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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Silkies For Sale – 6/26/19

Here is what is available for the week of June 26, 2109.  My next scheduled hatches are for 6/26, 7/1, 7/6 and 7/12.  We are NPIP and a state inspected hatchery.  No shipping/Pick up only.  Chicks are sold unsexed but ask us about our rooster return policy.

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Pen 21 – Newborns hatched 6/21 – 5 buff, 1 splash, 4 gray/partridge, 1 partridge – $11 each.

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Pen 20 – Newborns hatched 6/21 – 7 white, 5 black – $11 each.

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Pen 6 – One week olds hatched 6/16 – 3 white, 1 black, 1 grey/partridge – $12 each.

If you want to set up a time to come out and look at silkies or if you have questions, you can contact me through text at 756-1414 or PM me at the VJP Poultry Facebook page.

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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How To Prevent Chick Deaths During the First Week of Life

 

20170518_104519One day old chicks are so irresistibly cute when they first learn to eat, drink and move around. First time chicken owners are drawn to the sweetness of a baby chick and make rash purchases before realizing that newborns are more fragile than they think.  There is a huge difference between a chick that is one day old and a chick that is one week old.  Truth be told, a baby chick is much more apt to die in that first week than at any other time in its life.

Some don’t make it to the point of hatching out. Lethal genes or creeper genes can cause chicks to die during development. This is a genetic trait that certain breeds have. Some will make it to the hatcher and then die before hatching due to humidity and temperature issues.

When a clutch of eggs is hatched the chicks that hatch first are usually the strongest and healthiest.  They have no trouble zipping around that shell and breaking free. If the chick is a late hatcher it has been my experience that they have more trouble. They are prone to leg issues or even need to be helped out of the shell.  They tend to be stickier as well and have a harder time fluffing out.  Leg issues include straddle leg or even having a hard time standing up on their feet.  Right from the beginning you have some chicks that are just healthier and stronger than others.

Hatching out too quickly or often when being helped out of the egg, can lead to unabsorbed egg yolk. The umbilical cord can also end up hanging out. Pulling on it can cause the intestines to pull through.  Sometimes by helping it hatch you are giving life to a chick that may not end up living very long. Chicks that have a red or sore looking umbilical area should be watched for infection.

Water and food should be offered to chicks within the first 24 hours.  Hatcheries that ship chicks often rely on the fact that chicks can live off the energy from their egg  yolk for three days. Chicks will become dehydrated if not offered water and will be healthier if they start eating sooner. Shipped chicks have a higher death rate than chicks bought from local breeders or raised by a broody hen.  Some hatcheries will include Grogel to their shipping boxes to help chicks stay hydrated.

By day 3 or 4 chicks are no longer receiving energy from their yolk.  Some may begin to die after the third day.  They will close their eyes and become lethargic.  Then they die.  Losses of baby chicks almost always occur in the first two weeks of life.  A mortality rate of 1-5 percent is considered normal for a hatch.  Anything above 5 percent is abnormal.  Failure to thrive is a very real thing and young chicks often die leaving us wondering what has happened.

One of the biggest chick management factors for early death has to do with brooder temperature.  Most people use a heat lamp and bulb for small groups of chicks.  You adjust the temperature by raising and lowering the heat lamp over the brooder. Often the brooder ends up being much too hot.  Too high of temperature can lead to dehydration. The body of a young chick is 70 percent water. A water loss of 10 percent will cause death.  Pasting up, which is poo that sticks and covers the chick’s vent, is often due to too high of temperature in the brooder.  Many chick deaths occur because their vents have become plugged up with dried poo and they can no longer eliminate.

Low brooder temperature can also lead to deaths in young chicks.  If they are too cool, they can become chilled and develop pneumonia. Chicks that huddle together can ultimately smother the weaker ones. Pasting up can also be caused by too cool of temperatures. Chicks will let you know they are too cold by huddling under the lamp and making very loud cheeping noises.  Too hot and they will gather in the corners, panting and lying down. Transitioning from too warm to too cold back and forth is also a cause of pasting up and ill health.  Any transition can cause stress which can lead to death.

I recommend something with radiant heat like a sweeter heater  or an ecoglow as a heat source. The radiant heat is safer than a heat lamp bulb and will give a constant temperature.  For more information check out Brooder Heat Sources.  Make sure that you adjust  the brooder temperature 24 hours before introducing chicks to it. We like to use a temperature gun for accurate readings.

