What is a bantam chicken?
A bantam is any small variety of chicken or duck. Most large chicken breeds have a bantam counterpart, which is much smaller than the standard-sized fowl, but otherwise similar in most or all respects. A true bantam chicken is naturally small and has no large counterpart.
In Bantams we have every variety imaginable, and every shade of colour known in the larger breeds of chickens. There are the long-legged Game and Malays, and the short-legged Pekins, Japanese and Burmese, with their bodies quite touching the ground as they shuffle along.
Below: A Sebright bantam.
We have feather legged, and clean legged, rose combed, strawberry combed, pea combed and single combed, and some with no combs at all.
We have the crested Polish, Sultans, Burmese and Silkies and for perfection of markings and beauty of effect, we have the grand little gold and silver Sebrights, the greatest triumph of the breeder's art.
What is the smallest breed of bantam chickens?
The Malaysian Serama bantam is the smallest breed of chicken in the world, some weigh less than 500g.
Below: The tiny little Serama, the smallest chicken.
They are between 18 and 25 centimetres tall and are the result of crossing Japanese bantams with Malaysian bantams.
What is the largest bantam breed?
The largest bantam breed is either the Orpington bantam or the Brahma bantam. I have kept both and while the Brahma bantam is taller, the Orpington was heavier.
How are bantam breeds classified?
Bantam breeds are classified as bantam or true bantams. Ordinary bantams have a large fowl counterpart and true bantams do not.
Below: The Silver laced barnevelder bantams.
There are 63 breeds and 415 varieties of bantams that are formally recognized by the standard. Bantam breeds can be categorized as:
- Single Comb Clean Legged.
- Feather Legged.
- Rose Comb Clean Legged.
- Any Other Comb Clean Legged.
- Game (American and Old English).
- Modern Game.
The complete list of bantam chicken breeds from A to Z:
Asil (Aseel) Bantams
Bantam (The ancestor of all bantam breeds)
Belgian Bearded d'Anvers
Belgian Bearded d'Uccle
German Langshan Chickens
Indian Game Bantams
Modern Game Bantams
New Hampshire Red Bantams
Old English Game Bantams
Oxford Old English Game Bantams
Plymouth Rock Bantams
Poland or Polish Bantams.
Rhode Island Red Bantams
Silkie Chickens. Our Silkie page.
The origin of the bantam:
The Bantam has a very respectable antiquity of its own.
The word bantam comes from the name of the city of Bantam in western Java, Indonesia. Sailors taking on supplies of live chickens for sea journeys found the small native breeds of chicken in Southeast Asia to be easy to manage and keep aboard ship, and these small birds became known as a bantams, after the city.
Bantams have been bred with one or two copies of up to 2 genes that limit size in chickens.
Below: A beautiful little dutch bantam chicken.
Whether Bantams existed as original breeds or were bred from larger varieties is to some extent an open question. We know that some Bantams have been bred down from larger varieties, but we do not know and
cannot know that this is true of all varieties.
Pliny the Elder, AD 23 – 79, Wrote about "a dwarfed kind of fowls that are extraordinarily small and yet fruitful." so we can conclude that small chickens have been around for at least 2000 years.
Ulisse Aldrovandi, the Italian naturalist, who wrote four hundred years ago that he was was acquainted with Bantams. He described one variety as "having a strong resemblance to the coq paitu of France, having feet covered with feathers on the outside, forming a sort of boot to the very claws." He distinguishes between two English varieties, "a large booted sort, and a dwarf of golden plumage and having a double comb."
Lewis Wright, on the other hand, asserts that "There is not the slightest reason for supposing that any of the diminutive fowls known as Bantams are descended from an original wild stock. They are in many cases the exact counterparts of ordinary domestic breeds, carefully dwarfed and perfected by the art of man ; and even where this is not so, the process by which they were produced is occasionally on record."
The fact that bantams are "exact counterparts of ordinary domestic breeds" does not necessarily prove that they descended from these breeds, you could as easily say that because of this resemblance, that the larger breeds descended from the smaller.
The argument that bantams constantly tend to increase in size would not necessarily prove that they were made small by art, for it might lend colour to the view that the larger breeds sprang from the Bantams. The larger breeds also tend to grow smaller, so that from these positions no conclusion can be safely arrived at."