Silkies, they have been called fluff-balls, aliens from another world, teddy bears and many other things in between.
Without a doubt they certainly are unusual looking chickens!
Their strange appearance, friendliness and mothering skills are surely what endears them to many folks.
Today we are going to discover the history behind this unusual breed of chicken.
We will discuss it’s egg laying capabilities and temperament before looking at how to identify a true Silkie and check if it is a good fit for your flock.
There is no doubt that the Silkie is a very old breed, probably of Chinese origin. It is believed by some that the Silkie dates back as far as the Chinese Han Dynasty, in 206BC.
The Chinese name for the Silkie is wu-gu-ji – meaning black-boned. An alternative name for this bird is the Chinese Silk Chicken. The evidence points quite strongly to Chinese origin, but it cannot be stated with complete certainty.
It was first mentioned by Marco Polo (around 1290-1300) on his remarkable journey across Europe and the Far East. Although he did not see the bird, it was reported to him by a fellow traveler and he reported it in his journal as “a furry chicken”.
The Silkie made its way westward either by the Silk Road or by the maritime routes, likely both.
The ancient Silk Road stretched from China to modern day Iraq. Numerous secondary routes crossed over into Europe and the Balkan states.
The next mention we have is from Italy where Aldrovandi in 1598 speaks of a chicken that has “fur like a black cat”.
When the Silkie was first introduced to the European public it was said to be the offspring of a chicken and a rabbit – a not so unbelievable thing back in the 1800s! Many unscrupulous sellers sold Silkies to gullible folks for curiosity and it was used as a ‘freak show’ item in travelling side shows and exhibited as a ‘bird-mammal’.
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Appearance of Silkies
Silkies are most certainly different in many ways to a ‘regular’ chicken appearance!
The head should be crested, looking somewhat like a ‘pom-pom’ (similar to a polish chicken). If a comb is present, it should look like a ‘walnut’, being almost circular in appearance. The comb coloring should be black or dark mulberry – any other color and it is not a pure Silkie.
They have oval shaped turquoise blue earlobes and dark colored wattles. Their beak is short, quite broad at the base, it should be grey/blue in color. Eyes are black.
As for their body, it should be broad and stout, the back is short and the breast is full. They have five toes instead of the usual four found in chickens. The outer two toes should be feathered. The legs are short and wide set, grey in color.
Their feathers lack barbicels (those are the hooks that hold the feathers together), hence the fluffy appearance. The main feathering looks just like the under-down of regular chickens.
The fact that the feathers do not hold together means a Silkie cannot fly. It also means that the feathering is not waterproofed and so a wet Silkie is a pathetic sight to see. If they do get significantly wet, they need to be towel dried or even blow dried – which they enjoy if it is done on a regular basis.
Underneath all that fluff, the Silkie has black skin and bones. Sadly, this makes them a food delicacy in parts of the Far East.
The meat is also used in Chinese medicine since it contains twice as much carnitine than other chicken meat – carnitine has anti-aging properties (so it is said).
The Silkie was accepted into the British Poultry Standard of Perfection in 1865 and the American Poultry Association standard in 1874.
The Australian Poultry Standard accepted Silkies in 1998 (bantams only).
Interestingly, all Silkies in the US and Canada are considered to be bantam regardless of size. Every other country in the world recognizes both bantam and large fowl types.
In the UK, large fowl Silkies should weigh around 4lb (64oz) for the male and 3lb (48oz) for the females and bantams should weigh around 600g (21oz) for males and 500g (18oz) for females.
Accepted colors are: blue, black, white, grey, buff, splash and partridge. There are several other colors available such as lavender, cuckoo and red, but they are not yet accepted in the APA.
Egg Laying and Temperament
Silkies are poor performers in the egg laying department. If you get 120 eggs in a year you are doing well. This equates to about 3 eggs each week.
The eggs are cream to tinted in color, and are small to medium in size.
They do start laying earlier in the year than most hens, starting up once the days begin to get longer – occasionally late December but more often early January time.
As for their temperament, silkies are known to be calm, friendly and docile – even the boys. It has been recorded by several people that the roosters will ‘tid-bit’ for the chicks!
This docility can lead to them being picked on by other more ‘pushy’ flock members. They do best when put with others of a similar nature such as the Polish hen.
Despite their fluffy feathering they do tolerate the cold fairly well – wetness is something they cannot tolerate. If your climate is very cold in the winter, they would benefit from a little supplemental heat.
They are content to be confined, but if allowed to free range are great little foragers. The area in which they forage should be a ‘safe zone’ since they cannot fly to escape predators.
Silkies are more renowned as being pets, brooders and ‘ornamental’ birds.
Silkies are notoriously difficult to sex until around six months old. A breeder can certainly give you their best guess in sexing, but it’s not certain until the bird crows (or not)!
Apparently Silkies can be quite susceptible to Marek’s disease. Many breeders have bred their stock for natural immunity, but of course you can get your birds vaccinated.
With Silkies being very fluffy they can be a target for mites and lice, so due diligence should be paid to these little fluff balls. You may also need to trim the feathers around the eyes to help them see a little better.
Occasionally, the fluff at the rear end does need trimming for hygiene and breeding purposes.
Other than this, Silkies are quite robust and will usually live for 7-9 years, longer with lots of TLC!
Is the Silkie Right For You?
A Silkie is the ultimate in kids’ chickens. They are cuddly, fluffy and tolerant, love sitting in your lap and even enjoy cuddles.
They are a very friendly, calm and docile bird and interact very well with people – they will follow you around and ‘talk’ to you. This docility can lead to them being picked on by more aggressive flock members, so try to keep an eye open for bullying.
Silkies are notoriously broody – the standing joke is that a Silkie can hatch a rock! They also make great mothers.
Many folks keep Silkies in order to hatch out other eggs. A Silkie in ‘broody mode’ will usually accept any and all eggs (including duck) placed under her.
If you live in an apartment and want to have chickens as pets, the Silkies are a very good fit since they are pretty quiet too.
However, if you live in an area that is inclined to be wet and muddy, be aware that those conditions do not really agree with Silkies because of their feathering, but if you absolutely must have them you will need to keep them clean and dry.
The Silkie chicken always brings a smile to peoples’ faces. This ‘odd-ball’ and slightly unusual bird is certainly a crowd pleaser!
Although they won’t keep you in eggs, they will supply you will lots of love, smiles and cuddles. When they become bonded to their owners they can be described as ‘dog-like’ in their devotion.
They will follow you, talk to you, check out what you are doing and ‘help’ too!
They are certainly a great bird to have around if you have eggs you want to hatch, but don’t want to fiddle around with an incubator. Read how to hatch eggs with a broody hen for more on that.
All in all, these funny little birds are a joy to have and give much pleasure to their owners.
If you have Silkies we would love to hear from you. Leave your comments in the section below…