One of my most beloved breeds is the beautiful chestnut bantam known as the Nankin.
The Nankin is one of the oldest bantams known to man, it is a true bantam, meaning it has a no larger counterpart to which it was derived.
The Nankin Bantam comes in only one recognized color, in the roosters, it is a rich chestnut red with a black tail and black within the wings, in the hens, it is a light chestnut or dark buff color with black at the end of their tail and black within the wings, their legs are slate blue, white legs are known to appear but are an undesirable feature. Nankin’s come in two comb varieties, single and rose, rose seems to be slightly more rare than the single comb variety, it is said that rose combed birds can suffer from lessened fertility.
Nankins are small, weighing only 20 to 24 ounces, they are a slow maturing breed. They lay a cream to light beige eggs that are small and round, plus the hens are noted for being exceptional sitters.
The Nankin is as ancient as it is rare, with less than 1000 of them in the United States, the Livestock Conservancy has them listed as threatened, which is an upgrade from “critical” as of 2022. This bird is thought to have arrived in England before the 1500s, some say it is an Asian breed, but in actuality, it is from Britain. Were it not for a handful of devoted breeders, and this incredible bird would have met extinction years ago and without continued preservation, it could still meet extinction.
|Skill Level||Novice to intermediate|
|Recognized Varieties||Black tailed Red, rose or single comb|
|Eggs Production (annual)||100|
|Egg Color(s) Possible||Off white, cream, beige|
|Average Weight||20 to 24 ounces|
|Temperament||Docile, Curious, Friendly and Alert|
Nankin Bantam History
This breed has gone by a few names, originally known as the Yellow Bantam in 17th century Britain. Then called Nankeen, named after a ginger-yellow colored cotton made in China or possibly India, or the name could have come from the French word for ‘dwarf,’ which is “Nain” and the suffix is “kin,” which I think is a great name origin, some say it was also called the Nanking. Still, we may never know the truth of the matter.
The decline of the breed’s popularity started in the 1800s when the world was swept up in “hen-fever” and started seeking more colorful and exotic breeds.
The Nankin Bantam played a direct role in the creation of the Sebright bantam breed, the Game bantam along with other well-known bantams.
The saving grace for the Nankin breed during hen-fever was how well the broody hens hatched eggs for different breeds and species, they are superior at the job.
The Nankin hens are known for being wonderful brooders and mothers, they are very devoted to their eggs and young.
The breeder I purchased my very first Nankins from, stated that the birds were used on ship voyages. This was because of their small size, ease of handling, and gentle nature; it was stated that the little hens would climb between crates and barrels to lay eggs and were never bothered by living at sea in confinement.
These lovable bantams can handle confinement very well but can also be free ranged, yet they do not wander far and stay in tightly knitted family flocks, which is believed to be a defense mechanism. Nankins are not flighty like most bantams of this type, they are very calm and gentle. Even the roosters are known for being gentle and mild, but will quickly run to the aid of a hen crying out in distress.
The roosters are exceptionally watchful and aware of their surroundings, often warning the flock of a passing crow, a neighborhood cat, or anything out of the ordinary; I have watched my flock scatter and hide at the warning sound given by the rooster.
Due to their small size, they have retained the ability to fly, they love roosting high off the ground if given a chance.
The single comb variety are not well suited for colder climates, as they can easily become frostbitten or succumb to the elements. Don’t get me wrong, these bantams are sturdy even being so small!
With a limited gene pool and their small round eggs, it is noted that hatching can be difficult when hatching artificially with an incubator, they do better when incubated by a hen. The eggs also do not fair well when being shipped through the post.
Even with these struggles, the breed is a joy to raise, and the chicks that hatch are typically very hardy and thrive.
I have had mixed results when using incubators, my personal best artificial hatch was with a Harris Farms Nurture Right 360 -there will be an incubating and hatching article, stay tuned!
The Future of the Nankin Bantams
This breed was entered in the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection in 2012, it is a recognized breed by the American Bantam Association.
There was The Nankin Club of America, established in 2006, sadly it appears it has since disbanded as of 2021. Efforts are being made by some dedicated breeders to start a new club over time.
I highly recommend visiting The Livestock Conservancy website for breeder information, individual breed profiles and to support their mission for our heritage breeds.
Check out these resources below-
Learn more about Nankins
There is a book devoted to this breed: The Nankin Bantam: A Rare and Ancient Fowl by Mark A. Fields, it can be found on Amazon Kindle here
“Diminutive in size but large in spirit, for over 150 years the Nankin bantam has been poised on the brink of extinction. To many, it may seem remarkable that this rare and ancient fowl still exists at all. But those few committed stewards who have cared for the breed through the ages have known first-hand that the stranger contemplation is that the breed ever became rare at all.” -Mark A Fields, The Nankin Bantam: A Rare and Ancient Fowl
Nankin Bantams are birds worthy of fighting for. They are full of history, have wonderful personalities, they are sturdy, wonderful mothers, and they are simply a joy to raise!
I have some that come up to the edge of the coop and let me scratch under their beaks or rub their heads through the fence. They jump up on my back to have a sit or take a ride.
Nankins are rich in history and are a truly rare species. Nankin Bantams are chickens full of antiquity and they are a real treasure to add your farmyard or homestead, you will not be disappointed!
If you have any questions about this wonderful backyard bird please reach out to us hello(a)ohcluck.com
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