Building a Coop for Silkie Chickens

20180527_124135-1Silkie chickens have slightly different requirements when it comes to housing.  Silkies are different from other breeds of chickens in several ways and these differences can be reflected in the type of coop you end up designing or purchasing.  The only chickens we have at VJP Poultry are silkies so we are always thinking of ways to improve housing with their uniqueness in mind.

The first coop we had was a refurbished ice house. This worked perfect for our needs. It was built very sturdy and was well insulated for winter. We added electricity out to it, put in nest boxes and roosting poles and had a ramp going down to a chain link fence enclosed run.  We had a variety of breeds of chickens to start out with but I really fell in love with the silkies.   I found that the silkies did not “fly” up to the roost pole with the others but would sleep on the floor directly under them. The next morning they would be covered in poo from the roosting birds above them.  They also did not use the nesting boxes, but preferred to find a corner on the floor in which to lay their eggs. Silkies go broody often but can’t fly up to nesting boxes that are very far off of the ground.

In a few years we found a second ice house to refurbish as we continued to expand our chicken habit. By now we only had silkies in our coops. We did not bother putting in a roosting pole or nesting boxes.  We made sure that the ramp to the ground was a long gradual incline.  Silkies do not like high ramps, especially with their eyesight often being blocked by feathers.  I find it best to trim above and below the eyes so that they can find food and water.

The third coop we built ourselves. We overbuilt it, but I was glad that we did. It is very sturdy and tall. There is a long walkway inside with four sections of divided pens. Everything is easily stored inside of the coop, such as food, bedding, brooms and assorted tools. It has electricity.  The pen walls and floor are painted with industrial enamel which is super easy to keep clean. The other coops had plastic sheeting on the floor and sides. I scrubbed them weekly but they eventually started to come away from the walls.  The enamel paint is much easier. A silkie pen needs to be kept neat and tidy. You want them to be looking at their best and poo stains are not attractive.

Now we are building our fourth coop and using all of the information gained from the other coops, we are able to have the best silkie coop possible. We started by making the floor of the coop. You want to make it up off of the ground but at the same time as low as possible for silkies. They have a hard time with steep inclines, so the ramps need to be long and low.  Next the walls were built and the roof rafters put on. We put on a metal roof with a steep slant. We want the snow sliding easily off.  The roof has long overhangs.  In the future we will put on gutters.  Silkies do not do well in the rain. Their fluffy feathers do not let water bead off of them. When they get wet, they look drenched.

We installed windows up high, so that there is plenty of air movement. Silkies do not do well with drafts so you want that air moving up above them.  Ventilation is very important to the health of your birds. I keep windows open at all times. Use hardware cloth stapled over the window screens to keep predators from making their way inside.

When making the run, you will want to lay down hardware cloth on the inside and as a skirt around the outside to keep digging predators from making their way in. We piled gravel on top of the the hardware cloth and placed pea rock on top of that.  Silkies have beautiful feathered feet. You want to protect those feathers by having soft bedding or even using dirt or sand in the coop or run.  Large rocks can often break off foot feathers, so use as small of rock as you can.

20180603_113021

We covered the run with a metal sloping roof.  Hawks can be a big problem for silkies. They are small enough to be lifted and taken away. Their crests are large and impedes their ability to look up.  Even their coloration can make them a standout when free ranging. Try to limit their free ranging to when you can be there to watch out for them. Otherwise a covered run is their best protection from flying predators.

Know the silkie predators in your area and design your coop with them in mind.  If your predators are diggers like fox, make sure that you have buried hardware cloth around your run. If you have trouble with weasels or mink, make sure that all small holes are plugged up and windows are secure with hardware cloth.  Larger animals such as bear will need electric wire around the outside.

If you don’t want to build a coop yourself, there are a few coops that are available for sale that are good for silkies. Look for something that is all one level such as this.  The smaller the ramp the better. Coops that are described as rabbit hutches are often on one level .  Look for sturdiness in these pre-made coops that can withstand the elements and predators.  If you live somewhere with a cold climate, you will need to insulate and possibly have heat lamps.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

20180603_113007

How to get Beetle Green Sheen in Black Chickens

 

The green sheen on a black chicken is something very much desired.  You find it in the tail feathers, wings, saddle and hackles of solid, deep black feathered birds.  The purple sheen is not a desired trait and some will even say that it is a nutritional deficiency that causes it.

Microraptor was a very small, four winged dinosaur that lived 130 million years ago. Its feathers have been fossilized and they show black and blue hues similar to a crow.  It is the earliest evidence of iridescent feather color.  Microraptor was completely black with a glossy, iridescent blue sheen.

Feather color is produced in birds by arrays of pigment bearing organelles called melanosomes.  Iridescence happens when the melanosomes are organized in stacked layers.  This iridescence is widespread in modern birds and is frequently used in courtship displays.

In chickens, the green sheen on black is very much sought after and appears to be in part produced by the structure of the feathers and in part by the condition of the pigment in them.  It is found only in chickens with good black color and in the absence of any purple barring.  It can also be found in any chicken that has some black feathers such as partridge silkies.

The quality of the feather is a very important issue.  A black chicken with a strong green sheen will have a much smoother feather feel to it.  You should almost be able to feel how soft and conditioned that green sheen feather is when compared to duller feathers.