The food and water you choose to give your chicks can also lead to early mortality. Chick starter that is old and has started to get moldy can cause death. Check for a date on the bag. Chick starter can often come in pieces too large for a newborn chick which could cause them to choke. I like to take my chick starter crumble and grind it up even smaller in a coffee grinder. I feel that this helps with digestion and with pasting up as well.  Do not give newborns a lot of other foods besides the chick starter. Treats should not be given until they are over one week old.  Anything besides chick starter, yogurt or scrambled eggs needs grit (sand) in order to grind it in their crop.

Water that is too salty can lead to early death.  I like to add Rooster Booster with vitamins, electrolytes and probiotics to my water. I also add apple cider vinegar with the mother as well to the water.  Make sure that you have your feeders and waterers up as high as the backs of your chicks. The chicks tend to kick shavings and poo into them which can plug up the waterers and contaminate the water. Change water daily and clean and sanitize feeders and waterers weekly.

You may need to show your young chicks how to drink.  Mother hen usually gently pushes their beaks into the water and you can do the same. If you pick up a chick and it feels much lighter than the other chicks, it has probably not learned how to eat or drink yet.  I will dip their beaks into the water first and then dip them into their feed so that the chick crumble sticks to their beaks.

Make sure that there is adequate air ventilation in and around your brooder. Toxic gasses such as ammonia, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide can kill small chicks if they are exposed to them.  Chicks require a minimum 100 percent air exchange six times in a 24 four period. This should not be a cold draft but continuous movement of air in the brooder.  A plastic tub with high sides does not have a lot of air movement allowed.  One problem encountered with poor air movement is sinusitis. This is caused by excess humidity and ammonia released from chicken poo. Remove damp bedding which causes pathogenic micro organisms  to multiply  and large clumps of poo in the brooder and spread a thin layer of bedding on top of the old. Once a week change out the bedding and sanitize the brooder with something like Oxivir.

Construct your brooder to keep out predators.  A screen should lay over the top to keep out insects, vermin, dogs and cats.  If you have small children who like to handle the chicks make sure that they are supervised.  Newborn chicks can jump out of your hands. Injuries caused by crushing or squeezing too hard are a very real problem with little ones. I would keep handling of chicks less than a week old to a minimum. Any injuries can lead to infection and should be treated with Vetericyn spray.

Avoid having too many chicks in a brooder. Overcrowding is one of the number one causes for early death.  Trampling, starvation and damp litter are caused by overcrowding.  Chicks with vaults like silkies or polish need to be especially careful with having too many pen mates. A well placed peck to the head will result in death. Any drop of blood or open bare spot is an invitation for the other chicks to peck at it. Loss of down caused by pasting up attracts others in the pen to continue to peck at it until bleeding occurs. Separation is sometimes necessary.

Practice biosecurity around your brooder. Wear gloves around your adult chickens and wash your hands before handling the newborns. Wear different shoes or boots around your adults than you do around your brooder.  Newborns do not have well developed immune systems.  You will be bringing in germs and diseases on the bottoms of your feet. You may also bring in mites from the outside coop.  Young chicks are very prone to an attack by mites which will result in death if not dealt with. I use the powder very sparingly if I think that they have been exposed.

Light is important in your brooder.  Chick activity is greatest in bright light. They need to be able to see the food and water. Lights should be low or off at night. If you use a heat lamp bulb, choose one with an infrared coating. This helps with pecking and at night can help simulate darkness.

Coccidiosis can be a killer during the first week of life. Because of possible exposure to the disease people will use medicated chick starter.  I would only use it if you think that your chicks are being exposed. If they are inside and you practice good brooder hygiene you probably won’t need to worry. Medicated feed can rob your chick of some vitamins.

Some items to have on hand just in case of a problem would be Save-a-chick, which goes into their water and provides electrolytes.  There is also one which adds probioticsNutridrench can give a boost to a lethargic chick but read directions for use with young birds.

Chicks under one week old are very fragile. If at all possible try and purchase birds over one week old. They are stronger and sturdier and have a much better chance of survival.  They know how to eat and drink and the pasting up usually ends after the first week.

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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