by Tammy Gallagher
The Incredible Silkie Chicken! Just one glance and the average person is smitten with the Silkie chicken’s beautiful and unique appearance. There really is nothing quite as mesmerizing as a flock of snow white fuzzy Silkie chickens toddling around in your backyard!
But you don’t have to settle for just white! This breed comes in a complete rainbow of colors, 3 different feather types, and even a variety with no feathers on its neck.
What Is a Silkie Chicken and Where Did It Come From?
Believe it or not, Silkies have actually been around for centuries. There are descriptions from scholars and adventurers who may have depicted these glorious birds from as far back as the 13th century, and perhaps even earlier.
Some believe that Aristotle described them in some of his texts when he mentioned ‘fowl with hair like cats,’ but a commonly quoted source are the writings and descriptions of Marco Polo during his travels through China. And, indeed, this is where the bird is thought to have originated from.
While the silky feathers and slate-black skin, meat, and bones have remained a defining characteristic of the bird, other things such as available colors, comb shape, and crest size have definitely evolved and changed through the centuries, especially as the bird has gained popularity.
What does a Silkie chicken look like?
In general, a well-bred Silkie should have a walnut shaped comb, a medium sized soft and full crest that is more globular in the female, and a bit more upright in the male with streamer feathers coming off the back.
The eyes should be large, bright, and very dark in color, and the beak is black to slatey blue, short, broad, and well-curved.
The earlobes are turquoise blue and the neck is short and well proportioned.
The back should be short and broad and the bird should have abundant, soft, and well curved tail feathers with ample shredding at ends.
Wings are medium sized and should be held close and nearly horizontal. Comb, face, and wattles should be a deep mulberry color.
Shanks and toes should be black to slatey blue, depending on the feather color, and the bird should have 5 toes.
These features, along with a list of more refined details and the absence of any DQs or defects, would be your perfect bird- the one that every serious breeder is hoping to produce.
Although there are many new colors and different feather types being bred, ABA currently only recognizes birds with silky type feathering in black, blue, buff, gray, paint, partridge, self blue, splash, and white in bearded and non-bearded varieties; except for paint, which is recognized as bearded only.
These are the current feather types found in Silkie Chickens:
- Standard silky feather-type, for which the bird is named and so widely known, results from the lack of tiny hooks that hold the individual barbs tightly together. Since a Silkie does not have these little hooks, the barbs float freely creating their fur-like plumage.
- Satin feather-type (technically not a Silkie and known as Satins) are becoming quite popular, and these birds more closely resemble feathering of a traditional chicken.
- Frizzle feather-type (also known as Satin Frizzles and Silkie Frizzles), which demonstrate a full fluffy feathering created by the introduction of a gene that causes the feathers to curl.
What Is a Showgirl Silkie?
Showgirls and Strippers, properly called Naked Neck Silkies, can be found in a multitude of colors and all 3 feather types.
A Stripper is a Silkie in all type description except for the absence of feathers along the length of the neck.
A Showgirl has a featherless neck, but also has a bib of feathers known as a bowtie, that covers the lower neck and upper crop area. White bearded Showgirls are currently the only ABA recognized Naked Neck Silkie.
Why Do People Keep Silkie Chickens?
Most people with Silkie Chickens, keep them as pets. Their extremely docile and sweet nature makes them an excellent pet chicken for families with children. Silkies are quite trusting and very easy to tame. Many will even learn to enjoy sitting in your lap.
With proper care and health management, you can expect your pet Silkies to live 7-9 years.
Silkies do lay tasty white to tan-colored medium sized eggs, but they are not known to be epic producers, so most do not rely on them as their only egg source.
This is largely influenced by their insistent broody nature. And when I say insistent, I mean it. They REALLY love to sit on eggs! Some will even brood with no eggs under them! This does lend them to being wonderful incubators and many people will use them to hatch other bird breeds.
Are Silkies Hard To Care For?
Silkies can present some unique challenges, but with a few adjustments to your typical chicken routine, they are fairly easy keeps.
Silkies are just as prone to developing poultry diseases as any other chicken. As with other members of your flock, measures should be taken to keep their environment clean and dry, making sure they have fresh clean water and food available at all times.
High stress situations and poor living conditions severely compromises the immune system of any animal, and may leave your birds defenseless against lurking diseases and parasites.
Silkies can be more prone to external parasites due to the sheer composition of their feathers and their inherent broodiness. It is important to check them often for lice and mites, so that you can get them taken care of promptly if needed.
Housing and environment tolerance
Silkies can (and should) be kept outdoors just like any other chicken. However, there are a few special considerations.
Most importantly, their down feathers become drenched very quickly in the rain, so it is imperative that they have a dry area that is blocked from blowing rain and cold wind.
They can tolerate moderately cool temperatures as long as they have a nice warm and dry hen house with plenty of deep bedding to nestle down into on chilly nights.
Those that live in areas that are prone to temps consistently below about 40 degrees should consider taking some extra measures such as installing removable wind barriers along the sides of their run, or perhaps housing them in a barn during the frigid months. This will provide extra protection for them on snowy or cold rainy days.
Although they will need a draft free area in the enclosure, it is also important to provide some ventilation.
I should also note here, that frizzled Silkies will have a harder time holding their body temperature during cold temperatures because the feathers curl away from the body, which limits their insulating ability.
Due to their inability to fly, Silkies do not typically roost up high like other birds. A roost constructed about 6-9 inches from the floor should please them, or you can try to teach them to use a short ramp.
