Don’t keep hens – keep bantams!

I had resolved to keep this blog more or less confined to plants. But everyone seems to be writing about hens, so I’ll do the same. I don’t keep hens; I keep bantams, and have done, off and on, for about fifteen years. The ‘off’ periods have been when I was sickened by fox predation – I once lost twelve of my flock in broad daylight. The ‘on’ periods are when I reckon my defences are OK (until a gate blows open or an especially cunning fox pays a visit).

Bantams are much better for gardeners than hens, and just as lovable. Here’s why:

  • They make less mess, and when they scratch among your plants it does a lot less harm
  • They fit much better into small gardens
  • You can have twelve egg omlettes
  • They have never been bred for commercial use, so they go broody properly, rear their chicks properly, and don’t churn out eggs to order.
  • For the same reason, their eggs are firm, highly-coloured, and delicious. You can show off in the way you might with quails’ eggs.

Plus: The chicks are extremely small and very fluffy I’m not a bantam fancier, so I keep a whole lot of different breeds together, and if I get strange hybrids I don’t mind in the least. We had a silky cock called Moira (don’t ask) much the same colour as Irn Bru (Scotland’s 2nd favourite drink), whose lurid orange shade reappeared for several generations.

I bid for my bantams at the Lanark market poultry sales – an experience in themselves. When the daughters were small, I blatantly blagged a day off school for them. Learning to bid for livestock at auction is a far more useful experience than most of what passes for education.

Anyway, here are some of the current flock:This is Mr Rochester II (Mr Rochester I was, alas, slain). He’s a black Belgian d’Anvers and very proud of himself – hence the name. He has three wives, all called Jane, because I can’t tell them apart.
Next we have the Poles:This is the Duchess. She gets her name from the aristocratic superiority of her bearing and her hairstyle, but most of all from her look of haughty outrage when she is picked upHer companion is called Frizzle. Frizzles are birds bred with turned out feathers – a very peculiar idea. Combined with the ridiculous Polish headgear, the result is very bizarre (not helped by the fact that poor Frizzle is moulting and is bald on top too: It looks as though his Dad was a SebrightFinally we have Mr & Mrs Piggy and the dinosaur twinsYou can only see a bit of Mr Piggy – who is a Barred Wyandotte, but both of the dinosaur twins, (plus the Duchess and one of the Janes) who are Anconca-Silky crosses, and who lay pastel blue eggs:I like to let the bantams wander round the garden – but this does make them vulnerable. I’m happier when they are behind their 8 foot fencing – especially in early spring when there are fox cubs needing to be fed. Foxes are cunning and ruthless predators. Thirteen of them were shot within a five mile radius last year, but there are plenty more. Sometimes they kill wantonly – and leave headless corpses scattered everywhere. Sometimes they take their prey without leaving so much as a stray feather. I hate them, but I have to admire them too.

Update June 2013: More about my bantams in this post

and in this one

19 thoughts on “Don’t keep hens – keep bantams!

  1. I kept bantys for years but, like you I lost most of them to the fox. They have great personalities, my cockerel was very protective of the youngsters, I used to have to go in to the run with a bin lid as protection.

    • The first Mr Rochester used to lurk on top of his house and jump on my neck when I bent down to collect the eggs. Luckily his namesake is less aggressive (but he’s still young). It’s never too late to start again, Elaine.

  2. Oh this is the best. I KNEW I needed to read about your bantams Kininvie. What a wonderful assortment! Those frizzly ones look like mops on feet. (It’s hard to type while I am still laughing.) And very well done with the names! It is such an important part of having any animal but especially fish and chickens. (My children once had 2 goldfish: Bob & Not-Bob.) And then too there is drama and violence here (foxes!), the perfect post. But I believe this chicken testimonial is the final nail in the coffin for my chickenlessness. I just wish I could buy them at auction, that would be fun. I will need to buy chicks from a hatchery. (That little fuzzy chick picture was beyond unfair.) I will have to raise them with heat from lights, in early spring. I can’t wait. And of course now I can blame YOU if there are any difficulties.

    • Yes the chickens-in-the-city conflicts are just about everywhere here. (The pro-chicken people are, happily, usually winning.) About auctions, I suppose you are right that there are chicken auctions. I know there are large-animal auctions (yes cattle & lots of sheep) and I just never thought that chickens would be there too– auctions are fun (I used to go to antiques auctions). But I like selecting the breeds at the hatchery too, plus there is the fuzzy-factor with chicks…

      • Poor motherless things – I wouldn’t enjoy being raised by an infra-red lamp. Plus, until you pick up an egg and hear it cheeping inside like some Christmas novelty gift……well, all I can say is there’s no substitute for the real thing.

  3. Brilliant, I had to laugh, everyones talking about hens. I did notice its not all about plants as far as other folks are concerned. I have been trying but to be quite honest theres not much else I know about. I do know that I love your bantams and they don’t cause as much damage as hens, hmm maybe they would do fine in my town garden.

  4. I laughed a lot with this post! That look in Duchess face… It makes me feel like having some of your dwarf feathery chickens! They’re halfway between sweet, important and ugly.

  5. Wow, you have wonderful chickens. I thought all the small chickens are called Bantams, haha. My mother also have native chickens of lovely colors in the province. They are very delicious as meat also, but when my nephew and niece are still young they give names to every chick. When those with names are bigger they can never be killed for food because they are pets. So my mother learned and later she doesn’t want the kids to name them, or else we will never be able to have our famous native ‘stew’ we call ‘tinola’, a cultural dish of native chicken. Chicken with very beautiful colors are spared too! Maybe i should blog it also sometime, thanks for the inspiration, hahaha!

  6. What a hoot! I think there should be a “frazzle” as well as a “Frizzle”! I going to send the link to a German friend who used to breed bantams. Hers never looked like that.
    I’d forgotten how cute the fluffy chicks are. It makes me feel a bit broody for the whole chicken rearing bit. We used to do it in Orkney. Big advantage is that there are no foxes there. Now we just have three girls laying eggs, moulting, laying eggs etc.
    Thanks for introducing your wonderful looking bantams!
    How many Bantam eggs do you need for a sponge cake?

  7. I envious of your lovely flock. We kept chickens for about 10 years but it was too heartbreaking when the Fox visited. The final straw was when a Mink came and killed all 22 of our Hens in one fell swoop. We buried them all in the garden and put a seat there.

    • Hi Bridget; Yes, I’ve felt like that too, and I stopped keeping poultry for about four years while I thought about what to do. In the end, I went for Colditz-style fences and a proper hen house. The virtue of bantams is that they go to bed really early, so you can shut them up while it is still light. But constant vigilance is needed, even so.

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