All About Nankin Bantams

Consider Keeping These Friendly Chickens As Pets Or For Eggs

Nankin Chickens

By Don Cable, California — Nankin bantams are wonderful chickens for those interested in the history of poultry keeping and especially bantam breeds. Formerly known as the common yellow bantam in 17th century Britain, this sprightly little bantam was often described by writers of the day and for the following three centuries as extinct or nearly so. But it is very much alive and thriving in certain poultry yards of America. Still, on the list of rare and heritage breed chickens, the Nankin, though still uncommon in many parts of the United States, is no longer threatened by extinction and is sponsored by its own breed club with members in this country, Canada and Great Britain.

Nankin Bantams: History

Known and kept for its ability to hatch and carefully rear the young of partridges on the country estates of rural Britain, it is likely this highly developed trait is key to the survival of Nankin bantams over the centuries, in spite of its often-predicted demise. In fact, this superior ability to incubate and brood is a strong genetic factor called upon even today by those who are choosing to hatch and raise their Nankins naturally. In addition, the Nankin was used as a breeding prototype in the early development of other bantam breeds in Britain, such as game bantams and the Sebright bantam by Sir John Sebright, around the year 1800.

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Interest in Nankins here in the early 1960s was largely created by the late, prolific poultry writer Leonora Hering, of Saratoga, California in her articles found in American Bantam Association (ABA) publications of that time. This interest eventually resulted in the importation of Nankin hatching eggs from the flock of Margaret Peters of England in 1963 by John Dempsey, then of Connecticut. Birds from this source eventually found their way to other interested American bantam fanciers who have attempted to meet the challenge required in the specifics outlined in the ABA Standard for the Nankin bantam.

Within the last decade, heightened interest and increased numbers of Nankin fanciers have resulted in the creation of a breed club. The Nankin Club of America was established in 2006 to meet this need and support this rare, old bantam breed. The breed and the club are doing very well.

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Nankin hens are prolific layers, and excellent foster mothers.

Nankin Bantams: Standards for the Breed

The Nankin is of the black-tailed red color pattern. Males are of a ginger red color with orange-red hackle and saddle with black restricted to the tail and within the wings. Females are of a shade lighter overall, again with black toward the end of the tail feathers and within the wings. Nankins can be found with either a single or rose comb. Face and lobes are red, while shanks, feet and toes are slate. The ABA Standard calls for weights of 24 oz. cocks, 22 oz. hens, 22 oz. cockerels and 20 oz. pullets, making Nankins one of the smaller bantam breeds, with weights similar to Old English Game bantams. A complete Nankin description can be found in the ABA Standard.

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Their eggs are cream to light beige in color

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Nankin pullets all fluffed up for the night.

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Sydney & Brayden Ross show how child-friendly Nankins are.

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Hatch day. Most Nankin chicks are born with a black dot on their head that fades as they mature.

Nankin Bantams: A Practical Backyard Chicken Breed

Not only are Nankin bantams of interest historically, they are practical backyard chickens that are able to hatch and rear their own young and provide this service for other breeds and game birds as well. Nankin bantams are experts at raising baby chicks! They are a calm, personable breed—curious, sociable and well-suited for those interested in showing their birds in county fairs or in major poultry shows. Their easygoing nature makes them a natural for adult or youngsters to exhibit, especially for an activity like 4-H showmanship.

They have great staying power as show birds. Our club Secretary, Mary Ann Harley, has won Champion Nankin two years running with the same bird in stiff competition at our National Meet in Indianapolis, Indiana (74 Nankins competing), and again the following year in Columbus, Ohio. This tiny hen is an example of breed vitality in a bird about a pound in weight. She continues to produce young equal in vigor to herself. Nankins are small, but sturdy.

For years relegated to obscurity in the backwater of the poultry fancy and frequently predicted to be so few in number as to be approaching extinction, the Nankin bantam has come virtually out of nowhere to a resurgence on two continents. Provided a club with international support, the Nankin is now taking its place among the more common breeds with a new life and unlimited possibilities.

Originally published in the February/March 2009 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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