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What is a True Bantam?
This article was written before Ian passed away and it is his families wish that we continue with this series of articles that he wrote for Smallholder.
I WOULD like to start by clarifying the term 'True bantam'; the definition of which is that they have no large counterpart of the same breed. Breeds that exist in both large and small versions are called 'Miniature Fowl', unfortunately many people still refer to them as Bantams. Examples of these breeds are Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, etc. whereupon True bantams are Pekins, Nankins, Japanese and Belgians. Also two that we are covering this month; Dutch and Rosecomb.
To discuss the breed of Dutch in the British Isles immediately raises several questions, firstly why did it take so long for the breed to arrive here? The birds themselves are hardy, they exist in a range of attractive colours and have a very appealing nature so why did they not come into Britain when the other Bantams were being imported. To try and explain the history of the breed I am once again going to enlist the help of van Gink who was himself a Dutchman and once quoted that the original birds were simply a type of farmyard Bantam that were commonly known as Partridge Bantams.
Similar types of birds were also found in the countries adjacent to Holland, one of which was Germany, where they were developed into the German Bantam. He then states that Japanese Bantams were involved with some of the original development of the breed that was first accepted as a true breed in 1906 and was included in the standards. The first colours were the Gold and Silver Partridge, White and self Black with others quickly following. The early paintings of Dutch Bantams by van Gink show them to be larger than the ones that are now in this country and actually resemble the German Bantams that are now starting to appear in our showpens.
The first time I can remember seeing Dutch Bantams was, to the best of my knowledge, during the mid 1960s, when I was judging in Norfolk and a lady was showing some delightful little birds in the original black/red colouring. I was immediately impressed with their diminutive and yet perfect confirmation especially their heads. I can remember discussing them with Will Burdett who commented that it was a pity that they had not been in this country much earlier as they would have been perfect to use when the breeders were starting to develop many of the Large Fowl into a miniature version.
During their early days in this country the breed was under the umbrella of the Rare Poultry Society and their ever enthusiastic secretary Andrew Sheppy. In 1971 the R P S held their first independent show in Andrews home town of Congresbury and I was privileged to be invited to be the Judge. Classes were scheduled for what was called in those days, Old Dutch Bantams, and I can remember to this day the beautiful class of Silver Duckwings, they were perfect little birds and so fit and healthy. When the first shows were held by the National Federation of Poultry Clubs the R P S had their own section and in the 1978 show the birds were in the Any Other Variety class, but by the 1979 show one class was provided for them being described as being 'Old Dutch Dwarf', there were three exhibits, all of them by Joe Roper, who was actually more known as a Pigeon breeder but had always loved his Old Dutch. Why the name was changed to Dutch I have never been told. The 1980 show recorded 12 entries, so by the 1981 show two classes were scheduled, one for what was now being called Gold, which attracted 23 entries and one for Silver with 7 entries.
At the 1982 show the breed was covered by the Old Dutch Bantam Club, five classes were provided; two for Gold Partridge, two for Silver Duckwing and one A O C with a total entry of 38 birds. In 1987 the name became simply Dutch Bantams and by 1988 the Silver Duckwing became the Silver Partridge. There were now 14 classes and an entry of 147 birds, which emphasised the potential of the breed when Will Burdett and myself first saw them. From now on their rise in popularity was exceptional, making them one of the most successful breeds of Bantam and still begging the original question; 'Why did it take so long for them to arrive here'?
Dutch Bantams have created for themselves a reputation for being an ideal breed to be kept in a small area or a confined space such as running around on the floor of a cage bird flight and helping themselves to all the 'left overs'. They are a hardy breed but they also thrive on loving care and attention and can be recommended as a breed that all the family can enjoy. In creating some of the more recent colours there has been a tendency for some of the them to be larger in size than the original very diminutive and perfectly proportioned birds. This can be detrimental to the breed and I am sure that the breeders will correct this fault.
Moving on to another breed, a few of the German Bantams are now starting to appear in this country, as yet I know very little about the breed. I understand that they have the largest following of any breed in the native country, so I presume that the potential is there for them to become just as popular in Britain. I do not know of a large version of the breed so therefore they would fall into the category of being a True Bantam.
I may be considered disrespectful or possibly lacking in knowledge but the ones that I have seen resemble a bird which is half way between a Dutch Bantam and a Phoenix Yokohama, with all the characteristics to make them a successful addition to the ever increasing number of breeds in this country.
The next breed to be discussed is the Rosecomb Bantam. I have always known them to be of British origin and therefore more is reported about their early history. For many centuries there has been Bantams roaming around the farmyards. These birds probably related to the Nankins and amongst them were some which were self Black and self White, some of them having single combs whilst others had rose combs and it was these birds that were used to create the new breed of Rosecomb. It has always been recorded that large Black Hamburghs were interbred with them to further develop their headpiece with the result being that during the latter part of the nineteenth century, some excellent birds were being shown with the continued improvement carrying on into the twentieth century where their popularity was amazing. At the 1904 Variety Bantam Club Show that was held at Sheffield there were six classes for Black Rosecombs and they attracted 98 entries whilst the five classes for Whites accumulated 39 making a total of 137 birds. As a comparison, the Club Show held at Stafford in 2003 only had 80 entries and that included classes for several of the new colours that have recently been introduced and standardised.
A very interesting story has often been told regarding some of these original Black Bantams, apparently John Buckton owned the Angel Inn at Grantham in Lincolnshire and kept some of these little Bantams that were very noticeable with their white earlobes and jaunty appearance, although not all of them were pure Black, some of them having large amounts of red in their plumage. The approximate time of this was the fifteenth century and King Richard the Third stayed a night at the Inn where he took a fancy to the Bantams and was given some as a present. What happened to them I have not been able to trace.
My account of the breeds history is completely different to the one written by Cornelis van Gink who agrees that there are different opinions as to the origin of the breed but he favours the theory that they were shipped from the port called Bantam and the birds were actually bred on the island of Java with the foundation stock of these birds coming from Japan. He believes that some of them came to England around 1870. In his home country of Holland the birds were immediately called Java Bantams with the name being fully approved in 1919. The style of Rosecomb Bantams is different to any other breed, with several areas of the bird being considered very important. It would be correct to say that their headpiece is the main feature of the breed, being allocated 35 points in their standard of perfection. In the past their tail furnishings and general feather structure were given a very serious examination with emphasis being the requirement of wide feathering and most definitely that the sickles should be well rounded at the end and not taper to a point as in most light breeds of poultry. I fear that many of today's birds are starting to lack in this feature.
The breed's general appearance is one which is very pleasing to the eye of a casual observer with their wings carried low and covering approximately half of their thighs. Their legs should be short and well rounded in their bone structure and not 'Flat Shinned', neither should they be 'Knock Kneed' as some birds have a tendency to stand. The whole appearance of the breed is of a very proud bird always ready to display themselves to the public. I may be wrong but I do not consider the breed to be the most suitable to keep purely as pets. To me they are a connoisseur's breed. To illustrate this I will quote from the Poultry Clubs book of standards, which when introducing the breed states; The breed of Rosecomb is a gem of show birds. In former days it achieved probably the highest pitch of artificial perfection aver achieved in exhibition birds.