The Lavendar Ameraucana, a Bantam chicken is teeny compared to the hen Source: tatteredtiques.typepad.com

Miniature chicken breeds are not that uncommon but what makes Bantam chickens so unique is that they are miniature birds with no corresponding standard size chicken to which it is related.  Bantam chickens, sometimes called Bantys, are generally a quarter of the size of other standard size chickens.

Bantam chickens originated in Asian more than two centuries ago for their use on sea going vessels and are named for the once major Bantam Sea Port in Indonesia.  The breed then became popular for show, especially in Europe, but is now finding a place in the backyard as part of a sustainable lifestyle.

In today’s modern world, bantam chickens are well suited for small backyards.  The tradeoff for keeping miniature chickens is that the eggs of bantam chickens are generally only about one-half to one-third the size of a regular hen egg.  The chickens also have a higher mortality rate because they are easier prey for hawks, cats, foxes, and other predators.  But bantam chickens generally have a better temperament and can live in smaller spaces.

Suburban and city dwellers can easily keep bantam chickens because the traditional hen house is not necessary.  Chicken tractors are commonly used with bantam chickens; these are moveable chicken coops without floors and have the advantage that there is no need to clean them out, the chickens forage for bugs, and they deposit highly fertile chicken manure.  As such, the use of chicken tractors more effectively mimics the natural life cycle.

The American Bantam Association, founded in 1914, identifies 57 breeds, 85 plumage patterns and more than 400 varieties of bantam chickens and bantam ducks.  The most popular breeds of true Bantam chickens: Belgian Bearded d’Uccle, Booted Bantam, Belted Bantam, Japanese Bantam, Nankin Pekin, Sebright, and Silkie.

The Silkie is very popular and unusual breed of bantam chicken.  They are named for their fluffy silk-like feathers and puffy crest.  Feathers are abundant and grow down their legs and the middle of their five toes (most chickens have four toes).  They are also the only chicken to have black, or more precisely, dark slate-blue colored skin.

Many people choose to keep silkies as pets, albeit ones that provides eggs a few times a week.  They can also be eaten for meat but their dark colored meat is not very popular outside of China.  Silkies are especially well suited for families with children because of their friendly and docile nature.  They are also quite entertaining with their extra toe and unusual plumage feathers.