When you think of chickens, you’re probably picturing a puffy bird with a wattle and a comb. Or maybe a strutting rooster with a colorful chest and tons of attitude. But have you heard of silkie chicken? These graceful girls (and boys) are the supermodels of the poultry world. So let’s learn a little more about this gorgeous bird and why your backyard needs one or two.
An Overview of Silkie Chickens
Silkie chicken comes from China, so it’s sometimes called the Chinese Silk Chicken. You may also see it spelled Silky with a ‘y’ instead of an ‘ie’ though the plural is the same for both. The name comes from the silky or satiny texture of its fine, fluffy feathers. Visually, they look more like luxurious fur than typical chicken feathers. The silk covers most of the bird’s face.
The feet of silkie chickens are feathered and their skin, eyes, beak, bones, and meat are black. A silkie has blue earlobes and five toes. (For reference, most chickens have four.) They’re kept as show birds and pets because they’re so pretty, friendly, and easy to handle. Their docile nature and gentle temperament make them perfect for kids and they enjoy cuddling.
This is part of what makes them good show birds since they have to be constantly lifted, groomed, and inspected during public poultry events. Silkies come in various colors and lay white eggs, though they only produce two to four eggs a week. They’re good mothers whose calm personality makes them quite broody. They can even hatch eggs for other breeds.
When Westerners first learned about the Chinese Silk Chicken, they called it a woolly or furry bird. To boost its popularity, breeders created rumors to push sales, claiming they bred the silky by crossing birds and bunnies. Circuses and sideshows promoted it as a clothed hen with mammal fur like a platypus. (Incidentally, the platypus was long thought to be a hoax!)
How to Spot a Silkie Chicken
Recognizing silkies isn’t hard. Their furry features are a dead giveaway, and we’ve already mentioned their dark skin, blue ears, and five toes. Silkies are on the smaller side and are classified as bantams, with males weighing 2lb to 4lb and females weighing 1.5lb to 3lb on average. They’re mostly ornamental but are great for hatching the eggs of your other birds.
This babysitting service (pun intended) plus their calm demeanor makes them a good bird for mixed flocks. Also, since they’re so small and friendly, you can keep them indoors as well. Make sure any toys, furniture, and flooring are washable and easy to clean because chickens aren’t generally potty-trained. But silkies make good pets since they love being … petted.
The Chinese silk chicken comes in various colors including white, black, gold, blue, grey, buff, lilac, pewter, and partridge. Their feathers are typically a single color but you can sometimes find silkies that have splashes of other tones. Also, all silkies belong to the same species and breed, but some are bearded, meaning they have muffs under the beak and neck.
Other silkies are non-bearded, so part of their face, cheeks, and wattle might be exposed and featherless. But don’t confuse silkies for other crested chicken breeds like Polish or Sultans. Those breeds typically have a crown, crest, or mane that’s similar to silkies, but the rest of their feathers look normal. They lack the fine, furry quality that gives silkies their name.
The Silkie Chicken Hairdo
Speaking of facial hair, the appearance of a silkie chicken is quite distinct. In most varieties, all you see is their beaks poking out of their furry faces. You’ll easily spot their ears because that bright turquoise blue stands out against their feathers. But their beaks are grey, blue, or black, and skin ranges from black to blue-grey. Hens and roosters are hard to differentiate.
Underneath the fuzz, silkies have wattles and walnut or cushion combs in dark grey or black. You’ll sometimes find birds with mulberry combs, a very deep, dark maroon that’s closer to black. To keep your silkies safe, you may need to trim their facial hair so it doesn’t cover their eyes. When their eye line is obscured, they get skittish and are more susceptible to predators.
That’s why you may notice your silkies getting jumpy if you approach them from behind – they can’t see you! And if they’re free-range chickens, hawks, raccoons, and other creatures can easily capture them. So try to balance between beautiful birdie tresses and visibility. It’ll keep your silkie calmer, safer, and happier. Trim their foot feathers too, to avoid excess dirt.
As you groom your silkie, focus on those feathered feet. They’re closer to the ground so they pick up more mud, soil, and pests. If you live in wet, marshy, or muddy areas, outdoor silky chickens may end up being too much work unless you keep them indoors. Also, while those furry feathers look warm and fuzzy, they’re not, so silkies suffer in extreme wintry climates.
Productivity in Silkie Chickens
In Europe, silkies come in both standard and bantam variants, but in the US, most silkies are bantams. That said, even standard-sized silkies are on the smaller side of the poultry world. The one downside of their pretty silky feathers is lack of flight. Other chicken breeds jump and flutter their wings to cross distances of 40 to 50 feet. They often leap up to 10 feet high.
But silkies don’t have barbicels so their wings are purely decorative and can’t launch them off the ground. In China, silkies – and several other breeds – are known as black-boned chickens. It refers to the color of their skin and bones as well as the meat itself. They have such small bodies and start laying quite late (7 to 9 months) so they’re not good for commercial farming.
Interestingly, the reason silkies lay fewer eggs isn’t because of their size. It’s driven by their personality. Specifically, their broody tendency. See, chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. And usually, a female bird lays 7 to 15 eggs per clutch, typically one per day. Then she stops laying and sits on her clutch until they all hatch. She broods most of the day, only leaving for food.
