The Japanese Bantam
By Terry Beebe
The Japanese bantam is without a doubt one of the most unusual and attractive of all breeds of poultry. The Japanese is classed as a true bantam. (True bantam means the breed does not have a larger counterpart) The birds come in a wide variety of colors and also are available in plain, frizzle and the rare silky feathered varieties.
Japanese bantams are a short-legged breed of poultry. This, combined with the large combs of the cock birds and the huge tails, make the breed both fascinating and extremely attractive.
The popularity of these birds has always been high. They make an attractive addition to any poultry collection, but keeping them clean needs to be a priority. Due to the shortness of the legs they do not do well if left outside. You can imagine what they would look like if allowed to roam in wet and dirty conditions. The shortness of the legs means extra care is needed to keep this breed in the condition it deserves. As with any breed, the care and condition of the breed must be the first priority. When considering the Japanese, they are best kept in well-ventilated, covered sheds and runs.
GENERAL APPEARANCE: The breed must be really low to the ground, very short stocky legs and a high, well-carried tail. There are birds on the market which have longer legs, these are usually the rejects from the serious exhibition breeders and although perfectly good birds that will make good pets, they are not exhibition quality. This is fine if you want to keep the birds as pets and show quality is not as important, but I must add it costs just as much to keep a bad bird as it does to keep a good one. Always try to obtain the birds with the shortest legs and with a short back. This gives the correct appearance, which needs to be low and broad, the tail needs to be very upright and not over to one side. There are other characteristics for this breed that are required for exhibition and can be found in the ABA and APA Standards. Picking a bird that is pleasing to the eye is easy enough as the choices available are very varied, so buy and enjoy.
COLORS AVAILABLE: The Japanese bantam comes in such a wide and stunning range of colors it may prove to be a difficult choice, but the most popular must be the Black Tailed White. This bird is just as named, with a full clean white body, the head carrying a large red comb and a large black tail. The color contrast of white and black is to me the most stunning of all (I would say that as my White Crested Poland’s are my favorite breed). Other colors (some of which are not available in the U.S.) include the Black Tailed Buff, Buff Columbian, Self White, Self Black, Gray Birchen, Silver Grey, Millers Gray, Mottled Blue, Mottled Black, Self Blue, Lavender, Cuckoo, Red, Tri Colored, Black Red, Brown Red, Blue Red, Silver and Gold Duck wing. What a list—and I thought we had a large range of colors in the Polands—but this list beats us hands down. Quite a few of these colors are very rare, in fact some I have not ever seen but they do exist.
In the ABA Standard, which includes all the APA varieties as well, you will find 17 recognized varieties, including Black Tailed White, White, Bearded White, Black, Black Tailed Buff, Buff, Gray, Blue, Black Breasted Red, Brown Red, Mottled, Self Blue, Barred, Black Tailed Red, Wheaten, Silver Duckwing, and Silver Laced. Many of these varieties are rare to varying degrees, and Silver Laced may not exist in the U.S. at this time. Non-recognized varieties seen in the U.S. include Ginger Red, Lemon Blue, Silver Blue, Golden Duckwing, Blue Tailed White, Blue Tailed Buff, Blue Mottled, Blue Wheaten, Quail, and Crele. If you contact the Japanese Bantam Breeders Association (JBBA), I am sure that they will help you to obtain whatever colors you would like to keep, if they are available. (You can find contact information for the JBBA at the end of the article-Ed.).
Frizzle And Silkie Feathered: These are the icing on the cake, but as a fan of the frizzle feathered birds I am a little biased. The frizzle variety are similar to the normal feathered version but all the feathers need to curl back and towards the head. These birds are very attractive but do carry a smaller tail due to the feathering. One thing that must be remembered is that frizzle feathered birds tend to feel the cold a lot more than the ones with the normal feather structure. The curl means that they are not quite as well covered as the normal feathered variety. Keeping them dry and free from drafts is the best way to save any problems or discomfort for the birds.
The silkie feathered variety are different in the way that the feathers need to be as loose and as silkie as possible, but the birds with either type of feather must still be of the same type as their plain feathered counterparts. Type is of the most importance with this breed.
Although frizzled and silkie feathered Japanese can be very attractive, they have not achieved any degree of popularity in the U.S.; thus it is unknown at this time if more than a handful of frizzled Japanese exist anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.
