This foundation breed of chicken can be summed up in one word – cute!. Silkies are very cute.
Everything about this breed revolves around fluffiness! They are irresistible.
Just like any other breed
Silkies appear like soft Persian kitties…but they are all chicken. The cocks crow with manly intent, and the hens often rise to the top of coop politics with determination. Many a chook keeper is surprised to see fluffy “Poodles” using ninja moves on “Mildred” the Brahma. They may look like rogue dryer lint, but they mean business.
The first thing anyone interested in keeping sillies should know is – they are chickens. Follow all of the husbandry practices necessary for raising any poultry. Silkies, due to their top-knots (the fluff on their heads), muffs and beard[i](the fluff on their cheeks and chins), need extra protection from predators. They have short legs and can't fly.
Their feathers simply lack the barbs that “zip” the webs of birds’ feathers together – something like velcro. When birds preen, they re-zip the feathers back into shape! Because they lack the gene for the barbs (their feathers are “hookless”), silkies need protection from the elements— their feathers are not waterproof.
The Silkie hails from Asia. While there is some debate as to exactly where, consensus points to China. Marco Polo writes, "I have been told, but did not myself see the animal, that there are found at this place a species of domestic fowls which have no feathers, their skin being clothed with black hair, resembling the fur of cats. Such a sight must be extraordinary” (The Travels of Marco Polo).
The Silkie is also mentioned in the chicken writings of Aldrovandii (16th C), as he refers to a bird with the hair of a cat.
Silkies are a genetic powerhouse in a poofy package. Raised in Chinese courts and brought to Colonial Williamsburg, these little fluffies harbor a genetic library! They have been the foundation for other breeds, and crossing silkies with other bantam or standard birds produces some fantastic results. They hold the gene for cute.
House pets and more
Silkies can make good house chickens, but they require time outside to engage in normal chicken behavior. These birds will need to forage, sun bathe, dust bathe, hunt bugs and run around like…well, chickens!
Silkies are not known for being great layers – mostly due to the fact that they love to go broody. Silkies are renowned for their propensity to set eggs. Expect about 100 or less eggs a year. The hens make fantastic mothers and they will also hatch and raise gamebirds and ducks. If you want to know what a mother hen can do…the silkie will show you! It’s really amazing to watch her raise and tend to the delightful chicks.
Chick tip: Soak Chubby Mealworms for her to feed to her babies. The fat and protein in the mealworms are perfect for growing chicks and hardworking moms.
Male Silkies are impressive birds. They imprint readily to humans and are top-notch flock protectors. These roosters are domestic minded and they have even been known to help brood the eggs. Silkie roosters can and do crow. They are vocal birds and they are all “man.” These roosters are still territorial and introducing new male chickens must be done with care. Try not to mix sizes (but individual personalities always dictate what works in any flock), as the smaller Silkie will start a fight with a larger rooster. While Silkies have bulldog power, they are no match for an 8-pound adversary.
Not just an adorable face
Silkies just keep on getting better! These birds are polydactyl – just like Salmon Faverolles and Dorkings. What does that mean? Most chickens have 4 toes, but Silkies, like a few other unique breeds, have 5 toes. Silkies are categorized as feather-legged, and this refers to the delightful feathers that cover their legs and feet. They have Hobbit feet…and that is really “cool,” as they would be right at home in Tolkein’s Middle Earth.
And there’s more:
Fun feather facts!
Silkies have those bunny soft feathers. Here is how that happens: It is due to an autosomal gene that erases the hooklets that hold pennaceous body feathers into the familiar “feather” shape. If you take a bird’s body feather and un-zip it, you will feel the picky sections that hold the feather barbs together. Silkie wing feathers and foot feathers (and the cock’s tail sickles), called the afterfeathers do have the hooklets. Whew.
Silkies rarely find themselves on hard times. But if you can, always adopt birds in need of homes. While Silkies are not endangered, they are a heritage breed. Save endangered farm animals, raise some Silkies…and before you know it, you’ll be adding a few more chicken breeds to your homestead. We know how much chickens crave Chubby Mealworms. If you ever buy too many mealworms, donate some of them to a local farm animal rescue - their recovering birds will thank you!
Have some Silkie stories? Share your adventures with these feather-footed fowl, we love to hear from you.
Silkies originally were beardless and without foot feathering. In England and Europe Silkies are considered standard fowl. In the US they are shown as bantams. Sikies are not true bantams, such as the Sebrights or the Dutch.