Raising Bantam Chickens: An Urban Farming Guide
Bantam chicken breeds are much smaller than their counterparts which makes them ideal for urban farming. They require little space, and if allowed to forage, very little in food costs as well. The first step towards keeping chickens is deciding what breed to acquire. The breed you choose will depend largely on your reasons for keeping chickens. If you are more interested fresh eggs you may be interested in more prolific egg laying breeds like Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes or Orpingtons. If you are keeping chickens more for their companionship in the garden you have many options, some of my favorite breeds are Sussex and Slikie Bantams.
Housing Bantam Chickens
Sheltering your bantam chickens is as simple as building or buying a small dog house. A good rule of thumb is to allow about 2 sqft per bird. Chicken tractors also work very well. Bantam chickens are just as hardy as larger breeds and can live in a very simple structure as long as it can shelter them from rain and draft. Keep in mind that chickens naturally attract predators so take precautions to make sure your coop is secure. Plans for coops can easily be found online and in most cases can be built from re-purposed materials.
If you are buying your chickens as chicks you will need to construct a brooding box indoors or in a garage or shed that can be dry and free of draft, you will also need to keep a heat lamp on your chicks for the first few weeks of their life. Chicks don't require as much space as full gown chickens so depending on how many chicks you have you can make a brooder out of a cardboard box.
Feeding Bantam Chickens
Bantam chickens use the same feed as any other chicken. Grain feed is available from most farm supply stores for a very reasonable prices. I pay anywhere between $13 and $15 for a 25kg bag of feed and will last me about 3 weeks for 4 large breed hens. Chickens have different nutritional requirements depending on their stage in life. Chicks will do better on a "chick grower" formula and can be switched over to a "laying mash" when they reach about 12 weeks of age. If allowed to forage, bantam chickens will be able to feed themselves for a large portion of their daily food requirements. They also love vegetable scraps and mashed potatoes. More variety in your chickens diet will result in a higher nutritional value in your eggs.
Raising bantam chickens is a very rewarding hobby. Providing pest control in the garden, recycling food scraps and great compost for your garden are some of the additional benefits of keeping chickens. But let's not forget about the eggs! It's hard to beat fresh eggs, let's face it. You can expect your hens to lay one egg a day for most of the year. As the winter months come along it is normal for egg production to slow down. It is possibly to stimulate egg production in the wintertime by putting a light and timer switch inside the chicken coop giving them supplemental light after the sun goes down. A bantam chicken's egg is about one third the size of your average size supermarket egg, you may find it easier to keep 3-4 full size chickens as opposed to 12 or more bantam chickens for the same volume of eggs
What you need to start raising chickens
There comes a time in every hens life cycle when she begins to slow down in egg production. After keeping chickens for a while you will start to notice fewer eggs every morning and eventually your older hens will stop laying eggs all together. At this point many people choose to replace these older birds with fresh, young, productive new layers and use the older hens for making stew. Stewing hen is the term for older hens that are much too tough to eat if they cooked any way other than stewing. Some people also decide to simply give the older hens away to make room for new ones. Many people find the idea of eating their laying hens to be no different than making a stew out of the family dog. After all, they have spent the last 2 or 3 years caring for these birds. Personally, I don't mind the idea of eating older hens raised as layers but I don't care for the meat as much. I usually raise broiler chickens for meat and give my older hens away to make space.