Silkie chicken refers to a small type of bird that usually weighs between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds. It is named for its furry or hair-like plumage that usually feels silky to the touch of silk. Silkies are unusual looking chicken due to their strange appearance, kindliness and mothering skills, which endear them to many pet lovers. In fact, their many unique characteristics make them happen to rank among the top ornamental breeds that are perfect for the backyard chicken rearing.
This friendly, sweet-natured and chatty breed can be a good companion for you or your children although they are not suitable for some climatic conditions. It is thus important to check whether they are fit for your environment and family before investing in Silkie. Our another review: best chicken plucker. and best egg incubator.
History of Silkies
It is evident that the Silkie is one of the oldest breeds that probably originated from China. Some experts claim that the Silkies date back from the Chinese Han Dynasty, in 2006 BC.
In Chinese, Silkie is called wu-gu-ji – which means black-boned. Another name for this bird is Chinese Silk Chicken. Although the evidence strongly shows that the bird has a Chinese origin, the exact origin still remains a mystery.
Writings by Marco Polo from in logs from his Europe and Asian travels in the 13th century referred to them as “chickens with fur-like feathers”. It is believed that the Silkie made its way to westward by the Silk Road, through the maritime routes, or both.
In the ancient time, the Silk Road stretched from China to the modern Iraq. There were also numerous secondary routes that connected Asia to Europe and the Balkan States.
In another mention from Italy by Aldrovandi in 1598, it talks about chicken with “fur like a black cat.”
When the Silkie was first introduced to the European public, it was believed to be a breed between a rabbit and chicken – and it could have sounded real during the 1800s. Numerous unscrupulous sellers took the advantage of the Silkie and sold it to curious unsuspecting customers. It was exhibited as a “bird-mammal” in travelling side shows where it was used as a ‘freak show’ item.
The breed eventually made its way to North America. In 1874, Silkie became officially accepted in to the North America Standard of Perfection. The American Bantam Association accepts 6 standards based on colors which include: blue, black, white, partridge, gray, splash and buff. Silkie has other colors although they are not accepted as standard which includes: porcelain, red, lavender, and cuckoo.
Currently, Silkies can be found in Asia, Europe and North America. A good number of breeders are now focusing their programs to come up and enhance the unique features of the Silkie chicken.
Silkies Unique Characteristics
Soft Silky Feathers
Unlike most chicken breeds, Silkie feathers are unique in that they don’t have barbs that hold the strands together. If you take a single chicken feather, you will notice a number of thick hairs growing on either side of the main shaft. These hairs are known as barbs, and in most cases, the barbs appear straight and orderly. A closer look will show that these barbs branch further into tiny things called barbules. These barbules are lined with tiny hooks which keep the feathers straight and smooth. If you play with a chicken feather, you can still make it whole again if you brush the barbules back into their original place.
Silkie feathers are unique in that they lack barbicels but instead form numerous individual strands that gives them their silky softness and fluffy appearance. Their feathers wisp around, making Silkies appear furry and messy. Their feathers are similar to the undercoating that you will find in most poultry.
Silkies also have fewer feathers on their legs and above their middle toe. Given that their feathers can easily become waterlogged, Silkies are bad swimmers.
Combs and Wattles
The combs of Silkie roosters are shaped like a walnut. Although these birds are typically marked by a dark skin, there are some differences in the color of wattles and combs. Most are mulberry in color whereas some hatchery birds have combs that are poorly shaped. It’s not uncommon to spot some Silkies that have earlobes with a stunning turquoise luster.
Silkies found in America are relatively small (approximately the size of a rabbit). In fact, they are referred to as bantams, a term that means “tiny chickens,” and only measures between 8 and 14 inches in height. However, there are smaller and larger sizes of Silkies in other countries. The standard version is bigger than the one found in America. In simpler terms, Silkie is a compact breed of chicken with a roundish body and short legs.
Silkie’s head is covered by a fun of tuff feathers which gradually grows and curls around their faces. In some Silkies, the skull is vaulted, meaning that it is arched upward, which gives it a more surface area and makes the skull more outstanding. A strong peck on the Silkie’s head by another chicken can cause brain damage or death.
Silkie’s turquoise earlobes are pale blue in color which is uncommon in other chicken breeds. It is unclear if the color occurs due to an interaction of earlobe pigmentation with its black skin.
There are feathers that grow down the outsides of their legs and on the toes which are some unique features that Silkies share with some other breeds of chicken. Examples of other breeds with these characteristics include Faverolle, Booted, Langshan, Belgian Bearded d’Uccle, Cochin, Brahma and Sultan chickens.
Unlike most other birds that have four toes, Silkies have five. The extra toe in Silkies grows just above the hind toe and normally curves upward. It is very rare for this extra toe to touch the ground. Other chicken breeds that have an extra toe include Faverolle, Sultan, Houdan and Dorking. It is suggested that a unique gene is responsible for the fifth toe.
