Silkies are delightful bantam chickens instantly recognizable by their feathered legs, fluffy feathers, and little pom-poms on the top of their heads.
They are one of the most favourite breeds for the backyard and are widely considered to be the teddy bears of the coop!
So, if you’re thinking of adding a Silkie chicken to your coop, or at least want to learn a little more about them, you can find all you need to know about Silkies right here.
The History of Silkie Chickens
The true history of Silkies dates back to China as far back as 200 BC in the time of the Han Dynasty.
Silkies are undoubtedly an ancient breed, even ancient Chinese writings provide detailed information about these birds.
They were called “wu gu ji,” which is the Chinese name for ‘black boned.’
These chickens were officially discovered at the turn of the 1300s by adventurer Marco Polo. As he traveled from Europe to the Far East, he journaled about a ‘furry chicken’ the locals described.
These unusual chickens with furry feathers had made their way to the West by the maritime routes, or what is known as the Silk Road that connected China to Iraq.
Later, in 1598, another traveler by the name Ulisse Aldrovandi described them as chickens with fur much like that of a black cat, and by the 1800s, Silkies finally arrived in Europe.
Because of their odd appearance, people spread rumors about Silkies being half chicken and half rabbit!
They became entertainment birds, traveling as sideshow exhibitions with the circuses in Europe, and piqued the interest of many people at the time.
Over the next few years, Silkie chickens made their way to the United States and today, North American strains must meet the strict Silkie Standard of Perfection.
Silkie Chicken Breeds
While originally bred as the pure white Silkie, today there are many color varieties that the American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes.
The Silkie chicken is considered a bantam chicken breed and does not share any genetic history with any other chicken breed.
Something to note is that these birds will sometimes be categorized based on their location. While the US general poultry standard considers them bantams, other countries classify Silkies as large fowl.
In North America, only bantams are recognized, while Europe maintains that the Silkies should represent a standard size chicken.
The Two Varieties of the Silkie Chicken Breed
The Silkie chicken breed is available in a bearded and non-bearded variety. The bearded Silkie strain has a muff under the beak which covers the earlobes – this is absent in the other non-bearded Silkies.
Today, Silkies are known as ornamental chickens and are often used to raise the chicks of other breeds because they make such wonderful mothers.
What Does a Silkie Chicken Look Like?
Silkies have many unique features but their most defining quality is their fine, soft hair. It is different from regular chicken feathers and likened to fur, which is also the reason that Silkies cannot fly.
Poultry enthusiasts breed Silkies to produce the fluffy or silky feathering in chicken breeds such as the Chabo and the Cochin.
Silkie Breed Standard
If you are considering partaking in poultry shows or you want to know how to spot a correct Silkie chicken, the breed standard is sure to help you out.
From the colors of Silkie feathers to the differences between the Silkie rooster and the Silkie hen, let’s look a little closer at this ornamental chicken.
In 1865, the Silkie chicken was accepted into the British Poultry Standard and the American Poultry Association in 1874.
Both the US and Canada only consider Silkies as bantams, while Australia and the UK have criteria for both large and bantam fowl.
Silkies are easily identified by their crown feathers that look like pom-poms perfectly set on the top of their heads.
You can barely see their combs under all their fluff, but it should be walnut-shaped, firm, and positioned evenly on the head.
Variance in the Breed Standard
The Silkie roo has a circular-shaped comb while the hen has a small, flat comb.
The American Silkie Bantam Club describes the bearded variety as possessing a muff below the beak area that also covers the earlobes of both hens and roosters.
Their combs and wattles should be mulberry to black in color, and their beak is usually leaden blue to gray. They have black eyes and are described as exotic chickens.
They have pale blue earlobes, but it is not uncommon to find Silkie chickens with turquoise earlobes too. What is also unique about these birds is that they are polydactyl.
This means they have five toes on each foot rather than the four toes you find in most chickens.
Every Silkie chicken also has fluffy feathers or down on their legs, while two of the outer toes on their feet should also be feathered.
Silkies are the only chickens in the world to have black skin, black bones, and blue color earlobes.
That’s right! Silkies have black skin and bones, which is also the reason they received the name, ‘black boned’ in China.
Silkie meat is dark to black in color, and people generally don’t consider it favorable as table fare in Europe and the US.
DID YOU KNOW
Silkie chicken meat is prominent in the East because it is believed to contain more carnitine for anti-aging. Silkie meat is also popular as a curative food in traditional Chinese medicine and traditional practices.
