Cost: $20 – $120 each
Lifespan: 9 years
Recommended for: children
The Silkie is a small 1.5 kg to 2kg (2-3lb) soft, hairy-feathered fowl. It is so named because their feathers lack barbs to hold them together so the individual strands sit free of each other. Individual strands can be 50mm to 75mm long.
Silkies are available in two types, bearded and non bearded. While both types have a crest like a powder puff on top of their heads the nonbearded types are the original bird in Australia and have wattles 25mm – 40 mm long. Bearded birds are bred to have very small wattles, around 5mm long, with full, fluffy beards which puff up around the face.
Silkies differ from other fowls in that they have dark flesh (the comb should be mulberry red in colour) and they have five toes. Exhibition birds must have feathering on their middle toe. In addition to the standard Silkie some breeders have begun to develop a Bantam Silkie, which was shown in Australia for the first time at the Sydney Royal Easter Show 2000. The Bantam Silkie is a recognised poultry standard in America, England and Australia.
Longtime owners say Silkies can become very affectionate towards their owners and this, combined with their soft appearance often makes them an appealing choice for women and children.
Most Silkies are very docile with the bearded females probably being the quietest of the lot. Individual birds can become tame and a real pet. Most don’t mind being handled and suit children aged from around 6 years.
Silkies are believed to have originated in Asia although whether in China, Japan or India is unclear. They were introduced into the Western World by Marco polo (1254 – 1324), with mentions of them in literature dating from the late 1200’s.
Health and lifespan
Broody hens especially can be very susceptible to lice infestation, they should be checked regularly for lice and should have access to a dust bath. Silkies should be treated for lice each month during summer and every two months during winter with commercial lice powders and sprays. Scaly leg is another problem to watch for. The fowls can be wormed every three months. If you worm them with Ivermectin there is usually no need to treat for lice etc as this product seems to kill them.
Silkies have an average lifespan of 8 to 9 years.
Compared to other breeds Silkies require little extra care. Some breeders trim the ‘undercarriage’ of their broody hens as chickens have been known to be strangled by knotted Silkie feather strands. Regular trimming of the nails is recommended, this should be done with strong scissors and filed smooth, as often as necessary.
Preparation of Silkies for show involves a little more effort. The Silkies can be washed using a set of three tubs. Firstly, the birds are washed in a tub of warm water with a handful of Lux flakes and a squirt of hair shampoo. They are then given a rinse in a tub of warm water with Borax in it. For the final rinse, the third tub should contain warm water with cider of vinegar and a small amount of washing blue in it. Once washed the birds can be towel dried and left in the sun or blow dried with a hair dryer.
The feet are brushed with an old toothbrush and the nails cleaned with a small nail file. Vaseline or baby oil is then rubbed into the skin on the feet and comb for a final clean and polish up.
Silkies should be fed on chick starter or chick grower depending on their age as most laying pellets are too coarse for these small fowls. These products are available in most produce stores. Greens are needed and if the fowl cannot run on the grass, acceptable alternatives include cabbage or a little lettuce.
Silkies are known to be good broody hens and Silkie enthusiasts claim some game bird breeders will often look to buy Silkie hens to foster Game chickens.
A Silkie hen could raise 6 to 8 chicks comfortably.
We recommend buying birds from a breeder. Silkies can be bought for anything from $20 to $120 per bird. Most people buy Silkies in pairs or threes.
Space and exercise
Allow 2 to 3 square metres per pair. Silkies can be contained by 450 mm partitions as they can’t fly. Perches and nesting boxes should be kept low with easy access as Silkies are not a flying breed. The fowls can be penned on earth although shavings are acceptable and deep litter is preferable to prevent damage from rough, muddy conditions. Care should be taken that the Silkies don’t fall into backyard pools and spas as they become weighed down by their plumage and will drown. Silkies also need to be protected from predators such as dogs or foxes as they cannot fly away.
Silkies are good backyard and pet fowls as they are reasonably quiet and a couple of hens can be kept without the need for a rooster.
While not prolific layers, 6 to 8 hens are adequate for a small family although the eggs are not much bigger than bantam size. The flesh is quite edible but many people dislike it due to the dark colour. Silkies are good pets and make good foster hens.
Individuals should check with their local council on the laws governing the keeping of poultry before buying any fowl.
Our story was filmed in Sydney with Mr Ron Kilgour, Mr Gerry Coady and Mrs Adele French.
The Silkie Club of Australia Inc.
Secretary – Margot Gover
Phone: (02) 9671 2560