Here at J&R Pierce Family Farm, I think it’s important to connect my readers with valuable insight from other master farmers & gardeners. Today’s post is a guest post brought to you by Samantha Rainwater.
Silkies are not your average looking chicken, as they do not closely resemble what a more traditional chicken looks like. The Silkies have almost fur-like feathers, making them look more like a mammal than a bird. They also have crested heads, creating a poof-like feature on the top of their heads – a little funny looking if you ask me.
Despite their odd looks, Silkies are known to be great family pets, and generally have a calm demeanor towards humans. Their ‘teddy-bear’ looks are a hit, making them one of the most popular chicken breeds to be kept as pets in the United States.
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Origin of the Silkie
Silkies are a very old breed of chicken, with some of the first known documentation regarding their breed dating back to the 13th century. This breed originated in China, and could not be found in the West until the mid-1800s.
The silkies became a registered breed in the United States in 1872 once their popularity started to grow. The popularity of the breed has continued to grow ever since and remains a favorite among many.
Today, Silkies can be found in white, black, buff, blue, grey, splash, and partridge variations. Although mostly known for their furry feathers, Silkies also have a crested head, and an extra toe! This means that they carry five toes per foot instead of the usual four.
Reasons to Raise Silkies
When you think about raising chickens, you may assume people only raise them for eggs or meat— but this isn’t true! Silkies are not particularly high egg producers, and their eggs are fairly small. They are also not good for their meat, yet they are a popular breed. So why do people raise Silkies?
Good Family Pets
The number one reason for raising Silkies is to keep them as pets, or ornamental birds to add to a flock. The nature of Silkies is generally calm and docile— they are easy to make friends with!
Silkies are generally good with children and can be a trusted pet. They are also a good breed for showing in 4-H and other livestock shows, as they are easy to handle.
Silkies are also known to be good mothers and are likely to go broody. Although they may not lay many eggs themselves, they can be used for sitting on other chickens’ eggs that won’t sit on them themselves. If you have a hen that refuses to, or cannot safely sit on her own eggs, setting them under a Silkie should keep them safe and act as an effective incubator.
This is also a good breed if you are wanting quiet chickens— even the roosters are quiet! Because of their general quietness, they are a good fit for an urban setting, or anywhere where noise may be an issue.
Challenges of Raising Silkies
As with most breeds, there are a few extra challenges that come along with raising Silkies. There are a few specific things you need to look out for with your Silkie chickens.
Must Stay Dry
Don’t feed them after midnight, don’t expose them to bright light, and don’t get them wet— kidding! They may look a little like gremlins, but there’s a different reason as to why you need to keep them dry.
The feathers on a Silkie lack barbicels, which is what holds a chicken’s feather in a feather-like shape. Since the feathers aren’t held together, they do not repel water, so a wet Silkie will not dry easily. If your Silkie gets too wet, they will need to be hand-dried or blow-dried.
Bottom of Pecking Order
Due to their docile nature, Silkies may get picked on by other chickens in the flock. Silkies tend to stay at the bottom of the pecking order in any flock, and won’t stand up for themselves.
It is always a good idea to keep an eye on your flock to make sure that nobody is being harmed by a fellow bird. Even the roosters can get picked on, especially by another rooster of another breed.
May Need Supplemental Heat
The lack of barbicels on their feathers also makes it more difficult for Silkies to hold in heat to stay warm. Although they may look fuzzy and warm, the way their feather spread out actually lets in more air and makes it difficult to retain body heat.
Again, their odd feathers may be cute, but they can also be their downfall. Without barbicels, the feathers cannot hold air, and will not assist in flying as they do with other breeds.
If you free-range your Silkies, make sure they have a safe area to stay away from predators, as they cannot fly up into a tree or other area to safety.
Health and Lifespan
Silkies are generally a very robust breed and do not suffer from many health conditions; however, there are a few things to watch out for.
Marek’s disease is fairly common in chickens and is caused by the herpes virus— don’t worry, it’s not contagious to humans.
The disease is easily treatable, but if not caught early enough, it can fester into a non-treatable condition.
Silkies are particularly susceptible to Marek’s disease and are more likely to die from complications than other chickens are.
Testing for Marek’s disease in your flock and knowing what symptoms to look out for are the best measures in fighting the disease.
Cleaning Rear Fluff
The fluffy feathers on a Silkie are everywhere, including their rear-ends. Keeping the fluff around their bottoms clean may not be a fun task, but it is important for their health. Too much waste build-up can introduce bacteria and even make it difficult for them to eliminate waste and breed.
Susceptible to Mites and Lice
Their fluffy nature causes some problems that are more often found with mammals than with birds. Although all chickens are susceptible to mites and lice, the fluffy feathers are enticing for these critters to burrow into. Using preventatives (we like these nesting herbs) and checking them over often is the best way to keep them safe from parasites.
Silkies are pretty adaptable to any housing situation and will do just fine in small areas. If you do allow your Silkies to free-range, they can be decent foragers and will spend time looking for bugs.Save 30% on select product(s) with promo code 30DCS8XQ on Amazon.com
A consideration that should be made when free-ranging your Silkies is that they cannot fly. Providing a few safe covered areas for them to hide may be essential in keeping them safe.
Silkies tend to be smaller chickens and may have a more difficult time eating large pellets. Providing your Silkies with crumbles or small pellets may help to ensure they can comfortably eat their feed.
Other than that, there are no special diets or restrictions that need to be made for Silkies. They do enjoy the occasional treat, and feeding them your leftovers can be a fun activity. Just make sure you have familiarized yourself with the dos and don’ts of chicken treats.
Raising Silkie Chicks
There’s not much to be said about raising Silkie chicks, because the mothers will generally do all of the work.
If raising your Silkie chicks with the use of an incubator, the only special considerations are when you release them into the coop. Depending on the time of year, you may want to keep them inside longer than you would with a different breed to ensure they can keep themselves warm.
Although their feathers will form at the same rate as other breeds, the feathers are not as effective in keeping them warm in colder climates and months.
If your Silkie hens are raising their own chicks, adding a heat plate in the coop may help to ensure that the chicks are staying nice and warm.
Are Silkies Right For Your Flock?
Silkies are the ideal bird if you are looking for a pet chicken, or want a friendly addition to your flock. Although they are not particularly great for egg-laying or meat, they are hard to beat when it comes to their attitudes, and make great mothers— even to chicks from another hen!
If you have young children around, Silkies are a good choice for interactions.
Their calm nature will help to keep your children safe if they are around them often. For this reason, they also make good 4-H show birds.
They are also a good breed if you live in an urban setting. Silkies do just fine in small spaces and don’t necessarily need a ton of room to run around and forage. They are also relatively quiet chickens, so you don’t have to worry about being the noisy neighbors.
Overall, the Silkie is a great companion bird that will stand out against the rest of your flock. They can make a great addition to any situation, and shouldn’t cause you much trouble.
Samantha Rainwater is a freelance writer, full-time business owner, and recent mom who spends her free time writing. Her degree in Biology gives her a background in science, which she likes to apply on her small hobby farm. Writing about her experiences is one of her passions, and she finds joy in sharing her experiences with others.
Do you raise Silkies? What are your thoughts? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.
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