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.

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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

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A Look at the Silkie Standard of Perfection

20171020_121935-1The American Standard of Perfection is a wonderful book published by the American Poultry Association. In it you will find all kinds of valuable information on all of the breeds of chickens that are recognized by this group.  Their main purpose is to list characteristics of each breed at their highest level.  This information is used by judges to help them judge the qualities of individual birds against what has been decided as the “perfect” bird of that breed and variety by the American Poultry Association. It is also used by breeders to improve their birds through breeding towards the standard and by exhibitors who want to place well in poultry shows who use the standard as a guide for choosing birds.

In judging, there is a scale of points that equals 100.  Points are assigned to different attributes of the bird.  Points will be deducted if the bird does not meet the standard given.  There are also disqualifications that can be given which will eliminate a bird from competition.  Since silkies  have crests and beards their point system is adjusted to include points for those areas.

The disqualifications specifically for silkies include :  Bright red comb, face and wattles.  Shanks not feathered down outer sides.  Feathers not truly silky (except in primaries, secondaries, leg, toe and main tail feathers.) Vulture hocks. There are other disqualifications that are for all birds, not just silkies.  You would find those under “General Disqualifications” elsewhere in the book.

The standard weight for a silkie cock is 36 oz.  The standard weight for a silkie hen is 32 oz.  The standard weight for a silkie cockerel is 32 oz.  The standard weight for a silkie pullet is 28 oz.

The standard then lists descriptions of each of the areas of the silkie’s appearance.  This is all part of the bird’s shape.  It is best to obtain a copy of the standard so that you can read in detail what the standard entails. I will mention a few of the items of interest but there is much more information listed in the book. I will be discussing the Bearded Silkie only.

The comb should be walnut shaped. In the males it should be circular shaped and have a horizontal indentation across the middle of it. Females should also be walnut and smaller. The wattles should be small and concealed by the beard in bearded silkie males.  The females should be very small and concealed.

The crest should be medium sized. The beard and muffs should be thick and full. The neck should be short and gracefully curved.  The back should be short and broad and rising back in a curve towards the tail.  The cushion of the tail should be broad and round and very fluffy.  The tail should be  shredded at the ends.

The wings should be closely folded and carried well back being nearly horizontal.  Primaries should be concealed  by secondaries.  The tips should be well shredded with tips being concealed by saddle feathers.

The silkie needs to have five toes. Three in the front and two in the back.  One toe in the natural position and the other placed above it curving upwards and backwards.  Feathering should be to the middle toe.

Comb should be deep mulberry colored.  Beak should be slaty blue and eyes should be black.  Earlobes should be turquoise blue. Skin should be dark blue and toes slaty blue.

Silkie’s feathers come in different colors and not all colors are recognized by the APA. Here are the ones that are recognized: white, black, blue, partridge, buff, gray, splash, self-blue (lavender) and paint.  There are separate descriptions for each of the different color varieties indicating what is accepted and what is not.

Symmetry, as well as, condition and vigor are also important in judging.  The overall shape and balance of the bird is important.  The silkie should look like a “S” curve with the bottom part of the “s” continuing upward.  They almost look completely circular, like a bowling ball when they stand correctly.

There is much more to the silkie standard than I have talked about in this article.  If you would like to purchase a copy, you can get one through the American Poultry Association here.

There are also old copies and  knockoff copies at Amazon that are not printed through the APA.  I think that they are basically  xerox copies and have the same information.

Hopefully this will answer some of your questions concerning what the standard of perfection is.  As a breeder, we are constantly trying to improve our silkies and have them come as close as possible to the standard that has been set. It is important to show your birds as a breeder or attend shows so that you can talk with judges and other people who are knowledgeable about silkies.

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

Information for this article was taken from The American Standard of Perfection 2010 published by American Poultry Association, Inc.

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The Mysterious Courtship Dance of Chickens

20161105_140426Most birds perform some kind of courtship dance as a prelude to actual mating. There are many magnificent displays in the avian world. Think about what peacocks do in their foreplay to get the lady bird in the mood with their beautiful tails.

Roosters will try to lure and entice their mates by displaying their beauty as well.  They attempt to attract their mates as they fan their wings in a romantic manner.   This is called a wing drag or wing flicking.  He will begin to make some croaking sounds as he gets closer to the hen.

