From left to right counter-clockwise: Salt, an unnamed ceramic pig, Reeses, Caramel, Limp Noodle, and Creme. Pepper refused to be photographed without guaranteed royalties. Sushi was asleep on the sofa.
The Ignorant Gal's Guide to Bantams in your Bushes
First, I'm going to assume that, like me, you couldn't be talked out of chickens with a book full of good reasons and a handful of mood stabilizers. You're in good company! When even Oprah has chickens, you know it's a good decision. At least that's what I told my husband. However, you have some thinking to do. When you're considering purchasing, adopting, or finding chickens on the side of the road, the first thing to do is be prepared. You're better off taking three weeks to completely be ready and know exactly what you want than it is to find yourself - like me - with chickens roosting on the back of your sofa while you try to figure out how to short-circuit the hawk situation.
Your first decision is what size and what breed of chicken you'd like to raise. Honestly, I was looking for small pets, so age, "look", and show-worthiness were almost completely irrelevant to me. Of course, I didn't want ones that I found repulsive (honestly, have you seen those rumpless chickens? No offense to the people who like them, but they always look like they're going to fall over on their faces), but I didn't need breeding stock. I did have some factors to consider. Because I live in a city that shall not be named in which chickens are forbidden, because I have only our small city lot on which to house my flock, and because full-size chickens freak me out (Don't laugh! Full-size chickens just look so angry all the time, and they're big enough to do something about it), I decided to raise bantams. I looked at the pictures on Google, searched Craiglsist, joined my local chicken-oriented club on facebook, went to the chicken club's regional show, and visited feed stores. All of those venues worked, to a degree. Eventually, I assembled my flock of bantams from a little bit of everywhere. If you're looking for bantams and you live far out in the country, you might have to resort to ordering fertilized eggs from a hatchery or even eBay, and that's something I didn't even have to consider.
If the considerations above are yours, as well, and you're now considering having bantams, I've learned several things that will probably be of use. I've found all of these bits of information in various spots, but none of them all in one place:
Your bantams WILL fly, and they view wing clipping as a challenge. Noodle, showing off in the picture above, was raised in a cage and has recently discovered that he has wings. Apparently, steering comes later in the flying process. He gets so excited by being in the air (yes, his wing is clipped) that, though he may have started by attempting to fly across the yard to reach the treats on the patio, he'll instead make a few laps of the yard and end up landing somewhere on the other side of the fence, confused by the sudden absence of treats AND patio. Bantams aren't heavy enough (especially the little Belgian and Dutch bantams that I have) for wing clipping to be a serious impediment to their flightworthiness. Mostly, I depend upon a constant food supply, safety from hawks, and several checks throughout the day to make them stay in the yard. You may choose to have a completely enclosed run, but I choose to let my chickies run free and occasionally open the gate to let a completely confused Noodle back into the yard.
Your bantams WILL dig as if their lives depend upon it. Salt, the blue-tinged German Langshans mix in this picture, was raised on a partially-fenced acre on the edge of town with no shelter, no food, and 100 other birds. While she is clinically insane, she is also the best hawk alarm in the universe. She's also an epic digger, which is probably connected to her tendency to hoard food. She has formed a personal vendetta against the tree in the background of this picture and is determined that she's going to dig it up if it's the last thing she does. The fact that it's 24" in diameter makes no difference to her. Before I got my bantams, I read in several books that the lawn would be the thing that took the brunt of the birds' attention, but my little family would be happier if I had larger flower beds and less lawn. Only two of my birds will even consider grass as a food, and that only if I've spread scratch in it. I rake and sweep the mixed mulch back into my flower beds almost every day when the weather is good, and the birds dig it right back out again.
Your bantams WILL contract all of the same diseases that big chickens get. Pictured above are Creme and Caramel, my two mille fleur D'Uccle sisters. They are the reason that I sent my daughter to college to be a parasite biologist (joking, daughter, joking!). These two have been infested with every creepy crawly to come down the pike. If you ever think to yourself, "Hmm. I think I'd like to spend the last thirty minutes of the day every Sunday dusting birds with Sevin," feel free to come on over. I'll be in the yard, wearing rubber gloves, a dust mask, my disease shirt (an old white long-sleeved dress shirt), and glasses. You'll know it's me because I'm making the same incoherent icked-out noise I made when I cleaned my daughter's worst diapers, something that expresses half disgust and half fear.
Some of the diseases that chickens get are no joke, though, and you need to either have the appropriate safety gear and medications to heal your birds or be prepared to take them off to the vet. I'm lucky to have a well-educated daughter, a mother with an agricultural chemical application license, and a sister-in-law who is a vet, but if you don't have those resources, you could be pouring money down a rathole keeping your birds healthy. The diseases my birds have had are all the result of parasitic infection from wild birds, soft-hearted purchase of birds from dodgy purveyors, and other bone-headed moves on my part. However, I knew when I chose them that it's cheaper to treat little animals than big ones and I have a healthy fund of knowledge upon which to depend.
I'd like to particularly warn you about using Sevin carefully. It's an insecticide from my youth, and I've heard some hairy stories about it, including one about a woman who sprayed her fruit trees with it while wearing a tank top and shortshorts. She ended up in the ICU. The doctors thought she was going to die. So if you plan to treat your birds with anything - ANYTHING - be absolutely certain that you understand exactly what you're using and exactly the ramifications of using it. Don't ever think that you can flaunt safety suggestions, even once.
