Small chicken breeds are known as Bantams, and are enjoyed both as pets and novelty birds as well as smaller-scale producers of eggs and meat. Bantam hens are about one-fourth the size of regular chickens, and their eggs are smaller by about half.
These tiny chickens require less food and can thrive in smaller spaces than typical breeds, making them less costly to raise. They make excellent 4-H projects and show chickens as well. Many find that these small chicken breeds are often more docile and make great pets, in addition to producing eggs.
Some Bantams are true small chicken breeds and have no regular-size counterparts. These are all of non-American origin and include:
Serama (tiniest chicken breed)
Old English Game Bantams
Pekins (also called Cochins by many)
There are many varieties of the Japanese small chicken breeds, including ray, buff black-tailed, black, mottled, gray, buff black-tailed, white black tailed and white. All of these are prized for their tender meat as well as eggs.
Other Bantam chickens are actually the small version of regular-size breeds, but have been bred as a sort of “low-line” version, such as:
Rhose Island Red
Silkie (largest of the small chicken breeds)
Small chicken breeds, including a few Bantam silkies with feathered feet, have been my favorite to raise. The silkies were very gentle and let the children pick them up and pet them all the time. They went broody easily, so could be good setting hens as well. To prevent broodiness, collect eggs twice a day.
Because of cross breeding and mixed breeds, Bantams and silkies purchased from growers with mixed flocks living in the same space may not be pure breeds. However, the diversity brings out some lovely colors and characteristics in the birds and they still make great pets and egg layers for your backyard flock.
Caring for small chicken breeds is virtually the same as tending to standard size hens and roosters. They need less food than their larger cousins, but also enjoy foraging and free ranging on grass. Protection from predators is essential, of course, and a secure chicken coop goes a long way to providing them the necessary protection.
Because of their small size, bantam chickens make an excellent choice for urban chicken growers and those keeping chickens in small spaces. The small chicken breeds seem to be better about finding bugs and supplementing their feed with foraging; they also have more personality and are more enjoyable to raise, according to many backyard chicken growers.