which include standard sized chickens and bantams. Bantam is the name given to small chicken breeds. From the term Bantam, it is easy to note that these small breeds of chicken are somewhat different from the standard sized chicken breeds. They are quite smaller in stature, normally weighing about a quarter to one fifth of standard breeds. Most bantams were derived from large chicken breeds through cross breeding. For this reason, small chicken breeds exist in almost every breed and variety of large chickens. There are some small breeds of chicken that however do not have standard-sized relatives hence are referred to as true bantams. For the most part, small chicken breeds retain the features of the larger types of chickens from which they were derived. However, all small breeds of chicken regardless of the nature of their parent breed, including true bantams share some common characteristics. This article will outline the characteristics of small chicken breeds.
As stated earlier, one of the most noticeable characteristics of small chicken breeds is their small appearance. The exact size varies in accordance with the type of breed, but most small breeds of chicken tend to weigh between 400 grams and 1100 grams. This is usually about 70% to 75% less than their standard sized relatives. The Dutch is an example of small chicken breeds weighing an average of 500 grams. The Belgian D’Anver is another featherweight weighing in at around 600 grams. Other popular small breeds of chicken include the Belgian D’Uccle, Seabright, and Serama bantams. New bloodlines of small chicken breeds are continuously being introduced. With the introduction of these bloodlines and growth promoting diets, small breeds of chicken are gradually becoming larger.
Eggs from small breeds of chicken are smaller in size compared to those from standard sized breeds. They are about two thirds or half the size of eggs from large breeds of chicken. Small chicken breeds are usually not selected or kept for their eggs as they tend to lay less than larger breeds. None the less, they are generally good layers. Small breeds of chicken derived from standard sized layers tend to lay more eggs that are slightly larger compared to true bantams. Small chicken breeds usually take an approximate of 8 months before they begin to lay eggs but once they do, they are often consistent. On average, a laying hen will produce four to five eggs each week. High yielding small chicken breeds include:
- Ameraucana (4 eggs per week)
- Sussex (4 or 5 eggs per week)
- Plymouth Rock (3 or 4 eggs per week)
- Australorp (4 to 5 eggs per week)
Broodiness is the inherent tendency of a hen to stay on the nest and incubate her eggs. This also comprises care of the young. Most small chicken breeds are broody, however, some varieties such as the Mediterranean breeds tend to desert their nests frequently. In most cases, miniatures of heavy breeds for example Cochin and Silkie bantams are exceptionally good brooders.
Various small chicken breeds have different temperaments. Nonetheless, small breeds of chicken are usually known for their calm, placid and friendly nature. Some roosters however can be aggressive especially during the mating season. Overally, small chicken breeds are neither aggressive nor dangerous and do not cause much trouble, even when they are around standard sized chickens. Small breeds of chicken are also famed for their superior ability to fly when compared to other chicken breeds thus can be rather difficult to contain.
Some small chiken breeds are suited to cold climatic conditions while others do better in warm climates. Most major breeds of small chicken are fairly hardy and can tolerate a range of weather patterns. That being said, note that these breeds can also be affected if climatic conditions are too extreme. Brahma is an example of small chicken breeds that can cope in different climatic conditions. For such feet feathered breeds, care should be taken to avoid fungal infections especially in wet conditions. Mediterranean breeds generally perform well in hot, humid areas while most American breeds are better in cooler areas. Also, small chicken breeds with large combs tend to cope well in warmer climates. This is attributed to the large comb which allows improved cooling. Large combs are a problem in cold areas as they can get frostbitten. Small chicken breeds like the Barnevelder and Wyandotte are very cold tolerant. On the other hand, breeds such as Belgian Bearded d’Uccle and Frizzles are very hardy and heat tolerant but do not cope so well with the cold weather conditions.
Growth habits of small chicken breeds vary similarly to all breeds of poultry. A common growth charateristic among all small chicken breeds is that they tend to gain size and weight in their second year than their first. In most cases, tight feathered breeds mature earlier. They mature in about 6 months whereas loose feathered breeds take about 9 months or more. Small chicken breeds usually feather speedily though the colour of the feathers might change as they mature. Owing to growth promoting feeds and proper care, some small breeds of chicken are more likely to grow bigger. In addition, late hatched eggs usually mature sooner though are smaller than chicks hatched earlier. Never the less, they eventually grow as large as chicks hatched earlier.
The advantages of keeping small chicken breeds over their standard sized relatives is that they require less space, consume less food hence are quite cheaper. They are also easier to handle. The down size is that most are neither excellent at egg or meat production. Attributable to their small frame and inferior productivity, farmers often keep them for their beauty and exhibition. Their wide array of shapes, colours and personalities give them broad appeal. With the introduction of the bloodlines and growth promoting feeds, they are fortunately gaining popularity and recognition as productive poultry breeds.