Chickens will lay a dozen or so eggs then go broody. But in most commercial breeds, this trait has been bred out so chickens can lay daily without stopping to brood. This ensures a constant supply of eggs unless they’re molting. In silkies, the brooding part of their DNA hasn’t been removed. Since they lay on alternate days and brood so often, they only produce 100 a year.
Silkie Chicken in the Kitchen
In most parts of the world, silkies aren’t cooked because they’re so cute and offer so little meat. But in Asia, black-boned chicken is a delicacy, and black-boned chicken soup is seen as medicinal due to its high carnosine and carnitine content. Cuisine in Japan, China, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Korea includes silkie broth and curry as a high-value gourmet dish.
The size of silkie means its meat is lean and wiry so when you do cook it, pick a slow method like braising. French recipes sometimes recommend silkies for confit. They’re preserved by slowly cooking them in sugar syrup or sugar water, herbs, salt, seasoning, and their own fat. The bird is cooked on low heat then allowed to cool and stored in its own grease for later use.
Initially, this method extended the shelf life of slaughtered poultry before freezers were available. When you’re ready to serve the silkie, you can bake it or make a casserole. Other dishes prepared as confits include duck, goose, and pork, usually the legs. But as we said before, silkies are mostly used as pets, hatchers, or babysitters for less broody bird breeds.
They can live up to 9 years so they make a good first-time pet for kids and teens. Consider the character of the child though. They’ll love playing and cuddling their silky, but may not be diligent about cleaning after the bird, and they might lose interest during its annual molt. As a parent or guardian, you may end up doing the dirty work, so be sure you’re up for that.
Silkie Chickens as Pets
What factors do you consider when you’re seeking an animal companion? Lots of people want a soft, furry friend that curls up in bed with them. They want something cute that they can show off, preferably on social media. They may also want something rare and exotic that other kids don’t have. All these factors make silkies the perfect pet for children and singles.
Silkies can’t fly at all. They can’t even flap like other chicken breeds. So you don’t have to add roofing mesh to their chicken runs, and you can even raise them indoors. They can be loud though, so while your apartment might be enough to keep them entertained and restricted, your neighbors (and your lease) may be averse to their clucking. But they’re super friendly.
They don’t need as much vet care as kittens or dogs, and they don’t drool or shed. You don’t have to walk them, but it’s helpful to put a few toys in their enclosure. And as we said before, you can’t potty train them so you’ll have to be prepared for poop everywhere. It might help to restrict them to one uncarpeted section of the apartment. And their litter quickly gets smelly.
You’d have to clean their substrate regularly to stop the stink and avoid attracting pests. You might like to dye your silky. Their fine feathers take color well, but be careful to choose a dye that won’t harm their health. Food coloring, pet dyes, and wash-off dyes are safer, but be sure the paint doesn’t bleed onto your fabrics, flooring, or furniture. That’s more to clean!
Precautions for Silkie Chickens
When your child demands a new pet, silkie chickens have several advantages over kittens or puppies. While these two are popular companions, kids lose interest once their pets grow up and are no longer cute or cuddly. With puppies and kittens, it’s only a few weeks before they stop looking adorable. By four to six months, they look like their full-grown animal versions.
They also reach reproductive age and may become aggressive and territorial, which children don’t enjoy. Don’t forget they need regular vet checks, neutering, potty training, and active attention. Plus, mammals shed a lot so you have to groom them and clean after them. Silkie chickens dodge all this drama. They maintain their childlike looks and remain fluffy forever!
Their fine feathers feel like baby mammals, but they don’t shed fur, they’re cheaper to feed, and they don’t grow too big so they won’t overwhelm their little humans. But they do poop all over the place so that’s a big downside. And just like kittens (and gremlins), they don’t like getting wet. A warm bath is fine, but towel-dry them immediately so they don’t get chilly.
Their furry feathers matt when they’re wet, so you may have to blow dry the birds as well. If they’re outdoor chickens, use a damp cloth to clean their feathers – it’s safer than a bath. You may have to clean and brush them often unless they’re indoor birds though, which will soon bore the kids. Regularly check for parasites that can easily hide in those thick silky feathers.
Blue Ears, White Eggs
A common way to guess what color eggs a chicken lays is to look at the color of their ears. Usually, white lobes mean white eggs while red earlobes go with brown eggs. Blue and green egg layers often have aqua-colored lobes. But silkies are the exception. Despite their bright blue lobes, their eggs are always tinted or white. Their five feathery toes as a rarity as well.
Related, you may have heard of Showgirl Chickens. They look a lot like silkies but have a featherless neck. Their napes and the backs of their heads are bald too, like some kind of poodle chicken! Turns out showgirls are a cross of silkies and Naked Neck Turken chickens.
Unlike other chickens, silkies and showgirls prefer to sleep on the floor. This might be because they can’t jump or fly onto roosting perches like other chicken breeds. So they clump together in corners to stay warm. If they live in a coop, raise the floor and bury concrete or wire to ensure predators can’t get at them from underneath. Burrowing pests are the worst!
Silkie chickens are prone to Marek’s disease, so you should get your birds vaccinated. Other than that, they’re pretty healthy. One more thing – trim their belly feathers. Hens often peck off their ‘chest hair’ when they’re broody because their bare skin warms the eggs better. But silkies have a fine tangle of feathers that may matt and strangle chicks, so keep them short!
Do you know any fun facts about silkie chickens? Share them in the comments section below!