Gentle Silkies – Why You Need To Own This Breed

IMG_20190922_072155_883I have owned and bred silkie chickens exclusively for over thirteen years.  I started out with a typical backyard flock that included an assortment of different breeds of chicken.  I saw and read about silkies on the internet and was instantly obsessed with them.  I started out by purchasing some through our local feed mill.  I was thrilled with them and was anxious to purchase a few more.  I did some research and bought some quality stock from a local breeder who specializes in silkies.  She recommended starting with a Blue/Black/Splash pen because you will not need to keep the colors separated. They will always breed true to those three colors.  From there I branched out and now breed seven different colors of silkies.

Silkies are different from every other breed of chicken.  That is what makes them so attractive to the average chicken owner.  They are an ornamental chicken.  They lay eggs like any other chicken, but they are not known as “layers” though they do  lay about 100 eggs a year.  They are eye candy in your flock. They have the WOW factor that makes people fall forever in love with them.

The temperament of silkies is what makes this breed a great pet.  They are gentle and docile.  They do not wander far from their food dish and are easy to find at the end of the day.  They are great for families with children because they are easy to catch and easy to hold. They are often quieter than most other chicken breeds. Seniors love them because they are an easy pet and can even live indoors (provided they have chicken diapers.) They make great therapy birds.  Just hugging them makes you feel better.

Silkies are called “Silkies” because of the softness of their feathers.  They feel a lot like an angora rabbit when you pet them.  This softness is caused by the fact that their feathers do not stick together with barbs as most bird’s feathers do.  Silkies cannot fly because of this.  I find this fact to be a plus in chicken owning.  My first flock contained chickens that liked to fly onto tree branches at night. I was always trying to get them down out of the trees.   Silkies cannot fly up to a high roosting bar but do like to sleep in a heap together on the floor at night.

Silkies have black skin and bones.  They have a mulberry colored walnut comb and beautiful turquoise colored ear lobes.  They have five toes and fluffy feathered feet.  A fancy top knot crest in the shape of a powder puff for the girls and a slicked back Elvis look with streamers for the boys.  Silkie chicks are often born with vaults which makes their crests look large for the first few weeks.  Silkies are smaller than the average chicken and are classified as Bantams.  Smaller means that you will be able to fit more into your coop!

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Originally silkies came from China.  Marco Polo mentions “furry chickens” when he explored that area in the 1200s.  Coming from the mountains of China, silkies do very well in cold weather. They have been very hardy in our Minnesota winters.

The variety of colors in the silkie world is what keeps people coming back for more.  The Standard of Perfection lists White, Black, Buff, Blue, Splash, Gray, Partridge, Self Blue and Paint.  These are the colors of silkies that can be shown in a poultry show.  Breeders also have non accepted colors such as Red, Porcelain and Cuckoo.  I find that people enjoy collecting different colored silkies for their backyard flocks. When buying chicks, my customers often ask for one of each color.

I enjoy showing silkies in poultry shows.  One of the experiences you can’t miss is giving your silkie a bath and then fluffing them up with a hair dryer.  You can trim their toenails and beaks and give them a true spa treatment.  Make sure that your silkie can always see by trimming the feathers above and below their eyes.

One thing I have learned over the years is that silkie chicks can be fragile. I always recommend adding vitamins and electrolytes to their water.  Adult silkies should be given a feed that is higher in protein such as a gamebird feed of at least 20% protein.  Because of their vaulted skulls, silkies are prone to head injuries. Their gentle, quiet nature can also make them sitting ducks for predators.  They do need to be watched when they are free ranging.  They don’t bother other breeds but do tend to be picked on in a mixed flock due to their gentle nature.

Silkies are friendly and the perfect pet for families with young children.  Raising chicks from a young age will increase your bird’s attachment to you.  Treats are always welcome and are a great way to bond with your silkie.  Gentle silkies are sweet and loving.  I find them to be the perfect pet chicken.

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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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 scrubed 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.  This school house one has roosting bars that could simply be removed from the run.  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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Silkies For Sale – 6/4/2018

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 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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