Getting your Bantam
Bantam chickens are a great way to raise beautiful ornamental poultry without taking up too much space in the backyard. Weighing in at 16 to 30 ounces, these diminutive birds share the characteristics of full-sized domestic chicken breeds, but come in a much handier package. Bantams are capable of adapting to almost any environment and are often hardier than ordinary chickens. They make excellent pets because they require little upkeep, tend to be low in cost, and are generally friendly and personable.
Check local laws
Before you commit to the idea of raising bantam chickens, it's best to check your local laws and ordinances. Bantams, despite their Lilliputian dimensions, are still considered poultry. If you live on a farm, this probably isn't a relevant concern. But for those living within the city limits, it's best to check to make sure you're not breaking any laws by raising your birds. "There's been a resurgence of raising poultry in cities or towns; a lot of times those restrictions will limit males because of their crowing and so forth," says Phil Clauer, a poultry specialist at Penn State University.
Select the breed
Next, you'll want to speak to a breeder and make sure you've done your research regarding the bantam breed or breeds you'd like to raise. Each type of bantam has different needs regarding how much space and what kind of environment it will need to flourish. With 350 breeds to choose from, there are almost endless options for your personal preference.
"They come in any size, color, and shape. It comes down to what's attractive to you," says Clauer. "Certain breeds are better than others, depending on what you're looking for."
Be careful with genetics
When seeking out bantams to purchase, be careful where you shop. "Always try to get your birds from a legitimate breeder, not from auctions where you run into disease and other problems," Clauer says.
Beyond the possibility of disease, the birds you're likely to find at flea markets and auction sites won't be true bantams. Excessive crossbreeding is a common problem in the bantam world, often producing genetically strange birds that are too large to be bantams but too small to be full-sized chickens.
"That's always been a problem in domestic bantams. Everyone likes to cross different colors to see if they can create the next interesting color pattern," Clauer says. "A lot of the birds aren't true breeding bantams - they're too large or have unusual color patterns. This is something we run into on a regular basis." The breeding is especially important if you intend to show or sell your bantams. Purebred bantams will fetch a substantially higher price if you decide you want to sell them.
"Just like dogs or cats, if you have a high-quality genetic line of a particular breed, it will have higher value than a crossbreed," Clauer says.
While crossbreeding bantams will occasionally yield an unusually beautiful or strange looking bird, it's not worth the trouble; you'll never get a similar one simply due to the genetic instability of your flock. Maintaining the purity of the breeds is high priority to the bantam community.
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