Having had bantams for three years now, I’ve found a lot of positives and negatives to choosing mini chickens over big ones. There’s been times where I’ve wished I had gone with large chickens, and times when I’m said I’m so glad I didn’t. Like whenever I get crapped on. I am always glad for mini chickens then.
When choosing the types of chickens you want you have lots of size options, ranging from less than 1 pound to upwards of 13 pounds (yes, seriously). They’re generally broken down into two size categories though: Bantams and large fowl. Large fowl fall into light, medium, and heavy while bantams technically fit into two types: True bantams and miniatures. True bantams have more or less always been small and have no larger counterpart, while miniatures have been bred down from large chickens. Miniatures are generally slightly larger than true bantams. Bantams can range anywhere from the tiniest Class A Seramas (a true bantam) to the Orpington bantams (a miniature) and Silkies (a true bantam), which are nearly the size of small large fowl chicken.
Miniaturizing isn’t really a taboo thing in chickens like it is in dogs. I’m guessing that’s because it’s not really socially frowned upon to eat them if you change your mind. Eat the chickens that is, not the people who get all nitpicky about miniaturizing. I mean the American Poultry Association even recognizes bantam Jersey Giants as a breed, which is kind of an oxymoron.
Just like with large fowl chickens, the egg-laying abilities of bantams vary a great deal so it’s hard to say which size make better layers. As with all chickens they are their most productive until 2 years old, then productivity slows down with age. The egg-laying abilities of chickens could almost be its own post, but I’ll try to summarize everything in one paragraph. Just skip down to the bold lettering if egg numbers don’t interest you. I promise it won’t hurt my feelings.
Commercial hybrids are, in my opinion, in a separate class. Nothing, neither large fowl nor bantam, can compete with them for total eggs laid during the first two years, but the hybrids’ production drops off so rapidly after two years they’re not necessarily the best choice for backyard pets with benefits (harr harr). Heritage breeds will lay less eggs per week, but generally lay better over the years so they are a better choice for someone who plans on keeping their chickens for their entire natural lifespan while still wanting a few eggs. Bantams miniaturized from large fowl breeds that are exceptional (eggs-ceptional?) layers are likely to lay lots of eggs as well while the bantams from lower production large fowl will also likely be lower production. Still following? Awesome. Many of the true bantams will lay in the ballpark of 3-4 eggs per week, although some can be as low as 2-3 per week and some will lay 5-6. Then there are Silkies, which while technically not bad layers are so prone to going broody that many of them they hardly lay any eggs at all. As with anything it’s important to research your breeds, and the individual lines within a breed, to ensure you’re getting the best fit for your needs.
But this post is about bantams vs. large fowl. So why would you choose bantams over large chickens?
1. Their eggs are deliciously adorable
They make the cutest little two-bite shoyu eggs and deviled eggs. And because unwashed eggs can be stored at room temperature, they’re the ultimate edible decor. They almost don’t look real.
2. Their eggs are just plain delicious
Assuming the chickens have a similar diet, the higher yolk:white ratio gives bantam eggs more flavour than large eggs. Whisked for scrambled eggs or omelets they just feel thicker, smoother, and more luxurious. In a blind taste test I did of cookie dough the bantam egg dough was always chosen as the winner for richness of flavour.
Aaaand now I’m hungry…
3. They’re so dang cute
I mean seriously. Yes there’s something adorable about a big, squishy Faverolles but I mean come on. This is full grown Belgian d’Anvers.
4. They poop less than standard chickens (no seriously)
It’s not just the difference in size, their poops are smaller proportionately to their body weight and happen less frequently. Their poops are also, anecdotally, firmer and less smelly than standards. So if they crap on you their poop is more likely to roll off instead of splattering all over your jeans. Unless it’s cecal poop. Then nothing can save you.
I will spare you poop photos. No need to thank me, it’s just my good deed for the day.
5. They take up less space
I don’t have a garage, so if one of them is sick or needs a bath I have to bring them into the house. Any time this happens I instantly remember why I have bantams and not standards. Also see #4 again.