CARE/HOUSING: Keeping Japanese bantams is basically not difficult and if common sense is used, they are a relatively low-maintenance breed. Again, as with all poultry, they need to be kept clean at all times. The closeness of the bird’s body to the floor means they are prone to get dirty and wet easily and if the bedding is not kept clean and dry the underside of the birds soon becomes very soiled. This can, and will, cause various problems. Fresh shavings need to be changed regularly and will alleviate any problems. I always say, prevention is always better than cure.
There are no other special needs for this breed, just the usual feed and water. We use a bantam layers pellet that is smaller than the normal pellet. We find it creates less waste and the birds seem to enjoy it a lot more. We have one bird that tends to empty the whole pot on the floor. No matter what we do to prevent this, it happens every time we feed. This is not only wasteful but if not removed, it soon goes stale and can create some unpleasant odors and is not a good environment for the birds.
The breed are very good egg layers but you need quite a number to make a good breakfast. Therefore if you want birds for eggs, look at a different breed. A good layer can be expected to produce 50-100 eggs per year, with each egg being approximately 1/3 the size of a normal hen’s egg. The Japanese bantam is definitely best kept for its ornamental beauty and one that will enhance both your poultry collection as well as looking stunning in the garden on a nice sunny day.
There are pictures of a Mille Fleur Japanese cock and hen on page 21. These are very rare in the U.K. but are being worked on by certain breeders. They were created in Holland and have been bred in Europe for quite a few years and imported a few years ago by Clare and myself. As far as I know, there is no frizzle variety in that color. The Mille Fleur does not appear in the U.S.; however at any given time, there is a good possibility that a breeder somewhere is working to create them. Some of the best examples of this variety can be found on the website of the German Japanese Bantam Club: www.chabozucht.de
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Japanese Bantam Breeders Association
In addition to Terry’s comments on using high quality litter, it is important to mention the importance of providing roost space in your housing plan. All chickens are roosting birds, and Japanese bantams in particular, with their generous tails and wings, need to rest and sleep up off the floor. Birds resting on the floor will be more prone to mites and lice, and will suffer from bent and soiled tails and wings. To alleviate these problems, provide wooden (not metal or plastic) roosts at least 18 inches off the floor. Birds that were not raised with a roost available will sometimes need to be encouraged to use the roost at first, but once trained to use it, will tend to hop or fly up and down throughout the day, thus getting good exercise.
Another factor that must be taken into account is the cold weather. Adequate protection must be given to assure your chickens’ combs and wattles do not freeze. Temperatures should be maintained no lower than 30° F, while maintaining adequate ventilation. Poor ventilation, combined with cold temperatures, will almost assure severe frostbite to the combs, especially on mature males.
CONTACT INFORMATION: The Japanese Bantam Breeders Association is the official breed club of the United States; dedicated to the breeding and improving of Japanese bantams. This club also exists for the purpose of promoting fellowship between breeders and owners of these unique chickens. To join this club, send your dues and personal information to the club secretary. Please include name, address, telephone number, and brief description of the varieties raised and your background as a breeder. Dues per calendar year are $10 individual, $15 family, and $5 junior (under 18). Membership entitles you to our quarterly newsletter, annual breeders directory, and awards at JBBA sponsored meets. Please arrange to pay for your membership in U.S. funds.
Our secretary is Ken Lee, 6100 N Panda Point, Dunnellon, FL 34433.
Also you may download a printable membership form by visiting the JBBA website. http://home.columbus.rr.com/jbba/JBBA.html. Another way to get to this site would be to enter “Japanese Bantam Breeders” into any search engine.
Several suggestions are offered to people wishing to get started with Japanese bantams. Keep in mind that commercial hatcheries in the U.S. do not provide show-quality, purebred Japanese bantams. The chicks they provide, though healthy, only represent an approximation of the breed. If you are only looking for pet quality birds they will do. If you expect your birds to have the unique traits seen in the photos in this article, you will need to seek purebred stock from a breeder.
The best sources of information for any breed of chicken are the folks who breed and show them. They can be met by attending poultry shows, which are held throughout the U.S. in the spring and fall. Though too numerous to list in this article, it should be noted that the largest show in the U.S., the Ohio National, is held the second weekend of November each year in Columbus, Ohio. Information can be found at www.ohionational.org.
Information about poultry shows in your area can be found by subscribing to Poultry Press: http://www.poultrypress.com/.
Engaging in an Internet discussion group is also helpful. Yahoo® Japanese Bantams discussion group can be joined by anyone wishing to join the conversation. Visit the following link to join the group, http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/JapaneseBantams/ or e-mail the group owner firstname.lastname@example.org to request an invitation to join.