The rooster performs a dance, circling the hen with his wing dropped stiffly towards the ground and quivering.  As he circles around her making his croaking noise, she will either encourage him or try to come up with an escape plan. In a perfect situation the hen will daintily squat down and raise her shoulders to flatten out, welcoming him in every way.

The rooster then leaps onto her back and balances precariously with one foot on either side of her shoulders.  This is called Threading.  He grabs the female’s neck with his beak and pulls back her head. He then lowers his vent opening (cloaca) by sliding his tail under the hen and she pushes her vent opening to meet with his.  There is no penetration.  The sperm released from the male is taken into the vent by the female.  From there the sperm travels up the oviduct where it awaits the release of an ovum.  The sperm can be actively alive in the hen for more than two weeks. This whole sexual act takes about two seconds.  When mating is done, the hen will rise, shake her feathers and go on with whatever she was doing beforehand.

The female chicken does not have a separate vaginal structure.  The vent or cloaca is used for both defecation and reproduction.  The males also have a vent or cloaca but they do not have a penis to actually penetrate the hen.  The rooster’s sexual organ is called the papilla. It is located inside of the bird, just inside of the vent.  It looks like a small bump.  Semen exits through it.  Ducks have a penis but chickens do not.

A hen lays an egg every day or so regardless if there is a rooster around or not.  In order for it to be a fertile egg, you will need the rooster to do his part.  Each time a yolk ripens, the sperm will fertilize it provided it is in the hen’s oviduct.   The white is created and then lastly the shell will form around the egg.  A fertilized egg will have a dot surrounded by a ring around it which looks like a bullseye on the yolk. In an infertile egg there will only be a white dot.  You can check this out by cracking open an egg and looking at it.

Chickens also engage in a little dance called “tid-bitting.”  If a rooster finds a choice bit of food that looks really tasty, he bobs his head up and down and makes his “tid-bitting” call.  He picks up the food and drops it repeatedly in order to attract the hen.  He may even offer the morsel in his beak.  It all looks very romantic and sweet but he is also establishing his role among the hens as a provider and leader.

There are many different recommendations as to how many hens per rooster to give you adequate fertility in your eggs.  Most say eight to twelve hens per rooster. If you have a heavier breed, the ratio would be lower. If you have a smaller breed the ratio would be higher.  If you would like more information on how to improve fertility in roosters check out this article.

You may want to isolate breeders to make sure that you know who the father is. Wait at least two weeks if your hen has been exposed to other roosters to make sure that all of the sperm inside the hen is no longer active.  If you are interested in showing poultry or are just interested in improving your flock you can set up breeding pens where you can isolate certain pairings in order to get certain types of chicks.

As winter ends and spring begins the testosterone in the roosters starts to rise.  Roosters will begin to mount challenges to each other as they fight for the rights to the hens.  You may want to separate the roosters, but remember, once you separate them it will be very hard to put them back together again.

Crowing is both an invitation to hens and a warning to other roosters in the area.  Serious fights can happen between roosters. They can use their sharp spurs as weapons.  Aggression when establishing dominance is normal behavior in the chicken world.  If you give them plenty of space, they will usually work the dominance hierarchy out themselves.  Chickens have strict pecking orders. The alpha rooster is at the top, then the hens and lastly the younger pullets and cockerels.

A rooster can mate up to thirty times a day depending on how many hens are available to him.  Not all roosters are interested in mating or are built for it.  You should have a similar sized rooster matched with a similar sized hen for best chance of fertilization. If you want to try and improve the virility of your rooster, you may want to add some vitamins and electrolytes to his water or some Rooster Booster Poultry Cell. A little B-12 would perk him up a little too.

Most roosters are very interested in mating with the hens. They will chase hens causing them to lose feathers. Constant harassment on the part of the rooster can cause bald spots on the hen’s back. The roosters do have favorite hens which they will mate repeatedly.  You may want to invest in hen saddles.  They protect the hen’s back and sides.  They can also be worn to prevent self-picking or feather picking from other hens.  Pick no more and Blu-Kote are also products that can help prevent the picking and aid in treatment . Vetericyn Spray will help to treat wounded birds as well.

If you want to aid in feather grow back, Feather Fixer feed can help increase protein in their diet. You may also want to trim the spurs and toenails on your rooster using a diagonal wire cutter.   Information on how to do this is Here.  This can help to prevent any wounds occurring on your hens.

A well mannered rooster who dances for his ladies and waits for them to accept him is a joy to behold. Your pens will be much calmer if you keep and breed roosters with this special ability.

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

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