The amount of green sheen varies from bird to bird.  Some have a lot of sheen and others don’t.  Mostly it is found in roosters, but hens can have it too.  I have seen some beautiful sheen on the wings and body of very dark hens.  Sheen is more apparent in the sun where light can reflex off of the feathers.

Keratin is a crucial protein in bird’s feathers. The way it is structured allows light to twist and turn and separate.  It allows feathers to act like a prism by scattering the longer wavelengths of light and reflecting shorter ones to give us the gorgeous blues, purples and greens.

The preen gland is a gland that is located at the base of the tail. This secreted oil helps to keep keratin flexible.  This makes feathers appear more saturated with color.  Most birds preen by rubbing their beak and head over the preen gland pore and then rubbing the accumulated oil over the feathers on its body.

The green color you see is due to the effect of light scattering and reflecting off the feather structure.  This is called the Tyndall Effect and it creates the illusion of certain colors.

There are four basic types of feather luster.  There is green, red/purple, blue and matte- the absence of any sheen.  Feather sheen is a matter partly of genes and partly of feather condition.

Gold based blacks are easier to get the correct green sheen and eliminate purple sheen.  Green sheen is good and purple sheen is not among chicken breeders in the United States. A dilute black will not give you the same sheen display as a pure black color. Here is an article on my adult black silkie pen and what it is like to work with the black color.  That super black color is especially useful if you are working with varieties such as Paint Silkies.

If you want to breed towards improving green sheen you must selectively breed for those desired traits.  Breed green to green and remove birds with the purple/red sheen from your breeding program.  Have a separate coop to keep your breeding pair in; that way you can be sure of the parentage.  Keep track of your breeding pens and keep careful written records of parents and the quality of their offspring.  For more information check out “How to Keep a Flock History“.

The degree of iridescence seen on all feathers is a matter of condition.  A healthy bird on a good diet has more vibrant colors.  Excellent food and clean, safe conditions in the coop will go a long way towards bringing out the color in your birds.  Good health will improve the sheen of the feathers so they better reflect the light.

Feather Fixeris a supplement feed that people often use to improve a chicken’s feathers.  Any higher protein feed will help to condition feathers.  Adding vitamins and electrolytes to your bird’s water will also improve its overall health as well as probiotics and Rooster Booster.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

20161015_173613 (1)

The Perfect Chick Brooder

20180301_154220A brood is a group of chicks that are hatched or cared for at one time such as a hen with her brood of chicks.  A brooder is a place where a young chick can be kept safe and warm.  It takes the place of the mother hen but still can provide warmth and protection.  Even if you always use a broody hen for your hatches, it is good idea to have one available for emergencies.

This article is going to concentrate on the brooder box itself.  The box is an important starting point. The dishes, food, bedding and heat lamp are all added after the box is chosen.  There is an abundance of options out there for brooders.

The basic brooder can be made out of many different kinds of materials such as plastic, metal, wood or cardboard. You can buy a ready made brooder or you can make one yourself out of a cardboard box or plastic tote.  I prefer plastic because it is easy to clean and you can use it for multiple hatches.  Cardboard falls apart when it gets wet and damp conditions are not healthy for the chicks. Heat lamp use with cardboard and pine shavings can be a fire hazard unless you are extremely careful with mounting the heat lamp.

There are some wonderful brooders available.   A brooder box  or a rabbit hutchcan make a very sturdy brooder.  Some people use a wading pool  or even a dog carrier.    Whatever works for you.  Your choice will have to do with what time of year it is and whether the chicks will be inside or outside.  If outside, you will need to protect both the brooder and the chicks from the elements.

Folding play pens also can make great brooders.  Remember that protection from the outside world is very important.  The sides should be high enough so that the chicks do not jump out and that other pets cannot get in.  Twelve inches high is a nice height.  You will also need some kind of a top.  I just place a window screen on top that can be easily removed and can allow for maximum ventilation.  A larger screen can be used with larger brooders.

The size of your brooder will depend on how many chicks you are brooding.   Newborns up to 4 weeks old need around 1/4 square foot per chick.  Five weeks and up will need around 1/2 square foot per chick.  Bantam breeds will not need as much space as they are smaller.  It is better to buy a larger brooder and then use dividers to make it smaller for newborns.  A smaller space allows for a warmer area for newborns.

There are several home brooder kits that allow you to change the size of your area.  Some brooders come with stands for the heat lamp and other kits have even more extra equipment included.

Chicks stay in their brooder until they are feathered out (have lost their baby down and now have actual feathers).  I brood mine until they are ready to move outside at about 10 weeks.  Ten week old birds will not fit into their baby chick brooders.  As your chicks grow, you will need to find larger brooders or set up a brooder situation inside of their outdoor coop.

If you plan on brooding chicks every year then I would suggest something that is going to last and is easy to clean.  I have had the most success with plastic tote brooders or brooders made from large plastic dog carriers.  I use the plastic totes for the newborns and the dog carriers for larger chicks.  The clean up very easily.  Ventilation is important but brooders should not be drafty especially for newborns. If you need advice about how to heat your brooder check out “How to choose a heat source for your Brooder“.   For information on taking care of newborn chicks check out “Silkie Chick Management20180301_154243“.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

20180301_154105

Silkies For Sale – 1/31/18