Along with muscles, bones, combs, wattles and beaks, Silkies have a dark skin. This unique characteristic, often called melanism, is typical in a few breeds of Asian origin. They include Sumatra and the Ayam Cemani. More studies about melanism have been carried out in Silkies than in any other breed.
Unlike many other chicken breeds that are placid when brought up in a calm environment, Silkies are naturally tranquil and tend to be friendly toward human beings without being tamed.
Silkie roosters can bear with other roosters in the flock more easily than any other breed. Nevertheless, they have a reputation of being submissive when bullied by other more aggressive breeds in a flock.
Unlike in any other chicken breed, Silkie hens are famous for their persistent broodiness. This is the reason they are probably used more often to hatch valuable eggs of chicken breeds that are less reliable.
Are Silkies Bearded?
There are two varieties of Silkies: bearded and non-bearded. In one variety, you will find a group of feathers around the chins which appears like beards, while the other doesn’t have beards. Breeders’ personal preferences determine the variety of Silkies they want to rear. Some enjoy the added fluffiness that the beards produce on the chicken’s face while others don’t.
Differences between Bunnies and Silkies
Sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish between bunnies and Silkies, but they are great friends. They enjoy playing together in the sun outside the cages.
It’s is advisable not to keep Silkies and bunnies together in the same cage. Care is necessary to prevent the bunnies from stepping on the chicken feces. Installing a wire base between their cages can help. It is also important to ensure that they are getting along well. It’s worth noting that brooding hens or pregnant bunnies can become aggressive, and they can constantly fight when raising their young ones.
How often do Silkies Lay Eggs?
In the United States, Silkies are not considered as acceptable egg laying breeds, and are normally used as surrogate mothers to other chicken’s eggs. Although Silkies can be encouraged to lay eggs frequently, they normally lay between 80 and 120 eggs per year.
Generally, Silkies start laying eggs when they are between 7 and 9 months, but some can take even longer. Silkies that start laying eggs at an older age are more likely to lay more eggs than their counterparts that start and an early age.
To start laying eggs, chickens should be provided a balanced diet which should be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables, such as, watermelon, tomato and banana. They should also be regularly fed with crushed oyster shell to provide calcium, which is vital in large amount for chicken to form an egg. Water should be constantly available for Silkies to lay eggs and prevent dehydration.
Nesting box should be placed in a secure area and close to water and food.
It’s important to record the laying pattern of your Silkies. External conditions like stress and weather can affect a Slikie’s laying patterns. For instance, Silkies may not lay eggs during the winter season when temperatures drop. Keeping records will give you an idea of when to expect an egg.
Silkies Brooding Behavior
Your broody behavior should tell if the hens are laying fertilized eggs. Brooding occurs when the hen lays an egg that it intends to hatch. The hen doesn’t want to move to another part of the coop. Instead, it becomes aggressive when touched or sits on the eggs persistently. Some may squawk or become puffy when you approach them.
Count 21 days and then move the Silkie to a separate coop or crate until the egg hatches. Ensure the brooding bird receives adequate food and water during the entire period. Soon after they hatch, move the chicks back into the coop.
Alternatively, you can place the egg in an incubator although Silkies are well known to be exceptional brooders. This is an indication that they can hardly move away from their eggs or chicks.
Do you have other breeds of chicken that are adamant to brood? Try to give their eggs to Silkie. Silkies can brood to any eggs, even other items that look like eggs, including tennis ball and rocks!
Do Silkie Roosters Crow?
Although you can hardly notice it, this doesn’t mean Silkies roosters don’t crow. They are pretty quiet which makes them an ideal breed for urban farms, where neighbours can complain. Credit to their temperament behavior, the roosters remains naturally calm and don’t make a lot of like other breeds when they are disturbed. The roosters also don’t have the tendency to attack humans, unlike other chicken breeds. In fact, Silkies will just run away when provoked.
Do you want to start a backyard flock for Silkies? These birds only require smaller coops unlike other chicken breeds. However, although they have fewer requirements, they still need a good supply of food and water. Keeping them healthy and clean is paramount if you want them to live for up to 9 years.
Construct a coop measuring at least 8 inches wide for every bird you plan to rear. These small-sized birds don’t need a lot of space like other chicken. You can allocate them more room if possible and they will appreciate the extra space. You can buy a premade coop or construct your own.
Choose a coup which cannot be easily broken into by predators like owls, cats, dogs, coyotes and raccoons. The wire should have holes that are less than 0.5 inch. The floor can be solid or burry wire into the ground to prevent burrowing animals. Ensure all windows and top openings are well covered with mesh.