Silkie Chicken Size
Silkies are normally short and broad, and covered in an abundance of soft fluffy feathers or down.
Their fluffiness is owed to their lack of barbicels that are meant to keep feathers together.
Standard Silkies are considered small in size with Silkie roosters weighing 1 kg (36 oz) and Silkie hens reaching 900 g (32 oz).
The bantam requirements for Silkies differ according to each country’s breed standard.
This might seem confusing, but if we look at the American Standard of Perfection, bantam Silkies are classified as 36 oz for males and 32 oz for females.
In the UK, bantam Silkies are 600 g (22 oz) for the roosters and 500 g (18 oz) for the hens.
How to Sex a Silkie Chicken
The Silkie roo is slightly larger in size compared to hens and has a prominent circular comb, that’s if you can spot it through their fluffy feathers and beards!
Only roos have saddle feathers and curved tail feathers that appear shredded at the ends. In a Silkie hen, the tail feathers are short and round.
It can be challenging to sex Silkie chicks; however, by age 3 to 4 weeks you may notice the roosters developing combs and wattles before the hens.
You can look for crown or crest feathers that develop on the top of the heads of roosters. In 8 week old Silkie roosters, you will notice the formation of long, single crown feathers which are absent in females at this age.
You can also sex baby Silkies based on wing feathering.
When you compare a female to a male you will notice defined feathering in females and more fluffiness in males, but this requires a trained eye to get right!
Silkie Chicken Colors
Silkie chickens come in many interesting colors, but accepted varieties include black blue buff and white colors.
The white and black Silkie was the original bird selectively bred to produce multicolored plumage.
Splash and partridge are also recognized and accepted colors; however, more exotic shades such as red, lavender, and cuckoo have yet to be recognized by the APA.
Are Silkies Friendly Chickens?
When you own a Silkie, you can expect a calm, friendly, and sweet-natured breed that will bring much enjoyment to your backyard chickens.
These chickens are small in stature and can be incredible fluff balls with unique personalities! The Silkie hen is also generally quiet, even when performing the egg song as she lays an egg, which makes her a great choice as a house pet.
Silkie chickens can get along with flock mates of similar temperaments, but you might need to watch out for other boisterous birds such as Rhode Island Reds and Orpingtons.
They may give the quieter birds a tough time, so taking care to pick your chickens can help to prevent future squabbles and pecking order issues.
Are Silkie Chickens Good with Children?
If there was one chicken that you could choose to get along with children, it would definitely be the Silkie. They are an excellent choice as a first chicken for your children.
While baby Silkies should always be handled with extra care because they are so small and delicate, the mature birds that are raised with regular interaction tend to be the friendliest.
Kids also enjoy these chickens because of their unusual appearance and might develop a tendency to go to the chicken coop to collect eggs or simply hang out with their feathered friends.
The Best Chicken Breeds to Live with Silkie Chickens
Some Silkies can be a little flighty because of all the plumage around their head and eyes.
It obscures their ability to see predators, particularly hawks that easily prey on these smaller-sized chickens.
To help keep your Silkie chicken cool, calm, and collected, you have the option of adding a chicken breed such as the Cochin or even the Polish to the coop. It also depends on the nature of your individual Silkie.
One Silkie could be calm and easy to handle, while another could be the head of the pecking order!
It is up to you to learn about different poultry breeds and their compatibility with Silkie chickens. This way, you can ensure that all of your chickens get along with each other.
Coop Requirements for Silkie Chickens
Although the Silkie is the one chicken that can do well in cold climates, they simply cannot tolerate getting wet.
Remember that a wet Silkie will most likely get sick and should be dried with a hairdryer if they are soaked to their skin.
Other conditions you should consider when keeping chickens, especially with the Silkie, is the coop and confinement.
Because of their size, your Silkie doesn’t need too much coop space. Bantams can benefit from 5 square feet of space per bird, while larger Silkies need 8 square feet for each chicken.
One should also provide a sheltered coop to keep them dry in winter and cool in summer. Well-ventilated nesting boxes are a must for hens covered in fluff that need to lay in soaring temperatures.
Ensuring Comfort for Your Silkies Inside the Coop
Some backyard chicken owners suggest that you install fine misting kits around the coop to keep Silkies and similar winter breeds cool during summer.
You should also allow your Silkies to regularly free range.
