Bantam Chickens

When I first started raising chickens, I had no idea there were such things as bantams. Since then, I've learned a lot, but those bantams never cease to amaze me.

If you're not familiar with the chicken world, you may ask, what are bantam chickens? They are simply miniature chickens; about one-fourth to one-fifth the size of a standard chicken. Murray McMurray Hatchery calls them the "flower garden of the poultry world." I like that analogy and have to agree. Because of their small size, many urban chicken keepers are turning to banties. So, many that their popularity is rapidly increasing. FYI - Bantam eggs are significantly smaller than normal eggs so you often have to have 2 to 3 to equal the normal size.

No one's exactly sure where bantams originated; most believe the orient. But is important to remember that some bantams are "true" meaning there is no full-size counterpart. Others are simply smaller versions of their larger counterparts.

Here are some bantams, both true and others not, from the 4-H Community Fair I attended. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Old English Blue pair

Bantam Barred Rocks

Old English Black Cockerel

Bearded bantam cockerel

Black Rosecomb pair

Wildlife Wednesdays: Raising a Spicebush Swallowtail Part II

Three days into raising our spicebush swallowtail, my family developed a routine. Each morning we broke a branch of sassafras from our nearby trees and gave our caterpillar his replacement. That gave us all a great excuse to examine any changes that might be taking place. At first we saw nothing. Then on our third day, we noticed our little caterpillar, that had looked so much like a bird dropping, starting to turn green and his "eyes" were becoming a little more yellow.

The first touches of green are starting to be visible on our spicebush swallowtail

The "eyes" on the Swallowtail are a defense that gives the caterpillar the
appearance of a snake.

By the next day, our caterpillar had turned almost fully green with beautiful yellow "eyes" and blue dots on his back. His new greenish color allows him to blend more fully with the leaves since he's become too big to pass as a bird dropping.

The spicebush swallowtail is almost fully green, although you can still see some
brown on his sides.

The Swallowtail's real head is clearly visible.
Stay tuned for's very cool!

Nankin Chickens

Tucked among the many breeds represented at the 4-H Community Fair, I found a beautiful old variety that's considered critically endangered - a Nankin hen. I had read about Nankins, but never seen one myself. What a find!

A Nankin hen resting at the 4-H Community Fair.
The Nankin is an ancient breed that is thought to be one of the oldest known bantam chickens. The Nankin began to decline in numbers in the 1800's when people became interested in fancier breeds. It played an important role in the development of numerous bantam breeds such as the Sebright. Nankins are broody chickens and are often used in this role; especially on game farms. They are calm birds with a good personality. They often stay together in a tight knit group for protection from bigger chickens, if you have them, and from predators. They are not cold hardy so they've got to have an insulated coop through the winter.

Becoming One Flock

Since integrating my older and young chickens, things have gone well. There haven't been any major squabbles and no pecking problems. What has worried me though, is that the two flocks really haven't integrated. The young chickens have been deferential to the older girls, and in that way the peace has been kept.

Last night, however, I noticed that things have started to change. The two leaders of the young chickens, Big Red the New Hampshire and Rowena the Black Austrolorp, decided they did not want to roost on the higher young chicken roost. Instead, they wanted to roost on the top older girl bar where Mela, the flock leader roosts every night.

Mela, the flock leader, is upset with Big Red and Rowena perched on her favorite roost.
So, they got into the coop early and claimed two prime spots on the upper bar. Mela came into the coop at her leisure and then got upset when she noticed the two younger girls on her bar. With lots of loud voalizations, she finally hopped up to her favorite perch and continued to voice her displeasure. This caused the leghorns on each side of her to have to readjust, to the point where one fell off. Through all this, Big Red and Rowena stayed put. Eventually they were rewarded with everyone settling down and an opportunity to roost on the prime perch.

Everyone's on the perch and getting settled for the night.
 Who knows where this new status will lead them?

Wildlife Wednesdays: Raising a Spicebush Swallowtail

I found this cool little caterpillar by accident on the railing of my deck. At first, I couldn't identify the caterpillar through my normal field guides. But, I've got a great book, The Life Cycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards. They've beautifully detailed the life stages of butterflies. Through this book, I was able to identify my caterpillar - he/she is a newly hatched Spicebush Swallowtail.

The color and physical appearance of the caterpillar changes with each molt. In this stage, this little caterpillar resembles bird droppings. Its host plant is the Spicebush, but here in Ohio, you often find them on Sassafras trees. I'm positive this is why I found him on the deck - we've got a Sassafras tree right next to it.

My kids and I decided to raise this caterpillar and have been feeding him Sassafras branches every day and recording his life stages.

By the way, those cute little eyes aren't really eyes at all; they're false spots, the real head is under the front skin. Stay tuned to see how this caterpillar keeps changing.....

Harry Potter Chickens

In honor of the last Harry Potter movie, we named a few of our new chickens after characters from the series. After all, they needed names and this was a good excuse...

Minerva McGonagall - Keeping watch over the flock.

Rowena Ravenclaw - So pretty with her black feathers.

Hedwig - Loves to perch on our arms.

Hermione - Always curious and quite smart.

The American Snout Butterfly

The American Snout butterfly is probably a little self-conscious when getting a side view picture, after all, it looks like this butterfly has one of the biggest noses ever. Lol! In reality, the American snout doesn't have a long nose. The "snout" on the front of the butterfly's head is really made of lengthened mouthparts or palps (furry parts of the face).

You can see this American snout taking a "sip" of water with its proboscis.

4-H Community Fair

Our neighboring county, like many, was once pretty rural. But now, the eastern half has almost entirely lost its farming base. The county fair has lost most of its visitors and last year only had attendance of 6,500 over an entire week. The local 4-H groups decided something must be done. So they moved to the more rural western part of the county and started their own 4-H Community Fair.

To support this idea, I took my kids on Sunday and enjoyed seeing all the wonderful 4-H projects. I especially liked seeing the interesting varieties of chickens and seeing all the work the kids have put into their chicken-keeping.

Take a look below at a few of the chickens I photographed. And don't forget to stay tuned, there's more to come.....

Black Orpington Cockerel - He's so big, he almost doesn't fit in the cage!
Frizzle hens - A type of chicken with feathers that curl outwards, instead of laying flat.  

White Crested Black Polish Cockerel - A calm backyard companion although their eyesight is limited by their top feathers.

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