Silkie Chicken Facts
and delightful puffballs
Reading Time: 4 minutes
by Dorothy Rieke Have you ever dreamed of owning a “buddy” chicken that loves sitting on your lap and cuddling, a chicken with an entertaining personality, sweet temperament, and a gorgeous appearance with soft silky feathers? Easily identified, they are the popular Silkie chicken, which resembles colorful puff balls that look more like bunnies with chicken legs. Want to learn some Silkie chicken facts?
Silkies have been around for a long time, and while we don’t know precisely where the breed originated in Asia, most sources point toward China. Marco Polo wrote about a “furry chicken” he saw during his travels to Asia in the 13th Century CE.
“…I have been told, but did not myself see the animal, that there are found at this place a species of domestic fowls which have no feathers, their skins being clothed with black hair, resembling the fur of cats. Such a sight must be extraordinary. They lay eggs like other fowls, and they are good to eat.” —Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian
Ulisse Aldrovandi, a naturalist and writer in Bologna, Italy, wrote about “wool-bearing chickens” in a paper about chickens published in 1598. He also mentions certain chickens clothed with hair like that of a black cat.
Are all silkies bantams? The answer seems to depend on a region’s breed standards. Most North American strains are bantam-sized, while Europe recognizes a standard-sized version, which is still a relatively small bird.
Silkies come in a delightful array of colors: black, blue, buff, gray, partridge, self-blue, splash, and white. They have turquoise earlobes, five- or six-toed feet, black muscles, and bones, with dark beaks, combs, and wattles. Their skin is also blue-colored. Adult birds weigh between 1 to 2 lbs.
Their fluffy appearance is because their feathers lack functioning barbicels, which means that they are essentially covered in down. Silkies sport a large puff-ball crest, “earmuffs”, and come in bearded and non-bearded varieties. They also have a vaulted skull, giving their heads a larger than normal appearance, and sometimes making them a target for other poultry.
Sexing and Laying
In the early stages of life, it is impossible to tell the differences between males and females. They must reach six months of age before the hens begin laying eggs.
Perhaps one disadvantage of this breed is that they do not lay as many eggs as some other breeds. Their eggs are small, bantam sized. They usually lay only eighty to one hundred fifty-five cream or white-colored eggs a year coming in groups of fourteen to sixteen eggs at a time with a week or so break in-between.
While they tend toward broodiness, some say that Silkies could “raise a rock!” They are, indeed, wonderful mothers, even raising foster chicks. Most Silkies are experts at hatching eggs too. A broody Silkie will usually accept any and all eggs placed under her. At times, while the mother and her chicks are exploring a yard or garden before the chicks are old enough to go searching for food on their own, the mother protects the chicks from picking up something harmful by giving them a little “bop” on the head to discourage its actions.
Silkies are susceptible to such illnesses as Marek’s Disease, mites, and lice. So, it’s always important to have good flock biosecurity and readily available dust baths.
Because of their small size, they are not typically raised as meat birds. However, their dark meat is considered a delicacy, especially in Chinese cuisine. Traditional Chinese Medicine practices recognize Silkie chicken soup as an especially curative food.
Care and Personality
If you are looking to add some silkies to your flock, you can buy them in straight-run batches from hatcheries. Remember, they are difficult to sex when young, and because they are small, most hatcheries won’t ship single birds. If you just want to buy a couple, look for them in the spring at your local feed store. Expect to pay $5 to $15 a chick.
Silkies can be kept indoors in an apartment or in a chicken coop or in a small run. They cannot fly because they lack barbicels, but you should still consider using netting over your run to keep out raptors. Your birds will appreciate roaming about your yard and scratching in your garden for worms, grubs, and insects.
You can feed your silkies just like your other chickens and follow a typical age-appropriate feeding schedule. Chicks need a 21% Starter Feed which will last them until they are eight weeks old. Once they reach that age, 18% Grower Feed can be fed until the pullets begin to lay eggs. Then, they need 16% Layer Feed. Feeding oyster shell will aid in better shells on the eggs.
Environment and Mixed Flocks
Silkies are raised all over the world, in a wide variety of environments. They can be susceptible to too much heat. Like all chickens, make sure that they have access to shade, and when wet, that they have a nice dry bit of ground and a clean, dry coop.
Mixing these chickens with other breeds does, at times, cause problems. Because they are calm and trusting, they are often bullied by other poultry. Also, they are often killed by predators because of their poor night vision and their inability to fly.
What are the responsibilities of Silkies’ owners? Nutritious food must be made available, with clean, fresh water. They need areas where they can find relief from weather, escape from predators, and dirt where they can scratch and bathe.
Silkies are friendly birds and easy to hand-raise. Some owners groom them and spend time enjoying their companionship. If you are searching for a “teddy bear” of a chicken that is incredible as a pet, then explore the Silkie breed. Truthfully, these little birds like being around people and have good temperaments.
Raising poultry can be a wonderful activity filled with interesting, productive days. They contribute an abundance of eggs, fertilizer on gardens, aeration of the soil through scratching, free weed, and pest control, and free entertainment. With raising Silkies, there are added benefits of building unique relationships with these adorable birds.
Dorothy Rieke lives in southeast Nebraska, is married to Kenneth, and has one daughter. She has lived on farms all her life and has raised both chickens and turkeys.
Originally published in the August/September 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.