Silkie chickens are renowned for their ultra-soft plumage and their docile and friendly manner. They were first found in China and once referred to as 'furry chickens' by the Venitian explorer Marco Polo.
The difference between silkie roosters and other chicken breeds is deeper than their soft, showing plumes, however.
Let's start with the obvious, silkies are, well, silky! The feathers of a silkie rooster have most of the same parts as other chicken feathers. It attaches to the body via the hollow quill at the end of the feather, and it has a rachis which is the sturdy shaft that runs the length of the feather.
Barbs, which are the beginning of the fluffy part of the feather, sprout of the rachis but unlike in other chickens and birds, the barb of a silkie chicken is not neat and straight. This is because the barbicels, little hooks that branch off the barbs and stick to nearby barbs to keep the feather smooth and neat, are missing.
Without barbicels, the feather does not retain that neat, uniform shape of a typical bird feather. It becomes more like down that covers chicks. This is what gives the Silkie a soft, furry appearance. It also means that they cannot fly at all because they cannot generate lift.
North American silkies are bantam chickens which means they are small. The American Standard of Perfection suggests that males should be 36 ounces. They will grow to between eight and fourteen inches and are squat and round.
In Europe and Asia, larger silkies are readily available to purchase but these larger silkies don't seem to have made much of a stir this side of the Atlantic.
The recognized colors of silkie birds are:
- a reddish-brown
- a white and gray dapple
- a deep, earthy brown
If you want to show your silkie it must be one of the above colors. However, new, unofficial colorings are available which include lavender and cuckoo. The cuckoo coloring is a heavily mottled black and gray feather which looks amazing!
Crests and Beards
Silkies have an adorable crest of feathers on the top of their head which hides their high, domed skulls and comb. In roosters, these feathers will grow longer and begin to stream backward from the base of the head and often curl around the face. This usually happens at around seven weeks old.
The comb of a silkie rooster will take on a broader 'u' shape and can be felt even if the crest feathers cover it. It will have a series of close-set ridges going horizontally. The female silkie has a narrower comb though it can be difficult to sex a silkie from its comb alone.
There are two varieties of silkies, bearded and non-bearded. If you have a bearded silkie, they will have a fluffy tuft of hair under their chin which covers their wattle. This looks extra adorable!
The wattle of a silkie rooster is concave and circular. It is blue to black in color. Roosters tend to develop wattles earlier than hens. This is a handy way to sex chicks if you take note of the ones developing earlier.
Unlike most other chicken breeds, silkies have black skin. This blue-black coloring extends to the meant of the silkie as well which is a rare trait found in animals of Asian origin. In China and other parts of Asia, the black skin and meat are treated as a delicacy. In the Western hemisphere, silkies are not kept for their meat as they are so small and have less meat than other chickens.
The wattle and comb of silkie chickens are of the same color of their skin which can make it hard to pick them out, particularly in the darker feathered varieties.
Legs and Feet
Another distinctive difference between silkies and other varieties of chickens is the feet. Silkie chickens are polydactyl which means that they have an extra toe. Silkies have a fifth toe on the back of their feet which often resembles a dewclaw in a dog.
Poorly bred silkies may have fewer toes due to fusing of the digits but this doesn't cause any difficulties for the chicken. It will, however, disqualify them from shows.
Silkies also have feathers all the way down their legs and on their feet. This is an uncommon trait in chickens and makes them look like pure balls of fluff!
Silkie roosters will eventually grow spurs on their legs like other chickens. They mature more slowly than other breeds so the spur may take longer to develop. Sometimes the spur doesn't develop past a sharp point, but some roosters do develop large curved spurs.
Silkies have smooth faces that are framed on each side by blue earlobes. The lobes are oval in shape rather than round.
The eyes of a silkie chicken are a deep black and can sometimes be obscured by their plumage. To prevent the feathers from interfering with the chicken's eyesight, you can trim the plumage around the face or gently tie it back.
Silkies have compact, broad bodies that are short in the back with a slight rise towards the tail. Roosters carry themselves more vertically than females, often puffing out their chest and elongating their necks.
They also tend to hold their tail more vertically than hens who let their tails droop toward the ground.
Silkies are known for their docile, gentle nature. They are calm and get along well with people including children. It is for this reason that they are often kept as pets.
Due to their docile nature, silkies can integrate well into a mixed breed flock. However, more aggressive breeds can bully gentle silkies.
Due to the shape of the silkie's skull, there is a soft spot on the back of their head. If they are pecked by more dominant chickens they can suffer neurological damage which will ultimately lead to death.
Roosters are less dominant and aggressive than other breeds, though there are always exceptions.You can breed aggressive traits out of silkie over time, and roosters tend to follow their fathers in terms of their aggression.
Silkie roosters are capable of crowing from the age of three months, though they may start slightly earlier. Not all roosters bother crowing, especially if they are kept with other more dominant roosters.
The crow of a silkie is quieter than some other breeds due to their size. Like other bantam breeds, they just don't have the mechanics to make a loud crow.
Silkies are beautiful, unique chickens that make excellent pets and show animals because of the calm and docile manner.
Apart from a little bit of grooming every so often, silkies are low maintenance chickens who will definitely turn heads where ever they go!