They enjoy some freedom to track down bugs or eat some fresh grass when let out of their coop. You’ll just have to keep a watchful eye to prevent predators from threatening your chickens!
Remember that Silkies cannot fly, so perches should be positioned low to the ground. Or, you can include a sturdy chicken ladder that they can climb to reach the roost.
Silkie Chicken Eggs
Silkie chickens are described as ornamental birds. They were not bred for their meat or eggs but pursued for their feathering and unusual appearance.
When looking at their eggs, you can expect a cream color egg to be added to your basket or pantry.
The egg size is small to medium, typical for a chicken of their stature.
Because Silkies make such great mothers, most poultry hobbyists and breeders will use one broody hen to hatch and raise chicks.
NOTEAlthough some information on the internet says that blue-earlobe chickens lay blue eggs, a true Silkie breed will never lay blue eggs, but a Silkie cross might.
Silkie Chicken Egg Production
Silkies are wonderful to look at and make a unique addition to the backyard coop, but they certainly can’t compete in the egg laying department as they are poor egg layers.
As for how many eggs they lay, if you’re lucky, your chicken could lay 120 eggs per year. That’s equivalent to 3 eggs a week. Other Silkies will only lay 100 eggs annually.
Be sure to handle the Silkie eggs with care when removing them from the nest, because the small size makes them easier to break.
When Do Silkies Start Laying?
Egg laying can start between 7 to 9 months of age, and you may find that they go into egg production early in the year compared to many other types of chickens.
Most will lay eggs in January, but don’t be surprised if your hen starts laying in December.
Silkie Chicken Meat
Silkies have black skin, muscle, and bones which may be too odd or eccentric for most to consider consuming; however, the lean meat is described as tender and is a delicacy in the East.
The dark gray or almost black flesh is used in various types of cuisine across the world.
In China, it is part of a popular soup dish, while Western restaurants prepare it in other styles of fusion dishes.
One of the reasons it is so popular in Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese culture is because Silkie meat is thought to be a gourmet food.
Other reasons it is part of everyday cuisine is due to the chicken’s history and the preparation of meat that dates as far back as the 7th century for curative purposes.
Silkie Chicken Meat Taste
Despite being the one chicken that is uncommon as table fare, Silkies are described as tasting similar to traditional roasting birds.
When prepared correctly, the meat is neither stringy nor tough, but lacks chunky portions because of their tiny size!
Do Silkies Suffer from Health Issues?
Silkies cannot fly, which is actually a huge benefit because it prevents them from hurting themselves trying to reach high perches.
They are however susceptible to Marek’s disease, so be sure to look for a breeder that sells vaccinated baby chicks. And if you are buying from a private breeder, it is worth asking about this condition.
Lice and Mites
Another problem that seems to plague little Silkies is the occurrence of lice and mites. Their fluffy plumage makes it easier for these nasty pests to hide away and spread.
If you suspect that your chicken has lice, look for signs of constant scratching, excessive sand-bathing, feather loss or poor condition, and weight loss.
They can also suffer from a quick drop in temperature if they get wet, which is lethal for a chicken.
Should they be soaked by rain or frost, dry them using a towel or apply a gentle blow-dry and keep them warm until their body temperature normalizes before returning them to the coop.
Silkie Chicken Lifespan
Silkies can live between 7 to 9 years of age, which is longer than most types of large chicken breeds.
Silkies should remain an outstanding option for the backyard chicken coop because of their friendliness and their unique appearance.
Even if the Silkies are not excellent egg layer chickens, they make fantastic mothers and because they tend to go broody, they are popular chickens for hatching and raising young chicks.
The chickens’ small and fluffy appearance stands on its own in the poultry world and does not share its heritage with other chicken breeds.
They were first documented way back in the 1290s by adventurer Marco Polo who traveled to the Far East.
Today, Silkie chickens are recognized by the American, Australian, and the British Poultry Associations.
You can find these peculiar chickens in various colors, including the original pure white to blue splash, and sheer black.
They also lay in the egg color cream, beige, or light pink – and these are also small to medium in size.
Feel Free To Share!
If you have Silkie chickens or wish to make one part of your coop, take time to share these posts with your friends and family.
If they love Silkies too, they can learn a little bit more about the breed in this article!
From raising sweet Silkie chicks to enjoying their unique personalities and appearances, you’re sure to love these wonderful birds as they join your flock.