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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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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Why it is so Difficult to Sex Silkie Juvenile Chicks?

20180409_083330-1Silkies are among the hardest breed of chickens to sex at a young age.  The old adage that you can’t tell them apart until they crow or lay an egg has a lot of truth in it.  I have found that certain weeks of age are easier than others for telling which are boys and which are girls.

Newborns that are hatched together out of the same color pen can be judged on size.  Males tend to be larger and more curious than the females. This only works with same color chicks. If you want more information about sexing younger silkies, check out “sexing young silkie chicks.

At around three weeks, males will begin to be more aggressive and will play fight with other males in the same pen.  Beware – females can do this also.  The silkie comb on males may begin to show some signs of development from three weeks onward.  A upside down “U” at the top part of the comb may be the beginning of a wider developing comb and signal a male.  Females tend to have a more narrow upside down “V” at the top of their combs.

Males will continue to develop their combs which will become wider and may get bumpy.  After twelve weeks the female comb begins to get wider as well and males and females will begin to look similar again.

AT VJP Poultry we have a rooster return policy.  I had a customer return a rooster for rehoming last week that was around four months old. I asked him why he thought it was a rooster at that young age and he said that it was because it had a mean disposition.  I put my hand down next to it and it immediately pecked it – hard!

After the customer left, I began looking more closely at the bird.  It was a pet quality partridge or buff silkie.  The color was wrong for the show ring. The more I looked at it, the more I just couldn’t get a handle on whether I thought it was a boy or a girl.

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The first thing I did was to trim around the eyes. It was unable to see and this could have been part of the reason that it pecked so hard at my hand.  I took a look at the comb and wattles.  The comb was wider than younger females but at four months female silkie’s combs begin to grow.  I looked for wattles.  At four months they should be showing on a male.  I begin to see them as young as two months old as small red dots.  This bird had just the slightest suggestion of the outline of a wattle.  Again, females will develop very small wattles as they grow towards maturity.

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The crest of this bird had a definite pom pom shape.  Because I didn’t see this bird when it was younger, I don’t know if it went through any Elvis type crest that some males have beginning at two months.  I looked at the back of the head to check for “streamer” development.  Nothing so far, but there are new feathers coming in right at the spot that could later develop into streamers.

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Next I looked at the hackle feathers on the neck.  Males should have longer hackle feathers than the females at this point.  I did not have another to compare it with but they looked shorter and more female to me.

The wings on the bird looked long, especially the primaries.  They also seem to be hard or stiff – not shreddy.  Just because they seem large, it makes me think male.  Females have shorter primary feathers.

The tail is wide and stands up straight.  I also think that this is a male characteristic.  Females often have their tail down in a more submissive position.

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This silkie has large feet and massive foot feathering.  This is another sign of a male.  Females foot feathering are more in proportion to the rest of its body.  Foot feathering depends on breeding but males will have larger feet.

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The stance of this bird is very upright.  Boys stand up taller than girls as a rule and there is more room between the tail and the bottom of the feet.

Behavior is hard to tell since I didn’t see how it developed.  It seems very docile once its eye feathers were trimmed.  It is currently alone so I can’t see how it interacts with others.  Males would be more assertive. If you placed it with another male, they may begin to fight even at this young age.

Males at four months are often crowing especially first thing in the morning.  This bird only made soft clucking sounds like a hen would make.  It did not struggle when you picked it up and did not make grunting sounds like a male may make.

So let’s look at the score card:

Comb- Female                             Wattles- female

crest – female                               hackle feathers – female

wings – male                                tail – male

feet – male                                    stance – male

behavior- either                          noises – female

If I was pressed I would have to go with male, but it certainly could go the other direction.

This article is to show how hard it is to determine the sex of a young silkie.  Mistakes can be made.  Breeders and judges alike are not always certain when sexing silkies.  I do think that it is much easier to sex them if you watch how they grow and develop.  Taking a four month old juvenile silkie and trying to sex it in isolation is much more difficult.  Hopefully, a crow will come sooner or later – or maybe an egg.

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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