The Nankin bantam is a true bantam in that there is no standard (full sized) breed from which it is derived. The Nankin is also known as the Nanking or the Nankeen. It is believed that they were introduced to Britain from Java or India although some sources say their origins are in the Nanking region of China where they were named after a type of light cloth. Whatever their origins they are a very old breed. At one time they were one of the most popular of bantams but are now one of the rarest. It is possible they have had an influence in the development of the Sebright and other bantam breeds.
The Nankin hens make extremely diligent mothers and are used on game estates to incubate the eggs of pheasants, quail and partridges. It is their value in this capacity that may have prevented the Nankin from becoming extinct.
In the United States, the American Bantam Association recognises the Nankin bantam but the American Poultry Association does not. A breed club was established in America in 2006. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has listed the Nankin as critically endangered.
They are not particularly good layers nor do they make a particularly good meat bird. They tend to lay a clutch of 5 to 8 very small, creamy white eggs and then go broody. Nankins are friendly little birds and do not normally wander far from home so are ideal for a backyard henhouse. Although they can fly quite well, they are much less active and flighty than some bantam breeds. Because of their small size and prominent combs and wattles, they are inclined to feel the cold and need to be able to shelter away from the elements.
The Nankin is one of the smallest even of the bantam breeds with cocks weighing 24 ounces and hens 22 ounces. Nankins may have a single comb or a rose comb. The single comb variety is believed to be the older.
The overall appearance of the Nankin is of an alert, well balanced bird. The face is smooth with large prominent eyes, a strong, medium length beak, moderately large, round wattles and smooth, oval earlobes. The earlobes and wattles are red in colour.
The head is carried high. The abundant hackles flow over the back and shoulders, hiding the fronts and shoulders. The back is of medium length, as is the body and the tail is well spread. The wings are fairly large and tightly folded against the body. The legs are widely set and straight with muscular, well developed lower thighs. There are four toes which should be straight and evenly spaced.
Nankins are a single colour. The body is a chestnut/red colour. The toning is deeper and more lustrous in the cock bird while the hens are lighter, appearing more yellow than red. There are two distinct bars across the wings. The main tail feathers are black. The beak is a light horn colour and the legs are slate blue or white. This cheerful little chicken will enhance any poultry yard simply by his presence.