In the event of an emergency I can transport my entire flock in a large Rubbermaid bin. They are less likely to destroy the grass in a backyard (unless you have, like, ten of them in a little urban yard. Let’s be realistic here). My coop and run that would be cramped with 4 standard chickens can very comfortably house my bantams.
Well, mostly. Which brings us to the reasons you might not want to own bantams.
1. They are very active
While there are variations within each size class, I’ve found on average that my banties need more exercise and mental enrichment to be happy than standard chickens. Entire tree limbs to climb on, a big rock, a twisty log, and freeze-dried grubs aren’t enough to keep my girls happy. Fake foraging isn’t enough for them, they want out of their pen to find and dig up their own bugs. And unhappy chickens scream at the top of their lungs until they get what they want. And while bantam voices are quieter in overall volume than large fowl, they’re still pretty freaking loud. Definitely loud enough to annoy any close neighbours, and probably grouchy far away neighbours too. This can be tricky, because…
2. They’re prey to even more creatures than standard chickens
While standard chickens are generally safe from smaller birds of prey, a bantam is small enough to be seen as a potential meal. I had to stop free-ranging my bantams because of a persistent resident peregrine (that thankfully had bad aim!) while, as far as I know anyway, my neighbour’s chickens were all fine. If you have to deal with larger raptors like eagles or red-tailed hawks though then no chicken is safe. Almost everything eats chicken. Everything eats bantams.
3. You can only buy the chicks unsexed
This point is moot if you intend to only buy from small hobby or show breeders (not a bad idea, by the way), but if you’re looking at commercial breeders like Ideal or McMurray then only standard chickens come with a choice of gender. One way around this is to search out hobby breeders selling pullets that are at least 8 weeks old or more, when gender is easier to tell. Failed show/breeding prospects still make great backyard pets. If you want itty bitty freshly hatched banties though you’ll have to deal with roughly 50% of them being male. And as anyone who hatches eggs will tell you, it’s generally more than 50%. Sometimes it works out, like how I ended up with Gueuze, but it’s why last year I purchased Brulot and Beignet as older pullets. Well that and I didn’t really want to brood chicks again. Apparently I even find babies of the chicken variety kind of overrated. Is something wrong with me?
Although smaller, you can still eat your surplus bantam cockerels. But only if you can butcher them, or let someone else butcher them for you. If you’re soft you’ll end up with a second coop full of angry bachelor roosters. Keep that in mind before you go out and buy a bunch of chicks.
4. The eggs don’t always convert 2:1 in recipes
While the whole eggs can be used two bantam for every one standard, because of the higher yolk:white ratio in bantam eggs, if a recipe calls for only egg whites then you’ll need more than two bantam whites to equal one standard white (and slightly less than 2 yolks for every 1 standard yolk). Sometimes this can be frustrating.
5. There is less egg colour selection.
While you can get white, brown, blue, and green(ish) egg-laying bantams, they haven’t been selectively bred for the rich colour tones that many standard breeds have. You’ll never get the deep olive green eggs of an Olive Egger (Marans or Welsummer cross Ameraucana or Easter Egger), because there are no bantams that lay chocolate brown eggs. Or even copper brown eggs. White laying breeds tend to range from porcelain to lightly tinted, while blue eggs are generally a pastel tone, and brown eggs are generally varying shades of tan. The darkest bantam eggs I’ve seen were from a Marans bantam project, and they were about as dark as a grocery store brown egg.
So lots of fun colours, but not exactly the rainbow you get with large chickens.
Fun trivia fact: Eating bantam eggs is nothing new. Did you know that Dutch Bantams were originally kept for their eggs? The Dutch serfs were required to turn over all large eggs to the land owners, and so they kept a personal flock of bantams for their own egg consumption.
Every once in a while you’ll also encounter a grommet-head that just can’t wrap their mind around the idea that you can, in fact, eat bantam eggs or that there are reasons someone might choose bantams over large fowl. Or maybe they just think they’re being funny. Then again these are the same people that don’t feel whole unless they’re driving a giant lifted truck with an 80+ pound dog loose in the back, so maybe it doesn’t matter