Your bantams WILL poop. A lot. The picture is of Reeses, Caramel, Salt, and Noodle packing their crops with some warm breakfast. The crop is like a pre-stomach, to compensate for chickens not having any teeth. If you ask my crowd, it is nearly infintely expandable. You can see that Salt's crop is baseball-sized. While this makes me feel good because I know that my chickens are eating well, at the same time I know that it's going to be a big mess in the hen house later. The BEST thing I ever did was put industrial-grade linoleum on the floor of my hen house. Holy moley has THAT $10 been a good investment. I use pine wood chips on top of the linoleum in my hen house specifically so I can dump cleanings onto my flower beds. I clean out my hen house a little bit every day. NONE of the poops, not even the cecal poops (a devil's brew chickens cook up when your back is turned) stick to that floor. The wood chips stay fluffy and warm and I wipe up every once in a while with vinegar water. The run is a 4" bed of sand. I use an out-sized kitty-litter scoop to rake up the poops. The leavings go on the flower beds.
None of this obviates the fact that there's a LOT of maure to deal with. While my dogs help as much as they can (urk!), and the enriched mulch in my beds will grow just about anything, I've had to start putting my chicken's gifts on my neighbors' flower beds, too. The tomatoes and zucchini are truly prodigious. If you're thinking about getting full-size chickens, or a lot of chickens, you need to know that there's going to be a LOT of poop, and if you don't have a system to deal with it, you'll have to deal with flies, smell, a raised risk of disease, and birds who can't keep themselves and their eggs clean. Ain't nobody happy when a chicken with poopfoot settles down on your carpeted stairs to bask in the sun.
Your bantams WILL lay eggs, usually in infuriating places. The egg above is the first egg my lead hen, Pepper the black and white mottle D'Uccle, laid. Under a bush in the yard, of course. Your most reliable bantam girls will lay eggs, usually one about every 36 hours or so. Salt has become an inveterate egg hider. We recently discovered that she has been slipping through a 3-inch-wide crack into the lawn irrigation works and laying a clutch of eggs that she let freeze. There were 13 perfect eggs on a scraped-together gravel and leaf nest.
The best nesting boxes in the world are only going to be as good as their allure to a particular bird, and some of those birds find allure in dark holes in the ground. There are several excellent BYC posts on training your birds to use nest boxes, but honestly, none of them have worked for me. In the end, my girls trained me to look under all the bushes, down the crack into the irrigation works, and into every other dark, dry hole that I can worm my hand into. Though supposedly bantams don't lay as well as full-sized chickens, if I had full-sized chickens, we'd have to eat eggs with all three meals to keep up. I get between three and five eggs a day, as it is. Luckily, it takes about three bantam eggs to make two big eggs, so there's some space savings in the fridge and my cholesterol is manageable. Different-sized bantams lay different-sized eggs. My girls tend to lay eggs that are on the larger end of the bantam scale.
Your bantams WILL have attitude and personality that they will need extra space to store. The picture above shows Reeses talking to her reflection in the air compressor. She is pretty certain that's the best-looking chicken she's ever seen. I would like to be able to say that Reeses is the only one of my bantams who is weird as a three-dollar bill, but not a single one of them is placid, quiet, and timid, as apparently happens with full-sized chickens. Pepper mentally abuses my dogs, Creme and Caramel won't walk on snow, Noodle experiences transient narcolepsy when you pick him up and does the man dance every time he sees robins, and my newest Japanese hen Sushi does evasive maneuvers from imaginary predators and loves nothing better than dust bathing in the clean blankets on the sofa. At first, I was afraid they all had an array of personality disorders, but the truth is that they're bantams. They are 10 pounds of personality in 1 pound of chicken. They fit right in with the rest of my animals: a 3-legged greyhound who is a reincarnated teenage cheerleader, a hillbilly-toothed terrier with a fixation on the sounds cats make (not the actual cats themselves, just the sounds), and a fish with an anxiety disorder.
Your bantams WILL bring you joy. This gently-folded, drunken-looking chicken is Sushi, annoyed because I'm telling her not to dust bathe in blankets. Yes, she's almost completely upside-down. It's as if she is so happy to be warm and dry and full and with her flock of strange, huge chickens (the people and dogs), she just has to dust bathe.
. In the summer, when I'm sitting in the swing chair reading after dinner, Reeses jumps up to sit in my lap for a little scribble on the neck while Pepper attempts to remove my toenail polish. They bring me joy because they're all so personable, because watching them is like watching a little soap opera, and because they are funny as heck
Every time I walk outside, I have a posse of tiny helpers who are more than willing to check if I'm doing anything food-related. Then, they stand around and discuss the quality of my work, checking it for possible treat-related activity. They help me mow the lawn, sun themselves right outside the sliding glass door, and make occasional visits inside to attempt to roost on the stairs if I forget to close the screen. Not a single load of laundry on the line goes unsupervised. They talk to me, they do completely insane things every day, and their total and constant surprise at everything in the universe lifts my spirits every day.
If you want lots of large eggs or large carcasses, by all means do your homework and buy a heritage breed of full-size chickens. However, if you want beautiful little jewels of personality with the benefit of never having to turn the mulch in your flower beds or buy fertilizer again, if your dogs are resistant to psychological abuse, and you think you can hold up under the emotional impact of always being watched, go for bantams.