If an accessible roost is not provided, they will most likely huddle together in a group on the floor.
If you have a Silkie with an extra-large crest, be sure to monitor whether the bird can see well enough to find food and water and avoid dangers. If you do decide to trim some of the crest, just a light trim of any feathers directly impeding vision will do.
Remember that your large crested Silkie has adapted to having on a ‘visor’ that shields their eyes from bright sunlight, so you do not want to remove a large amount of feathering and you certainly should not trim down close to the skin.
Your Silkie’s nails may need to be trimmed a few times a year, especially if they are not walking on surfaces that help to keep them short. Feathered feet are another area to keep tabs on as they may accumulate mud or excrement that has hardened and needs to be rinsed away.
Silkie chicks will need a small crumble for the first couple of weeks of life. Many chick crumbles are too large for their tiny beaks, but a quick run through a food processor will get them down to an edible size.
As they get a little older, this will not be necessary. A well-balanced adult crumble works well for these bantam sized birds once they are of laying age, but if you live in an area with much rain or high humidity, you may want to look for a mini pellet. It is important to feed your adult birds a good quality adult chicken feed.
Laying females should have free choice calcium supplements provided, such as oyster shell and free choice grit should be considered if your birds do not have soil access. They very much love high protein treats such as grubs or meal worms as well as fresh fruits and vegetables on occasion.
You should limit scratch and other treats to moderation, so they will consume enough feed to meet their daily dietary requirements.
I would also encourage you to talk to your breeder to see if she or he recommends any particular feed brands or additional vitamin/mineral supplements for your area.
Free Ranging & Mingling with Other Birds
Silkies love to scratch around in the yard and hunt for bugs, just like any other chicken, but the unique size and shape of the Silkie crest definitely leaves them at a disadvantage when it comes to free ranging. Although many people do it successfully, it is important to remember the adherent risk you are taking when you allow a bird with limited view of arial predators and the inability to fly, to free range.
Being in a mixed flock will lend some assistance as other breeds may help alert them to dangers, and allow them time to get to a safe area.
However, mixing this docile breed with other larger breeds will come with risks of its own. In the US, Silkies are a bantam (small) size, so it is important to monitor for bullying from larger breeds. Please also keep in mind that a hen is a hen when a cockerel comes of age-the size and weight of a large breed cockerel over a petite Silkie hen could seriously injure her.
Where Can I Purchase a Quality Silkie Chicken?
If it is a true lovable and adorable Silkie that you seek to have bopping around in your backyard, your best source is going to be a Silkie breeder. Too often I see disappointed owners, who have raised up chicks with tender loving care, only to end up with a chicken that vaguely resembles the adorable poofs they saw when they first fell in love with the breed. Purchasing from your local feed store, or a large operation mail order hatchery may leave you with a bird you are not happy with.
Find a breeder near you and talk to them about your goals. Ask them questions about their birds. Do they show? If not, do they breed their birds to the Standard of Perfection (SOP.)
A breeder who breeds their birds to the SOP, will almost always have some pet quality birds available from their hatches. These will be chicks or young adult ’grow outs’ that have some sort of imperfections or specific traits which that breeder does not want in their breeding houses. It may be an improper number of toes, too few or the wrong color markings, lack of a beard, light colored eyes, or even a wing that does not sit just right. There are a great number of things that a breeder will ‘cull’ for and many of these will be completely unnoticeable to a novice. They will be reasonably priced, well cared for, and beautiful quality birds overall.
If you are planning to become serious about breeding in the future, discuss this with your breeder so they can help you choose starter birds that best fit your future goals. While you will likely be hard pressed to get a true show quality bird, they may have some adults or juvenile grow outs that were very close, but just did not make the cut for one reason or another.
How much does a Silkie chicken cost?
Just realize that the breeder has invested many hours and lots of money into raising these birds up to this point, and they will be priced accordingly. A generalized price range spanning from obvious pet quality to those closer to SOP, will be in the range of $10-$30 for chicks and $40-$100+ for older birds. These numbers may of course be lower or higher and will be influenced by geographical location, color, quality, and age of the bird, as well as the expertise and time/financial commitments of the breeder.
While we are on the subject of purchasing quality birds (and the raging popularity of Silkies in general,) I would like to mention a ‘buyer beware’ scenario for you to consider. When purchasing hatching eggs, chicks, or adult birds from anyone claiming to sell ‘show quality’ birds, please do a little homework into the breeder. If they are advertising ‘show quality’ they should be actively showing or at least have done so in the fairly recent past.
Purchasing eggs or birds from someone who simply bought show quality breeder birds from someone else, is not necessarily a show quality purchase on your part. There are countless hours of record keeping, dozens of hatches, and many changes that occur within a breeding program to get just one specimen worthy enough to go into the showroom.
All of this said, at the very least, how can someone claim to have show quality birds, when the birds they are producing have never been in front of a judge for critique? So please be very aware of what you are buying.
The world of Silkie Chickens is an ever changing and developing hobby. Whether you are looking for a few pets for the backyard, or are considering the possibility of becoming a show fancier in the future, there are many choices to explore. Enjoy the journey and have lots of fun along the way!
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Tammy Gallagher has owned and raised chickens for over a decade, but breeding with intention has become her passion during the past few years. Her current focus is the continued improvement of her Silkies and Rainbow Layers. She is inspired by the sheer joy of visitors to her farm who see these alluring birds and beautifully colored eggs for the first time. Learn more at Shady Paddock Farm.