Did you ever wonder if you should get silkie chickens for your backyard or homestead? I will never forget the day that I discovered these amazing tiny balls of fluff – baby silkie chickens- for sale at my local Tractor Supply during their infamous Chick Days.
I was immediately smitten with the little darlings and it wasn’t long before I brought home 6 adorable fluffy babies to add to my flock. But that was just the beginning of my journey into the world of raising silkie chickens.
After a while, I realized that silkie chickens were also a show breed, and soon I ordered hatching eggs from Wright Fancy Feet Farm in Tennessee. Before long, I had a dozen or more silkies of show quality prancing and scratching in their brand new coop.
I’ve raised hundreds of chickens of all different breeds, but of all them, silkies continue to be my favorite breed. Did you ever wonder if silkies were a good breed for you? Keep reading to learn all about silkies and why you should and shouldn’t raise silkies in your own flock.
Should You Have Silkie Chickens?
There are a number of factors to consider when selecting a chicken breed. Do you want a chicken with a calm disposition or one that is a little more flighty and aware of predators? Do you want a chicken that is a sweet pet or a chicken that gives you food?
Do you have space for a flock of large chickens or do you prefer to keep smaller sized chickens? Do you want to feed your chickens grain and table scraps or let them forage out on their own?
Are you looking for a quiet breed or does noise not matter to you? Keep all of these factors in mind as you consider whether or not to add silkies to your backyard or farm.
What Is a Silkie?
A silkie is a special breed of chicken with fluffy feathers, black skin, fuzzy feet, and five toes. These chickens are especially docile, friendly, and are known as one of the best breeds for children. They are steady layers of smaller, light brown eggs except, of course, when they go broody. They are great mothers and the roosters are even great fathers.
Silkies will hatch and raise all different kinds of fowl for you if you let them, including quail, ducks, guineas, and other breeds of chickens. If you want a sweet, friendly chicken, then silkies are a great choice. But there are a few things you need to know about silkie chickens before you welcome them to your backyard, farm, or homestead.
Where Did Silkies Come From?
We can’t be completely sure where silkies came from. However, Marco Polo described them as being similar to a cat with black skin and fur during his travels to Asia.
Because of this, it is thought that silkies originated in Asia and possibly China at least as far back as the 13th century. They were brought to the Americas where they have become a popular breed for backyard chicken keepers and show chicken breeders.
Do Silkies Lay Eggs?
Silkies are pretty steady egg layers, except when they are broody. They lay smallish, light brown to almost white eggs. Silkies will lay regularly for you if they are happy and well-kept, but they are known for going broody, meaning they want to sit on a clutch of eggs in order to hatch them. Broody chickens don’t lay, they hatch! So when a broody isn’t hatching, they lay wonderful, edible eggs.
Do Silkies Make Good Meat Birds?
Most folks may have trouble eating silkie meat for two reasons. One reason is that they are so docile and sweet, they are often seen more as pets than as farm animals.
No one wants to eat their pets. On the other hand, silkies have very dark, almost black skin and meat. For some people, this color of chicken meat is unpalatable. So while you can eat silkie meat, many people choose not to.
However, in other countries outside of the US, silkie meat is seen as a delicacy and also it is thought to have healing and anti-aging properties.
Do Silkies Make Good Pets?
Silkie chickens make great pet chickens. As a breed, these chickens are docile, adorable, and pretty smart, too. You can train them to walk on a leash or come when called.
They are great chickens for children because they become very accustomed to people and being handled. They are not aggressive, and even the roosters are typically laid back and people friendly.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and you should always be careful when children are around animals, but overall, silkies tend to be one of the most laidback breeds of chicken.
These chickens are on the smaller side, so they eat less and need less space then their larger counterparts. In fact, they do very well in confinement and don’t mind living in close quarters.
Because of their size and temperament, you can put more silkies in a small space than a larger bossier breed, such as Rhode Island Reds. They work great for smaller backyards and are very quiet. My silkies don’t make much noise most of the time.
