The Nankin is an ancient breed of fowl that is thought to be one of the oldest known bantam chickens. The bird’s initial point of origin is obscured in history going back beyond all known records. There is evidence that the bird arrived in England prior to the 1500’s and there is even speculation that it may have been present well before then.
Once a popular and numerous breed in England, the Nankin began its decline in numbers during the “hen–fever” craze of the mid–1800’s when chicken fanciers shifted their attention to the creation of new and exotic breeds. This caused the populations of older breeds to diminish in numbers. The Nankin still played an important role and was used in the development of numerous bantam breeds, such as the Sebright. Beyond this capacity, the breed was more importantly recognized for its usefulness as a brood chicken – a broody hen used to hatch eggs. Nankins were often kept on game farms in England for this purpose and continue to provide this valuable service for small farms today.
Nankins are known for the rich chestnut color of their bodies. The hens are a light chestnut color with the end of the tail feathers being black. The males tend to be darker in color with black tail and black flight feathers. The breed can be found with rose combs or single combs, with both varieties having bright red wattles, faces, and earlobes. Legs should be slate blue, though white leg color will occur. White leg color is considered a fault and occurs because of a hidden recessive gene in the males.
Nankins have a calm disposition and a likeable personality; however, the cocks have been known to overcome their gentle nature and will run to the defense of a hen if she calls out in distress. An unusual behavioral characteristic of Nankins is their tendency to stay very close together as a group with individuals rarely wandering far from the rest of the flock. This behavior serves them as a defense mechanism, especially when they are kept along with larger fowl. The diminutive Nankin cannot compete for food with bigger chicken breeds living in the same area so they tend to wander on the outermost edges of a foraging territory. By grouping together, their chances for survival greatly improve. The Nankin is recognized to have good egg fertility and hatchability if hens are allowed to incubate. Their eggs tend to be more round in shape, as is sometimes the case with other bantam breeds. This can lead to hatching problems for the chicks when artificially incubated. Care needs to be given when incubating their eggs to prevent loss. After hatching, the hardy chicks grow quickly to maturity and are easy to rear.
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