If you’ve ever seen one of these furry-looking chickens wandering someone’s yard, chances are your first thought was something along the lines of “what is that thing?” Possibly named for their silky-feeling feathers, Silkies look very different from your typical chicken breed. They have black skin, extra toes, and look like they’ve had a run-in with the fluff cycle in your dryer.
Although their exact origins are unknown, most of the earliest documentation of silkies comes from China and other parts of Southeast Asia. Chinese medicine incorporates silkie meat, bones, and feet, which are shown to provide more anti-oxidants than other poultry. Early European explorers such as Marco Polo wrote accounts of these strange little birds, describing them as furry, wooly, and having hair comparable to that of cats. Eventually silkies made their way to the Western world via the Silk Route, and were recognized as an official breed in North America in the late 19th century. Carnivals and other traveling shows in the 19th and early 20th centuries often advertised silkies as chickens with fur instead of feathers, or sometimes tried to pass them as the cross of a chicken and a rabbit. Today, they are a popular ornamental breed.
Silkies are often considered a bantam (dwarf) breed, though their sizes can vary and there is an official bantam silkie. In the past we have kept a small number of silkies, and the males were ‘normal’ sized while the female was very small, though still larger than our bantam chickens. Common silkie colors include black, blue, buff, and white, though more color possibilities do exist. These fancy birds also have a strange comb that resembles a large bumpy walnut (our white roosters had reddish purple combs), as well as bright blue earlobes. You may have to push back the fluff to see their faces!
Though we do not have any silkies currently, they tend to be very friendly
when handled regularly. The last rooster we had regularly followed me around the barnyard and would eat feed out of my hand. Our hen typically laid one small, cream-colored egg every 2-3 days. I have read that silkies are very prone to go broody, but never had that experience with our own. The silkie genes seem to be very dominant, though; we have a lot of extra-toed mixed breeds!
For backyard flock keepers, a silkie can make a great and fanciful addition. Families with kids will love these gentle little birds. They’re chatty birds, and the males can be a little loud, so beware if your neighbors aren’t happy with all-day crowing sessions. Hens are known to go broody very easily, and will raise a clutch of any eggs they’re given to hatch. Don’t keep silkies if your end-goal is eggs –silkie eggs tend to be smaller than most, and there are other breeds which are much better layers. It should also be noted that silkies tend to be much more gentle than other breeds and are prone to being bullied, so watch out for your fluffy friends if you have a large flock.
As a recap, here are the pros and cons of keeping silkies:
- Friendly and gentle, they make great pets
- Prone to going broody and will raise any chicks
- Great conversation starter!
- Often bullied by other chickens
- Not great egg layers, will go broody easily
- Does not do well in wet, cold climates
Silkies make great companions and pretty additions to your backyard flock! Check out eFowl.com if you are interested in owning your first silkies this Spring.