Of course, the roosters crow throughout the day and the hens will cackle in celebration when an egg is laid. But overall, they are more soft-spoken than larger breeds of chicken.
Some people have been known to put a chicken diaper on their silkies and keep them in the house, although the CDC frowns upon this along with kissing and handling chickens. Some would say that there is always a risk of salmonella when you touch a chicken and you should always wash your hands afterwards.
My personal opinion is that chickens, including silkies, are happiest when they are outside in a pen and coop that makes them feel protected from predators and the elements, but that is a decision best left up to you. I had a particular silkie who insisted that she should live in my covered back porch rather than outside. She was a pampered hen, for sure.
If you are looking for a chicken primarily as a pet and less as a food source or farm animal, then silkies are a great breed for you.
Can You Mix Silkies into Your Existing Flock?
Do you want to mix some silkies into your existing flock? Yes, it is possible to have silkies in with your other chickens. Most chickens generally will adapt and get along with each other. However, there are a few considerations when mixing chicken breeds.
Silkies need extra predator protection. Their feathers often get in the way of their vision, making it difficult for them to spot predators. White silkies are an easy target for hawks and owls. Their docile nature means they aren’t skittish and sadly, are easily picked off by foxes and raccoons.
I have lost a number of free-ranging silkies to predators, leading me to keep the rest of my flock in their own pen. If your existing flock free-ranges, you may want to consider keeping your silkies in their own penned in area for their protection.
Another consideration is their size and temperament. These small, easy going chickens can easily become targets for bigger, bossier birds. You’ll need to introduce new chickens slowly and with good supervision to make sure everyone is getting along nicely.
Generally, once the pecking order is established everyone will get along fine, however, larger birds could potentially injure smaller silkies so be careful. Some silkies have a dome-shaped head – the area under the crest is raised.
This leaves their skull more susceptible to damage from being pecked by another chicken. A good strong peck in just the right spot could be potentially fatal for a silkie.
Can Silkies Breed with Other Chicken Breeds?
My ‘rooster of choice’ for my free range flock is a silkie rooster. I have small children who love to pick up the chickens, so I need a rooster that is as docile and friendly with people as he is protective and helpful to his hens. I find silkie roosters get the job done best, even though they are not as safe from predators.
They are always gentlemen with their hens, lovingly offering them food and helping take care of the chicks. My silkie roosters easily mate with their larger, non-bantam flock mates, producing a mixed-breed offspring that is fluffy, funny-looking, and fun to keep in the flock.
What do silkies eat?
In a nutshell, silkies eat the same things that other chickens eat. However, their smaller size may mean they need a little extra consideration. I generally feed chick crumbles to baby chicks, and as they grow, I switch to Flock Raiser or All Flock crumbles.
Some people believe that pellets are too large for silkies to eat, and therefore, you should stick to crumbles. I also supplement my silkies crumbles with layer mash and table scraps. If you are showing your silkies, you may want to consider using only high quality feed for the best looking feathers.
Silkies have a few specific characteristics that set them apart from other breeds.
- Feathers. Silkie feathers are very unusual. Most chicken feathers look smooth like other birds. Even if you pull the individual pieces apart, you can smooth them back together again. This is because tiny hooks called barbicels keep the feather strands held tightly together. This also helps the water run off of a chicken’s back. Silkie feathers lack barbicels, so their feathers appear fuzzy and fluffy rather than smooth. When a silkie gets wet, its feathers become soggy and flat.
- Skin and meat. The skin and meat of a silkie is dark black in color. It’s hard to spot under all that fluff. While silkie meat is just as edible as other breeds, some people find the color to be unpalatable. You can cook silkie meat just like any other chicken, although their small size means less meat per bird.
- Toes. Silkie feet and toes are also unique. The color of their feet and toes is a dark purple to black, with feathered shanks and feathers on the outside toes. Some silkies feet will be completely covered in feathers, making it difficult to see their five toes. Two toes are connected and branch off together. Because of the shape of their feet, silkies are less likely to be destructive in your garden than a full size breed.
