Facts About the Furry Silkie Chicken
The Silkie—sometimes spelled “Silky"—is a very small (usually 1.5 to 3.5 pounds) and unusually unique chicken. It is named for its fluffy—or should I say furry or hair-like—plumage that is sometimes described as feeling like silk.
Silkies are so unusual that they have been described as the "poodles of the chicken world." The scientific name for the Silkie is Gallus domesticus. Other names for the Silkie are Chinese Silkie chicken, Bearded Silkie, or Bantam Silkie.
The Silkie's Origins
The Silkie chicken is thought to have originated from Southeast Asia before the 1200s. In the 13th century, Marco Polo made mention of a chicken with fur-like feathers and black skin, obviously referring to these unusual birds.
This breed of chicken gradually made its way to North America and, in 1874, was officially accepted into the North American Standard of Perfection. There are 6 standard (acceptable) colors accepted by the American Bantam Association: black, blue, buff, white, partridge, splash, and gray. Other Silkie colors that are also popular (although not accepted as standard) are red, lavender, porcelain, and cuckoo. Because of their many unique characteristics, Silkies are considered to be an ornamental breed.
Silkie Bantam chickens are an incredibly unique breed of chicken, adorned with more fancy features than any other breed.
Why Are Silkie Feathers So Soft?
Their feathers do not have barbs holding the strands together, so they form many individual silky strands. This gives them their fluffy appearance and their silky softness. Some people say that the Silkie's feathers "feel just like angora fur."
Silkies also have quite a few feathers growing down their legs and over their middle toe. Unfortunately, their plumage can easily become waterlogged because the water doesn’t run off their feathers, therefore, they cannot swim.
Unique Physical Characteristics of the Silkie Chicken
- Wattles: The non-bearded Silkies have larger wattles than the bearded ones, and the cock’s wattles are larger than the hen’s. (The wattle is the fleshy appendage below the beak at the throat.) The bearded Silkie, both cock and hen, have very small wattles. They are called bearded because they have a full and fluffy beard of feathers around the bottom of their beak. This beard also hides their distinctive blue earlobes.
- Feathery Crest or Topknot: Bearded and non-bearded Silkies have a feathery crest, or topknot, on the top of their head. They also have a comb (a fleshy area on top of head). The Silkie's comb is different from most other chickens in that it resembles a wart-like lump on its forehead, rather than the spiky one that most chickens sport.
- Dark Skin, Meat, and Bones: Silkies also have dark blue/black skin, meat, and bones. And unlike most chickens, they have 5 toes on each foot (most chickens only have 4).
Interesting Facts About the Silkie
They produce fewer eggs than most other breeds, averaging 90-120 per year. Their eggs range in color from white to light brown. Because they are so broody, they make excellent setters, and are often used to hatch other breeds’ eggs.
Silkies are calm, trusting, friendly, and docile. Because of their temperament and because they’re flightless, they are often kept as family pets. Silkies can become quite affectionate, but do require frequent, gentle handling at first to socialize them to their “humans."
An Enchanting Breed of Chicken
Despite their fragile appearance, Silkies are a very hardy breed of chicken and generally have a lifespan of about 9 years.
Silkie meat is considered a delicacy in China. It has also been coveted for its medicinal value since the seventh or eighth century. Chinese women who have just given birth believe that eating it will give them energy. The Chinese also believe that ground-up Silkie bones have special healing powers.
Magical powers or not, the Silkie certainly has the ability to enchant.
Ornately colored and covered in fluffy, silk-like feathers, Silkie chickens are among the most beautiful of the chicken breeds and provide companionship, top-quality eggs, and the opportunity to show them at poultry shows.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 Cindy Murdoch