Given that Silkies don’t like perching, they often make huge fluffy piles on the floor. When the weather is cold, the birds can burrow too much, and eventually may suffocate.
Make a chicken run outside to protect your birds. The chicken should be enclosed all round but open enough to let your birds roam freely during the day. At least one part of the chicken run should be covered in wet weather because Silkies don’t do well when rained on.
Each Silkie needs a run area of about 10 square-feet although a larger space will enhance their performance. Cramping will promote picking on each other.
There should be a nesting box for every 4 birds. Place the nest boxes in a dark place at the corner of the coop. Ensure it is close to the ground because Silkies can’t fly or jump very high.
You can mix Silkies and other chicken breeds that have the same temperament behaviors.
Place a covered feeder and a water drinker inside the coop. The cover helps to prevent feces from dropping inside the feeder and water drinker. The food and water dishes should be hanged 2-3 inches from the ground where your birds can easily reach without being able to climb up.
Feeding should be done once every day. The feed should include a mix of seeds, grains, corn and mineral supplements. Aim to give at least 2-3 ounces of feed per day for every Silkie. You can get prepared chicken feed at pet stores, feed mills, or online.
Change water on a daily basis by refilling the drinker up to the top. Refill the drinker if water runs out during the day as it can happen in hot weather.
Adding a bowl of grit to their feed will help the Silkie to breakdown the food. You can place a small bowl of grit near the feeder. Grit is available in feed mills, pet stores, and online.
For healthy eggs, you can add crushed oyster shells if the Silkies are not consuming layer pellets. Crushed oyster shells are available in feed mills and pet stores.
Supplementing your Silkie’s diet with fresh vegetables and fruits especially during winter will ensure that they are getting enough greens. Examples of fruits and vegetables to add include vegetables, kale, Swede, and Brussels sprouts.
Did you know that it can be tricky to tell if Silkies are males or females until the age of 6 months? It is at this age that the males start crowing while the females start laying eggs. However, roosters normally develop a comb a little earlier than hens, but not a must.
Although Silkies are easy to raise and breed like other chickens, there is some difference in that you have deal with their poofy feathers. You should trim the back of both hen and rooster which can become clogged with feces.
Unlike in other chicken breeds, it is preferable to have a few more roosters per hen in the ratio of 1:4 respectively.
How to Keep Silkies Clean
You can keep your Silkies clean by trimming the feathers around the face and at the back. The feathers that grow and curl around their face can inhibit their ability to see well. A gentle trim will help them to see better and look neat. Gently hold the Silkie with one hand and use a small pair of scissors to clip the ends of the longer feathers. Avoid cutting too close to their skin as it can hurt. There is no need to clip the flight feathers because Silkies can’t fly.
Always remember to dry off your chicken whenever they get damp or wet especially during the rainy season. You can use a towel and then place them inside a warm coop or room.
Provide a dust bath where Silkies can naturally clean themselves with the help dust. Ensure a part of their run is bare dirt or place a bowl with dusting powder inside the coop. A dusting powder is available in livestock stores, pet stores, or online stores.
Cleaning the coop at least on a weekly basis will ensure that your Silkies remain not only healthy, but also happy. Change their beddings every week and clean the floor together with the nesting box. Scrub off droppings and dirt that are stuck to the nest boxes.
Unlike other chicken breeds, Silkies don’t lay many eggs. Each hen can lay up to 3 eggs per week. Pick up the eggs in the morning and throw away the ones that are cracked or split. Remember to clean the mess.
There are no special instructions on how to cook or eat eggs from Silkies. Simply do it as with normal eggs.
When collecting eggs, you may notice a hen that becomes aggressive or refuses to leave the nesting box. Leave it alone because this indicated the hen is brooding.
You can color your Silkies
Some breeders will go to the extent of coloring their Silkies if their natural colors don’t appeal. And guess what they use. Food-safe colorings that are not only fun, but won’t cause any harm to your birds. Colored chickens seem to enjoy it even better because they get attention and receive more cuddles as well.
Silkies Health Concerns
It appears that Silkies are fairly susceptible to Marek’s disease. Although most breeders prefer to breed their stock for natural immunity, there is no harm in getting your birds vaccinated. The main cause of Marek’s disease is the herpes virus. Given that Silkies are very vulnerable, you should request a vet to vaccinate your flock at an early age to prevent an outbreak.
Many breeders attempt to breed the disease out of their flocks. This is something you opt to consider before you decide where to outsource your chickens.
The most common symptoms of Marek’s disease include weight loss, skin lesions, and gray or misshapen eyes.
Sadly, Marek’s disease has no cure.
What happens if your birds become infected? You will either have to quarantine them from the rest of the flock or euthanize them.
