The Silkie (sometimes alternatively spelled Silky) is a breed of chicken named for its atypically fluffy plumage, which is said to feel like silk. The breed has several other unusual qualities, such as black skin and bones, blue earlobes, and five toes on each foot, whereas most chickens only have four. They are often exhibited in poultry shows, and appear in various colors.
In addition to their distinctive physical characteristics, Silkies are well known for their calm, friendly temperament. Among the most docile of poultry, Silkies are considered an ideal pet. Hens are also exceptionally broody, and make good mothers. Though they are fair layers themselves, laying about three eggs a week, they are commonly used to hatch eggs from other breeds and bird species.
Silkies are often mistakenly called a bantam breed, and although they are considered bantams in some countries, this varies according to region and many breed standards class them officially as large fowl; the bantam Silkie is actually a separate variety most of the time. Almost all North American strains of the breed are bantam sized, but in Europe the standard-sized is the original version. However, even standard Silkies are relatively small chickens, with the males weighing only four pounds (1.8 kg), and females weighing three pounds (1.36 kg). The American Standard of Perfection calls for males that are 36 ounces (1 kg), and females that are 32 ounces (910 grams).
Silkie plumage was once unique among chicken breeds, however in recent years silkie feathering has been developed in several breeds, mostly notably Chabo, where it is now standardised in Britain and the Netherlands. It has been compared to silk, and to fur. Their feathers lack functioning barbicels, and are thus similar to down on other birds and leave Silkies unable to fly. The overall result is a soft, fluffy appearance.
Silkies appear in two distinct varieties: Bearded and Non-bearded. Bearded Silkies have an extra muff of feathers under the beak area that covers the earlobes. They also are separated according to color. Colors of Silkie recognized for competitive showing include Black, Blue, Buff, Grey, Partridge, and White. Alternative hues, such as Cuckoo, Lavender, Red, and Splash also exist. The standards of perfection call for all Silkies to have a small Walnut Comb, dark wattles, and turquoise blue earlobes. In addition to these defining characteristics, Silkies have five toes on each foot. Other breeds which exhibit this rare trait include the Dorking, Faverolles, andSultan.
All Silkies have black skin, bones and grayish-black meat; their Chinese language name is wu gu ji (烏骨雞), meaning "black-boned chicken”. Melanism which extends beyond the skin into an animal's connective tissue is a rare trait, and in chickens it is caused by fibromelanosis, which is a rare mutation believed to have begun in Asia. The Silkie and several other breeds descended from Asian stock possess the mutation. Disregarding color, the breed does not generally produce as much as the more common meat breeds of chicken.
Chickens bred Silkie are generally of a docile and friendly, and allow themselves to be easily tamed by their masters. Only a few roosters can be aggressive during the breeding season, to defend the group. With their gentle temperament, they fit to live in the garden and in confined spaces, and can have a good interaction with children. In case of a possible coexistence with other breeds of chickens, you should make sure not to choose aggressive individuals who could attack and subjugate the Silkie.
The breed is bred all over the world as an ornamental animal and pet, but also as a chicken from exposure. You can admire subjects Silkie, large and dwarfs, in almost all official exhibitions poultry, being a race especially loved and nurtured. Having been selected for its aesthetic qualities and behavior, the Silkie is not a big hen, also because of its strong tendency to hatching: the annual output is around 100 eggs in the best cases.
If in the West is known only as a breed ornamental and pet, in the Asian the Silkie is very appreciated for its meat. In China especially, the meat of the Silkie is considered a delicacy, with healing qualities.
Silkies lay a fair number of cream-colored eggs, but production is often interrupted due to their extreme tendency to go broody; a hen will produce 100 eggs in an ideal year. Their capacity for incubation, which has been selectively bred out of most fowl bred especially for egg production, is often exploited by poultry keepers by allowing Silkies to raise the offspring of other birds. In addition to being good mothers, Silkies are universally renowned for their calm, friendly temperament. They do well in confinement, and interact very well with children. This docility can cause Silkies to be bullied by more active or aggressive birds when kept in mixed flocks.