If you’re looking for a bantam chicken that offers a little more challenge than most breeds, and you want what is considered one of the most ornamental chicken breeds, consider raising Japanese Bantams. Also known in many parts of the world as Chabo, this little chicken has graced the gardens of the Japanese aristocracy for well over 350 years. Historical evidence suggests that the Japanese Bantam originated in Southeast Asia, where it is still raised today. They enjoy a high degree of popularity in Malaysia, and are very common in Java, which is now part of Indonesia.
Japanese Bantams began to appear in Japanese art around the year 1635, right about the time Japan closed its shores to outside trade. Also, it appears in Dutch art of the same era. This suggests to me that Dutch spice traders probably carried the Chabo as gifts to the Japanese from the Asian spice ports; likely from Java. The very word "chabo" originates in Java as chabol, where it means "dwarf" and applies both to humans, and to the short-legged Chabo chicken. In Japan, the word would drop the "L," as no speaker of Japanese would be inclined to pronounce it. Some will contest my assumptions, but little does it matter—this is a gorgeous bird by any name!
To anyone wishing to get started in Japanese Bantams, I offer a few suggestions. First, secure adequate housing before you buy stock. Having very short legs and big combs, they need a little more protection than most chickens. I keep my Japs in a 16’ x 24’ concrete block building with an insulated ceiling. The only heat I provide is from a couple brooder bulbs in the ceiling fixtures in the most extreme cold. The rest of the time, the 100-plus birds provide enough heat to keep the temperature at or above freezing. Temperatures below 20 degrees run the risk of freezing the combs on the males.
Another challenge that Jap breeders face is keeping the feathers clean, as the wings and underside are in constant contact with the floor. It is good practice to keep dry litter under any bird you raise; it is imperative for Japanese. Let manure build up on the wing tips, and you will find the edges break off, leaving the feathers ragged. In addition to providing plenty of dry litter, one can benefit from providing roost space. Give the bird a place to roost, and it will get plenty of exercise flying up and down, and stay cleaner in the process.
Once you have adequate housing, you need to get the best stock you can buy. To find good stock, visit poultry shows and see who shows nice birds. Talk to the breeders and see who shares what they know. Join the breed club, and find who shows, who sells birds, and who will give you an hour or so to talk about the birds. Beware of people who sell birds, but never show them. Also, remember that poultry catalogs sell pet birds, not show birds or breeding stock. Breeders sell breeding stock. The breed club for Japanese Bantams is the Japanese Bantam Breeders Association, or JBBA.
To join the JBBA, contact John deSaavedra at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to JBBA 5899 Blacks Rd. Pataskala, OH 43062. Dues are $10 for individuals, $15 for family (multiple exhibitors) and $5 for youth under age 18. Membership is for the calendar year, and entitles members to 6 newsletters per year, a membership directory, and entitles the member to win JBBA-sponsored awards at shows.
Aside from the extra challenge of having short legs and large combs, Japanese Bantams can be a real joy to raise. They are active foragers, good flyers, and if handled gently, they become tame and pet-like. The ABA Standard recognizes 16 varieties, though a few of them are not presently being raised in any numbers. The most common varieties are Black Tailed White, Black Tailed Buff, Black, White, Gray, Mottled, and Brown Red.
Japanese Bantams are fair layers of small brown eggs, and they make excellent mothers (and fathers). They are small (20-26 oz.) and eat little compared to most breeds. With their "cobby" shape and large, upright tails, they are often called the peacocks of the chicken world. If you think they might appeal to you, drop me a line. John deSaavedra, 5899 Blacks Rd., Pataskala, Ohio 43062. 1-740-927-0548.