In this complete guide to the silkie chicken breed, learn all about their care, personality, and appeal. You’ll see why they are the most popular breed of chicken for children and as pets.
Silkies continue to grow in popularity. Like the movie star carrying a Silkie hen around in a custom handbag. I don’t know the name of many modern movie stars but I did stop to admire the picture of the Silkie. It looked like the lap kitty of the chicken world!
The Silkie chickens breed is the most recommended breed to be kept as a pet and is a great way to introduce young children to the wonderful world of backyard poultry keepers. Their sweet temperament, fluffy feathers, black skin, and gentle attitude make them a winner at poultry shows. These also make them great pet chickens in backyard flocks.
The History of the Silkie Chicken Breed
The oldest records of their existence date back to the 13th century! The exact origin of this bird is debated in eastern cultures. Bred in ancient China or Japan, the Black Silkie (in ancient Chinese writings; 烏骨雞,) or “wu gu ji” which means “dark-boned chicken” or “black-boned chicken”, is where today’s popular breed started.
Both China and Japan claim the origin of these unique bantams and historians have traced the oldest records of Silkie existence back before the travels of Marco Polo where he recorded that he found “fluffy birds with the hair of a cat”.
History records these being sold on the Silk Road as Chinese silk chickens. Yet some people consider this was a Japanese black bantam silkies breed or one of the ornamental chicken breeds from southeast Asia.
These unique looking chickens were once sold by Dutch breeders who told their buyers the breed was the outcome of mating rabbits and chickens.
It didn’t take long for these most unusual chicken breeds to make their way to North America. The bantam breed was sought after for its fur-like feathers making them one of the most popular breeds. Yes, the Silkie Bantam made a big impact as an ornamental breed with its hair-like plumage.
The silkie hens are excellent mothers and good layers. With enough Silkie eggs in the nest, they can be very broody hens. Broodiness cuts into their annual egg laying numbers causing them to produce fewer eggs.
The best way to keep them laying is to keep their clutch of eggs low in the nest. When you let them hatch lots of baby chickens, you’ll find out what wonderful mothers they really make.
They will set and hatch out almost any type of egg put in the nest. Some people use them to hatch out baby ducks.
I personally don’t encourage this since the duck will be born without the protective oils it gets from its mother sitting on it. Not to mention, the hen will have a fit when the duck wants to play in the water!
Silkie roosters are larger than hens having rounder wattles as well as larger combs. You can also spot unique feathers on the Silkie roosters right beside the fuzzy ones. These feathers are similar to those of other breeds.
Silkie Feathers and Varieties
The name Silkie is of western origin and refers to their fluffy feathers. Because their feathers lack barbicels, they don’t have a thickened membrane so they look and feel like fur. This is one of the reasons they make good pets, their fluffy plumage makes them feel like little furry chickens when held.
These chickens have a lot of feathers on top of their heads. They usually get quite long and wrap around their faces. Have you ever seen a flock of these black face bearded birds? Makes you want to stick a couple in your purse!
Below this upper ridge of feathers is a fragile area at the lower part of the head. You want to keep them separate from larger aggressive breeds of chickens. They may peck on top of their head when establishing the pecking order of the flock and accidentally cause injury or death.
Silky chickens also grow feathers down to their feet. The soft feathers may gather clumps of dirt if they are allowed to walk in a muddy environment.
Different colors are just the start with the varieties. They also have a number of very unique features that make them stand out from other chicken breeds, such as having an extra toe, dark blue or black flesh and bones, and bright blue earlobes.
The extra toe is produced by the polydactyly gene and is on the back of the leg. It can also be found on other chicken breeds like Sultans, Faverolles, and Dorkings.
The Black Silkies owe their unusually deep black color to the same rare genetic mutation called fibromelanosis as the Ayam Cemani.
They are not known to have any particular health problems.
However, small feathers make them susceptible to mites and lice. It’s important to check them regularly for parasites. If parasites are present, make sure you treat them properly as these infections can spread and cause serious health problems in chickens.
Dust bathing is also very important in preventing lice, ticks, and fleas, so make sure your flock has a place to take a daily dust bath. As with all chicken health concerns, a good diet is the most important way to keep your chickens healthy and happy.
You can read our best tips on how to feed your chickens to keep your silkies little bouncing balls of furry fun.
Handsome and Hardy
Don’t let the outward beauty of furry feathers fool ya, these chicks are hardy to the bone. The feathers help keep them insulated well so they can flourish in hot and cold climates. They do a little better in cold weather.
It does need to be pointed out that Silkie feathers are not as waterproof as other breeds. You will need to give them enough shelter to keep themselves dry.
They do handle being cooped up better than most others. Many people keep them on an enclosed back porch with access to a fenced-in backyard.
Create Great Living Conditions for Your Silkie Chicks
Silkies are not great at flying, so any fence should be more to keep predators out than the silkie in.
You can easily keep them in a poultry fence or a yard with a low fence. The greatest threat is usually a hawk. Because they are small, they will be able to easily swoop down and carry off most Silkies before you can blink.
If you live in an area with predators like hawks or owls, it may be a good idea to create a completely enclosed pathway. This will protect them from birds of prey but still give them plenty of space to get exercise and chase bugs.
They also do better with perches that are close to the ground because of their size and lack of flight prowess.
You will need to provide 10 square feet of roaming area and 4 square feet inside the coop for each bird you own.
The Silkie chicken breed was accepted into the North American Standard of Perfection in 1874. These colors are recognized by the American Poultry Association as breed standards:
The most common colors include the solid colors above and a unique combination of the colors above. Other colors not accepted by the breed standard are combinations sold by Silkie breeders like cuckoo and lavender. These are not recognized as pure breed Silkie. Although beautiful, they are not allowed to enter a breeding competition.
- Purpose: Ornamental / Bantam chickens
- Average Weight: Hen 2 lbs; Rooster-2.5 lbs
- Egg Production: Small size – Brown color; avg. 100 annually
Healthy Properties of the Silkie Chicken
For hundreds of years, eastern medicine has proclaimed that their meat has healing qualities. The meat is said to cure anemia, postpartum ailments, diabetes, and other major health problems.
Nanchang University’s Ministry of Education has published a study that measures the amounts of a natural peptide called carnosine in silkies compared to those in White Plymouth Rock chickens.
“Carnosine is said to slow aging by protecting the tissues of the brain, heart, and eyes. The study found that Silkies contain twice as much carnosine much like studies of other varieties of black meat chicks.“
Where to Purchase Silkies
The preferred option for purchasing the Silkie chicken breed is to look locally. A breeder close to you may have baby chickens or fertile eggs for sale. The shorter the distance the eggs or chicks have to travel, the healthier they will be when they get to your brooding box.
If you are looking for some good exhibition strains, I can recommend a couple with a good breeding program that does not have a limited number of DNA strains.
A good choice would be Freedom Ranger Hatchery, Cackle Hatchery, and I have always had great customer service from McMurray Hatchery. Be sure to take into consideration where these are geographically compared to where you want them shipped to. Also, consider the current time of year and weather.
They have been considered the most unusual breed of chicken for a long time. They don’t take much room to raise and are good mothers to boot.
I think they are adorable! With a great disposition, they are an ideal way to introduce young children to the wonders and joys of keeping chickens!