SILKIE CHICKENS

 

Silkies are lovely ornamental birds – beautiful and interesting to watch. They are an ancient species that originate from China; with the bantam variety thought to come from Germany.

They are easy to handle; gentle and calm and not as flighty as many other breeds. This means they move slower too and make ideal pets for children. Many years ago I worked on a children’s animal farm and the silkies were always most popular, especially with the pre-schoolers. Sometimes we would bath them in non-toxic dyes to make their feathers, pink, or yellow or blue, the silkies didn’t mind the attention at all!  The children loved the pretty colours, the fur-like feathering and powder puff chest - and of course handling and petting these docile birds.

Silkies can lay up to 100 smallish eggs in a season and the eggs are just the right size for kids!

COMFY HOUSING FOR CLUCKY HENS - THE ESSENTIALS

Silkies are not consistent egg layers and their eggs are small (just the right size for kids). They tend to be broody too and this is probably what they love doing best which makes them excellent mother hens; the baby chicks are irresistible!  

Silkie chickens love dark and secretive nesting boxes where they can brood on their eggs for hours!  If you’re making your own nesting boxes, make sure there are no sharp edges from cut tin or metal, screws or nails should not protrude either. Check for gaps and fill or seal any openings which could allow rain water to enter. Another thing to consider is ease of access to the nesting boxes. Silkies don’t use their wings like other breeds do, so jumping up and down into high nesting boxes would be difficult, if not impossible, for some silkies! It is important to keep their nesting boxes off the ground though as this makes access for rodents and pests more difficult. Life is a lot easier if the nesting boxes are easily accessed by you and your family too so you can collect eggs and change the bedding material; regular cleaning is essential for a disease free flock and also keeps your eggs clean as well.

Your chicken coup should have enough room for waterers and feeders as well as the nesting boxes.  There should also be enough room for you to get in to fill feeders and waterers and for removing and replacing the litter regularly. 

Feeding your silkies can be as simple as scattering the feed around on the ground for them to scratch and peck at. Although this is an easy way to feed them, it is also likely to attract a number of unwanted pests including rodents and wild birds. A more efficient and hygienic way of feeding is to suspend a feeder up off the ground. Filling the feeder on a daily basis is one way of ensuring that the feed is fresh and not mouldy or sour. I always check the waterers each day too – your chickens need constant access to fresh clean water. Some people have their waterer plumbed into a nearby tap so it fills automatically, this is a great system, but it is still a good idea to check it each day just in case the system has failed. Like the feeders it is best to clean the waterers regularly too. 

Naturally silkies will enjoy free-range living but they don’t need the same amount of time foraging as some breeds. Silkies are generally more than content in their safe, cosy nest within a clean and dry house!  Silkies are also not known for their love of perching, nesting is more their thing, however, I still find a few low perches are a must.

THE NATURE OF SILKIES

Let’s understand the nature of Silkies. They are not the best breed choice if you want or need high quantities of eggs all year round however they have many wonderfully positive characteristics which make them a great bird for the small family and backyard.

Silkie hens are made to be mother hens. If you introduce some young chicks to her she will take them under her wing, quite literally, and protect them as though they are her own. Silkies can be used ideally as hatchers. If you have other breeds in the yard you want to produce chicks, and those hens are not sitters, that is, if they are not content to sit on a clutch of eggs waiting for hatching time, then the Silkie will happily come along and do the job. They make great incubators and adoptive parents!

Silkies will lay for a month or so and then stop laying for a short while. This is casually called going ‘off the lay’ and Silkies are famous for it. It is worth noting that all chicken breeds go off the lay from time to time. Sometimes it is brought on by a change in the season (reduced light), when they grow new feathers or of course if they are sick.  With this in mind, it’s worth thinking about keeping a number of Silkies to keep egg production at a level you want.

For those of us who adore Silkies, it is wise to expect the following:

Each bird may produce 3-5 eggs per week whilst laying (annually 100-120 eggs). 

So if you’re looking for a child friendly, garden friendly pet chicken, you may want

When can you expect your Silkie to lay her first egg? Well this of course varies from bird to bird, but they are late starters compared to other egg production breeds e.g.

Mud and wet conditions are not good due to their feathers around their legs and feet.

SHOWING SILKIES

Silkies are also an ideal showing breed. Exhibiting your beautiful silkies though, requires effort. Travelling is just one factor to consider when showing your birds, but it is important one; always ensure they are safe and contented whilst on the move! Sadly, overheated birds can and do die when travelling – so ventilation is key to their comfort. Just check to make sure that ventilation holes are positioned where they will not become obstructed by other items or boxes. Holes should be numerous and 2-5cm diameter (this does depend on the size of the bird though - 5 cm is quite big for a small bantam silkie).

A travel box, with an individual compartment for each bird, can be designed to carry a number of birds. Travelling alongside, yet separated, from other birds is vital for their overall comfort. If several birds are placed in a single box (without individual compartments) they can become easily stressed, overheating is more likely and plumage damage can also take place. 

There are a number of carry box suppliers or you could try to make your own. You can even use recycled timber and ropes for handles. Aim to keep the travel box as light as possible for ease of carrying – thin plywood sheeting is ideal. Make sure you have a secure lid on the box too! You can paint or decorate the box to suit your preference or just keep it natural.

Place some straw or shredded newspaper inside the carry boxes when travelling. This helps to absorb any moisture from the birds’ waste and may encourage the birds to nest down whilst moving. 

Give them a safe, comfortable and happy trip and they will reward you – you may even win a 1st!

 

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