Other major Silkies health concerns include parasites and lice. Thorough brushing of Silkie’s feathers once a week can go a long way to prevent parasites and lice. Closely examine your birds for any tiny red or black moving dots on their feathers or skin. Call in a vet if you notice any mites. Other signs of mites to be on the look out for include restlessness, skin lesions, biting of feathers and patchy or ruffled feathers.
If you spot mites in one of your birds, thoroughly clean the coop using a bird-safe disinfectant.
Silkies with other Breeds
There are many debates that revolve around whether to rear Silkies together with other chicken breeds. With their friendly nature, mild personalities and obscured vision, Silkies are susceptible to bullying by other breeds. With that in mind, there are several that should come in mind before putting your lovely creatures together:
- Are the other breeds aggressive?
- What are their individual characteristics?
- Is there enough space where the birds can freely interact without harming each other?
The majority of other chicken breeds intermingle very well with Silkies if there is enough space to escape. If you are worried of mixing Silkies with other breeds, there is something you can try. Introduce chicks of the other breeds to your younger or mature Silkies. You will have to keep a close eye for some time before they become members of the flock.
Are Silkie Chickens for you?
By now, it’s quite clear why most breeders and pet lovers adore Silkies and believe they are a worth addition to any backyard flock. Silkie chickens are for you if:
- You are new to chicken rearing and want birds you’re ready to care for without letting them get wet or cold.
- You want to rear something easier to manage without getting intimated or bothered by large breeds of chicken.
- You want the loveliest and friendly colored chicken pet for you or your children that is more exquisite than your regular cat or dog.
- You want a pet that will give back true love without doting on you and accompany you whenever you go to the garden.
- You have a fairly limited area in an urban backyard without disturbing your neighbors.
- You are on a tight budget and want a chicken breed that will eat less without messing up your kitchen garden.
- You want to keep a chicken or two inside your apartment.
- You are after a bird who will be a mother hen to many little chickens irrespective of where they come from.
- You are after some lovely eggs – they may not be large or many, though – but they are both nutritious and delicious.
Don’t buy Silkies if:
- You stay somewhere very cold, wet, and mucky.
- You are after a hen that wills only lay eggs without the urge to brood over them (despite that there are many ways you can stop any bird that goes broody).
- Your idea is to rear chicken for meat.
Current use of Silkies Chicken
Apart from entertainment and companionship, Silkies offer their owners many tangible benefits, which make their rearing as pets more rewarding. You can present Silkies in poultry shows, which can be a fun pastime to participate in. They also provide a natural way to control pests as the can gobble up any insects in your backyard. Another major benefit is that they provide you with fresh eggs that you can either eat or sell.
Unlike other chicken breeds, Silkies continue laying eggs throughout the winter as their fluffy feathers keep them warm and satisfied. In addition, they are known as the broodiest of all chicken breeds and are often used as natural incubators and mothers of other poultry.
Silkies also make a great choice for breeders who want to show or add some color and personality to their flocks.
Where can you buy Silkie Chickens?
Before adding these little fluffy birds to your flock, it is a good idea to identify a reputable breeder where you can purchase them. Despite being fun, easy, and inexpensive to rear as pets, you might fall victim to obtain sickly chickens, which can end up becoming costly to keep a healthy flock. This simply means that when buying Silkie chickens, ensure that the potential owners work hand in hand with reputable breeders and that the breeder’s flock is certified by the National Poultry Improvement Plan. NPIP certification ensures that the poultry along with their products destined for other states and international shipments are free of diseases.
To become NPIP certified, requirements include an Annual Record Audit, Annual P-T Testing, Annual Premise Inspection and AI Testing.
What Makes Silkie Chickens Problematic?
Due to their physical appearance and friendly characteristics, Silkies can at times become problematic in different ways. They include:
- Since they are so trusting and gentle in nature, they are often bullied when mixed with other breeds. Ensure to keep an eye on them if you mix them with another breed to prevent bullying.
- Their feathers aren’t waterproof and thus can’t do well in a wet climate unless you properly shelter them.
- For the same reason in regard to their feathers, they are unsuitable in snowy areas.
- Though their feathers appear thick, they can’t do well in keeping the birds warm in extremely cold areas unless they you shelter them adequately.
- The fluffiness of their crests gives Silkies a difficult time in the world. With their obscured vision, they can easily roam too close to their predators and fall victim of an attack.
With Silkies becoming increasingly popular across the globe, there are plenty of devoted online groups that provide additional information about how to raise and breed them.
You can join a group and get an opportunity to learn from other Silkie owners and share your experiences with these impeccable lovable creatures.
Examples of such groups include:
- The American Silkie Bantam Club.
- American Silkie Bantam Discussion Group.
- National Silkie Breeders Association.
- Silkie Club of Australia.
- Silkie Breeders Yahoo Group.
- The Awesome Silkie Bantam Chat.