Bantam chickens of all different breeds are always a joy to look after. Small, adorable, and great for small backyards, Bantams are ideal for chicken keepers who don’t have that much space to work with but still want to give their flock a good environment to thrive in.
What about the Nankin Bantam breed, however? These minute birds are one of the oldest true bantam breeds, i.e. bantam chicken breeds that don’t have a large variant. As such, the Nankin Bantam has a long and storied history that includes numerous ups and downs such as helping create many other miniaturized and developed bantam variants of other breeds while also almost going extinct itself.
So, let’s look into exactly what is the Nankin Bantam chicken and what you need to know about it.
What is a Nankin Bantam chicken, exactly?
The Nankin chicken has a huge historical significance and we will go through it in a bit. When looking into the breed, however, it’s easy to assume that history is the only interesting thing about these chickens as that’s what most people are exclusively talking about.
History of the Nankin Bantam chicken
The Nankin is one of the original Bantam breeds or a “true bantam” as they are called – chickens that only come in a tiny package and don’t have a large or “standard” variant.
Together with the Sebright Bantam and the Rosecomb Bantam, the Nankin is notorious as one of the oldest breeds to have helped create the bantam variants of other breeds such as the Rhode Island Red, the Cochin, the Orpingtons, the Pekin Cochin, the Japanese chicken, the Belgian chicken, and others.
Despite all that historical pedigree, however, the Nankin Bantam was on the brink of extinction for quite some time. These birds used to be known just as the “common yellow Bantam” in Great Britain during the 17th century and their conservation status was often listed as outright extinct for the following few centuries, probably before breeders were focusing on other bantam chicken breeds over the Nankin.
These little birds never really went extinct, however, and their survival was ensured by many small family poultry farms and backyard chicken coops in the US, Canada, and the UK. Eventually, the breed had a resurgence, however, as the uptick in popularity of backyard chicken keeping has led to more and more people recognizing the awesome qualities of these small birds. So, let’s explore those next.
What does a Nankin Bantam chicken look like?
The Nanin Bantam has a very recognizable and classic look. The males of this breed have a bright ginger-red buff color with long and black main tail feathers. Females are of a lighter shade but are also black-tailed. Both Nankin roosters and hens can have either a rose comb or single combs that are of bright red color, same as the wattles and earlobes.
The feet and toes of this breed are slate while the shanks are white. According to the ABA standard (American Bantam Association), Nankin Bantam cocks should weigh around 1.5 lbs or 24 oz while cockerels and hens are expected to be slightly lighter at around 1.4 lbs or 22 oz. Pullets are even lighter and rarely go above 1.25 lb or 20 oz.
If you’re used to normal-sized chickens, this extra small size can be a bit daunting at first but keep in mind that the Nankin is one of the smallest breeds even among other true bantam chickens, so, that’s quite normal for them. They are more or less identical to the Old English game bantam breeds and they are often mistaken for them as well.
Nankin Bantam temperament, brooding, and activity levels
So, the looks of these birds are quite distinguishable but what else is there that makes them special? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
For starters, the Nankin Bantam is a phenomenal brood chicken. Unlike many other contemporary chicken breeds that don’t have much of a brooding instinct, the Nankin Bantam is a very broody hen that loves hatching and looking after baby chicks, regardless of whether they are her own, from another hen, or even from a different poultry bird.
This quality alone makes Nankin Bantam chickens a fantastic choice for any backyard chicken keeper who wants to raise baby chicks in the coop without an artificial brooder. Plus, the fact that this is a tiny Bantam breed means that it’s also great for hatching quail, partridge, or pheasant eggs too. Nankin Bantams were also used to help incubate game bird eggs on game farms too.
The emphasis is on “temporary”, however, as these birds are quite physically active and do need a nice chicken run or a free range. Still, even those don’t need to be all that spacious considering how small these bantams are, hence why they are a great option for people who only have limited square footage to work with.
When we mentioned county fairs that wasn’t random either – Nankin Bantams are an excellent breed for both minor and major poultry shows both because of their good looks and thanks to how well-behaved they are.
These birds don’t mind being picked up and held nearly as much as other chicken breeds and they have a fantastic staying power as show birds. If you’re wondering what a bantam chicken show entails, it’s quite fascinating as seen here.
Once you let your Nankin Bantams spread their legs and wings in the chicken run or the free range, however, it’s important to make sure that the space has extra high fences or a netting above it. That’s because Nankin Bantams are excellent flyers, thanks to their lightweight size and well-proportioned wings.
This is something a lot of chicken keepers aren’t prepared for as they are used with most other modern chicken breeds not having much – or any – interest in flying.
Still, this breed does have a very “homey” nature, as evident from their tendancy to brood. So, even if they are allowed to fly away or roam freely, they are very likely to return home. That’s also thanks to their friendly and sociable temperament which also makes them fantastic pet birds for households of any type, including with other pets or children.
Nankin Bantam egg-laying, health, and other details
Because of their small size, these bantam birds are hardly ever kept for their meat. However, their eggs are exceptionally delicious and nutritional. A Nankin Bantam hen will typically lay somewhere between 80 and 100 small eggs a year (or a couple a week) with a light beige or cream color.
This isn’t an astonishingly high number, of course, not compared to some other larger chicken breeds that have been developed specifically for their egg-laying capabilities and that can produce up to 300 eggs a year. 100 eggs is still quite impressive for a small bird such as the Nankin Bantam, however, and it’s more than enough for a small family backyard chicken coop with a few healthy hens.
Speaking of health, the Nankin Bantam breed is known to be quite hardy and healthy, which is why backyard keepers had managed to keep it alive for quite a few centuries of supposed “extinction”. These chickens don’t have any breed-specific health issues compared to other poultry birds and can thrive quite easily in any environment as well as they are taken care of well enough.
In fact, while they are not specifically listed as a “cold-resistant” bird, Nankin Bantams can do well in colder climates too, as long as you keep their coops warm enough to prevent comb frostbite. If you look after them well, your Nankin Bantams should have an easy time reaching and surpassing the average 8-year lifetime expectancy of this breed.
One thing to note is something that’s typical for all other bantam breeds and it’s that some of their eggs can have an extra rounder shape compared to standard chicken eggs. These near-spherical eggs can still hatch healthy chicks but only if they are given to the hen to brood over.
Such eggs shouldn’t be put in an artificial incubator or they won’t hatch into healthy chicks. Fortunately, Nankin Bantams are naturally broody so this shouldn’t be an issue.
In conclusion – is the Nankin Bantam chicken the right breed for you?
With all of the above, it’s quite evident that the Nankin Bantam is both a fantastic breed and a breed that isn’t suitable for everyone. If you want a chicken that mass-produces hundreds upon hundreds of extra large eggs a year or if you want a chicken that makes for a huge and meaty table bird, this bantam isn’t for you – in fact, no bantam works for that.
However, if you want a small, compact, well-mannered, sociable, healthy, and broody pet chicken that you can easily raise even in a small urban backyard, the Nankin Bantam is among the best breeds for that purpose.