The Nankin is an ancient poultry breed that’s thought to be one of the oldest known bantam chickens. The bird’s initial origins are obscured as they back beyond any known records. There’s evidence that the Nankin arrived in England prior to the 1500s with speculation that it may have been present well before then.
Once a popular and numerous breed in England, Nankins began to decline in numbers during the “hen fever” craze in the mid-1800s. Chicken fanciers began shifting their attention to the creation of new and exotic breeds, causing 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. Hens are a light chestnut color with the end of their tail feathers being black. Males tend to be darker in color with a 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 likable personality; however, the cocks 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 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 has good egg fertility and hatchability if hens are allowed to incubate. Their eggs tend to be more round in shape, similar to 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.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.