- Combs and wattles. There are pretty many comb variations in chickens, but silkies for show purposes should have walnut shaped combs. A single comb is considered poor or pet quality for a silky. The combs can be dark mulberry in color. Some silkie combs, especially in females, can be obscured by the large crest of feathers on the tops of their heads. Wattles should also be dark mulberry or almost black. If the combs are different colors or shapes, you do not have a ‘pure’ silkie, but probably a mix of breeds.
- Ear Lobes. Silkies have beautiful turquoise colored earlobes that are oval in shape.
- Naked necks. A specific variation of silkie is a showgirl. A showgirl is a male or female silkie with no feathers on its neck. These are silkies who have been bred somewhere in their ancestry with a naked neck turken. When you breed showgirls to showgirls, the result is more showgirls. While they are recognized by the APA and ABA, they are a delightful addition to a backyard flock.
Silkies come in many different colors. According to mtcreekfarm.com, silkie colors that are recognized by the APA and ABA are:
- Self blue
There are many other colors that are fun to experiment with and enjoy, especially if you want to breed for color variations. These colors are beautiful but not showable:
You can find more information on silkie genetics and breeding here.
Standard of Perfection
Every breed of chicken has its own standards, including silkies. The American Silkie Bantam Club explains in detail just what your silkies should look like for show purposes.
For example, males should have a walnut comb that is dark mulberry to almost black, a beak that is grey, short and stout, and the eyes should be black.
The Standard of Perfection also details body shape, feathering, crest, and other characteristics to look for when breeding and showing silkies. You can find that information here.
If you are interested in showing silkies, you’ll need to watch for disqualifications and other problems that will lower your score.
There are a few chicken diseases that silkies are prone to, they include:
- Scaly Leg Mites. This parasite may be more common in chickens with feathered legs as opposed to chickens with clean legs. Mites burrow under the skin and a crust forms.
- Marek’s disease. Marke’s disease is a virus that can cause tumors in chickens. There is no cure, and chickens that contract the disease will most likely need to be culled.
- Water on the brain. Some silkies have a large dome on their heads, and the cranial fluid can become infected and put pressure on the brain, causing the chicken to fall over. Treatment involves antibiotics prescribed by a vet and a liquid diet.
Why I Love Silkies
I absolutely love silkies for many reasons, and here are a few of the reasons I have them in my flock.
- Temperament. Silkies have the sweetest temperament. If you handle them often, they will be happy being around people and will come looking for snacks or even pets. None of my silkie roosters have ever shown any hint of aggression towards people, although any animal can get aggressive. They are easy going with each other, as well, and rarely have issues with pecking order.
- Small size. These cuties are considered to be bantams, but they aren’t quite as tiny as most bantam chickens. This makes them a nice, compact size with eggs that are still edible.
- They’re very broody and wonderful mamas. Although I do eat my silkies’ eggs, I keep a separate flock for egg production for my family’s needs, so I don’t mind when my silkie chickens go broody and stop laying. I love watching them hatch and tend to their little babies. If I needed to, I could use a broody mama to hatch other chicken breeds, ducks, or quail instead of an incubator.
- They don’t need a lot of space and don’t mind confinement. I keep my silkies in a small coop outside my bay kitchen window. They don’t need a lot of space, and they are quite comfortable being penned up. They don’t mind being in close quarters, and I get to watch the babies grow up.
- They aren’t hard on your gardens. Since silkies aren’t aggressive foragers, they will be a lot easier on your flower beds and gardens if you do choose to free range them.
- Some silkies have beards. Depending on the type of silkie you have, they may have beards and muffs or they may have clean faces that show off their waddles.
- They’re fun to watch. I love to watch silkies running through the yard – they look like mini chickens in pants. They’re small size makes their crazy antics extra fun to watch.
