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Size matters in the hen house

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Good things come in small packages when it comes to bantam fowl, writes JESSAMY MILLER.  

Backyards are getting smaller these days, but our desire to produce some food at home is increasing. If you don’t have room for a large bodied fowl like an Australorp or a Brahma, consider keeping some bantams. It might even enable you to own a few more birds and enjoy more eggs. You can get away with a smaller run, nest boxes and perch area with bantams, but do make sure each bird has least 1/3 of a square metre of housing, and plenty of room to scratch.

What is a bantam?

Poultry are generally divided into large fowl and bantams. However, there are actually two types of bantams.

True bantams have no large counterparts. These sprightly little birds include Sebrights, Belgian bantams and Japanese bantams. Pekins are also true bantams, but are much more placid. True bantams are considered ornamental, so tend to be kept for their quirky appearance or sweet nature rather than their egg laying ability.

Most of the commonly known bantam breeds are more correctly miniatures – smaller versions of large fowls that retain similar characteristics. Top bantam layers include Leghorns and Australian Langshans; chunky Indian Games make ideal meat birds; while Araucanas are excellent dual-purpose chooks with keen foraging abilities.

It’s often thought that Silkies are bantams too, but they actually fall into the large fowl category in Australia.

Why bantams?

Bantams are economical to keep as they eat only a portion of what a large fowl would consume. As bantams are around a quarter of the size, but lay eggs that are a half to a third of the size of a large fowl’s, they actually work harder. 

The eggs are equally nutritious; I simply add two Hamburgh bantam eggs to any recipe I’m making that calls for a regular egg.

Don’t believe the hype that bantams are easier on the garden than larger birds though; all chooks are capable of leaving craters in vegie beds or uprooting seedlings. In fact, bantams are often more active, and many can fly over fences or squeeze through small gaps, so you need to house them safely and appropriately.

Bantams such as Pekins or Modern Game make excellent pets for children and their small size means they are less intimidating. Each bantam breed has a distinctive personality, so a trip to a poultry show where you can observe birds and chat with breeders can help when deciding on the right bantam for your needs.