What You Need to Know About Silkies
We love silkies for a variety of reasons. But there are a few things you need to know before you add them to your flock. Here are some of the most critical things you need to know about these adorable chickens:
- Silkies are highly susceptible to predators. Poor eyesight due to a large crest and feathers around the face make it difficult for silkies to spot predators. Their laid-back personality means they are less aware of threats in their environment, and less skittish. Silkie coloring makes them easily spotted by predators. You’ll need to take extra precautions to keep your silkies safe.
- They don’t see well. Silkies may have trouble seeing due to their large crests and beards. You may need to trim their feathers for safety. For show purposes, crests should not obscure the eyes.
- They don’t free range well. Poor vision, susceptibility to predators, and extra toes mean silkies don’t forage or free range well. These beauties do best in their own safe enclosures.
- Silkies are hard to sex. Silkies grow slowly, and combs can be disguised by large crests. It may take extra long for male silkies to crow, and it may be difficult to sex them until they are able to crow.
- They don’t fly much, if at all. Silkies’ soft fluffy feathers mean they can’t catch air like other breeds can. They may be able to fly a few feet, but they can’t fly well at all.
- Silkies don’t roost. Most silkies don’t bother with roosting bars. Instead, they will cuddle up together on the floor of the coop, creating an adorable mess of silkies.
- They need a little extra care in winter. If you have cold, snowy winters, taking a few extra precautions will help keep your silkies safe. Some extra bedding in the coop, ventilation without drafts, and some extra wind breaks around the coop and run will help keep your delicate chickens warm.
- They have the same needs as other chickens. Silkies need food, water, and shelter just like any other chicken.
Silkies can be housed with larger breeds of chickens, but you may want to take a couple of things into consideration when you are deciding on our chicken coop.
- Space. Average sized chickens need 3 square feet per chicken inside the coop, and as much as nine square feet of space in the chicken run. Silkies are smaller and more comfortable in close quarters, so you could definitely get away with less space, although the more space you can use, the better.
- Drafts. Silkies are susceptible to drafts, so although your coop needs good ventilation, make sure their sleeping area is free from drafts. Most silkies do not roost, so unless your silkies are in a mixed flock, you probably won’t need roosting bars in your coop. They’ll just pile together on the floor in a delightful, fluffy heap.
- Run. Since silkies aren’t good free-range chickens, they definitely should have a run on their coop. Often times, pre-fabricated coops will have a built in run underneath the coop. This works out great, or you can build your own. Chicken wire does not make a great chicken run. It certainly will keep silkies in, but it isn’t strong enough to keep most predators out. Rather, build your run out of dog kennel fencing or better yet, ¼ inch hardware cloth to keep your precious silkies safe and protected.
- Bedding. Because of their small size, straw can be a little bit difficult for silkies to walk in, and it might get tangled in their fluff. A better choice is wood shavings. Wood shavings are soft, absorbent, and will help keep silkies warmer in winter. You’ll need to change them out often so that the bedding doesn’t get damp.
- Winter considerations. Since silkies are not as cold-hardy as larger, sturdier birds, if you live in a cold climate, you’ll need to take a few extra precautions. Add some extra bedding for your silkies to snuggle in. You also may want to add a tarp on two sides of the coop and run to block some of the wind from winter storms. If needed, stack hay bales around the outside of the coop, leaving some space for ventilation, to give some added protection in bad weather.
Where to Purchase Silkies
If you want a larger, sturdier bird, then the silkies you find at Tractor Supply will easily suffice. You can also order hatching eggs or day-old chicks from sites like My Pet Chicken or Murray McMurray Hatchery.
If you are serious about and want to breed and show silkies, you’ll want to look for a breeder that specializes in silkies. Make sure they have a healthy flock and NPIP and AI certifications.
Amanda is a homesteader and a Jesus-loving, mother of 6 toddlers. She’s raising lots of fancy chickens and goats on her small homestead (among other things).