Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Basics of Silkie Care

The Basics of Silkie Care

Imogen Reed

For somebody wanting to keep chickens, Silkies are an easy and rewarding bird. The soft, hairy feathers, from which they get their name, make them particularly desirable, but as with other chickens, they do require the right care. However, Silkies are no harder to look after than other types of chicken, and with a little preparation, a little tender loving care, and a little time, they can be the perfect chicken for the novice.

What to Expect
Silkies come in two types, the non-bearded Silkie, which has a large wattle, and the bearded Silkie, which only has a small wattle but a big, fluffy beard that puffs up around the face. Both types have a fluffy, feathery crest and a small, stubby comb, which differs to the large, spiky crest common in other chickens. Silkies can grow to about 5Ibs but bantams, only a relatively new breed of Silkie, are a lot smaller.

Silkies are ideal chickens for the novice because they have a very docile temperament, and a curious nature. Some people even keep them as house pets. However, despite their fluffy and delicate appearance, they are pretty robust and are just as happy outside. Silkies usually live to be about eight or nine years old, which means they are a fairly long-term responsibility.
Silkies are not prolific egg layers and will stop laying during the winter or when feeling broody. If a hen does get broody, if she’s separated from the rest of the chickens she should start laying again after a few days. Most Silkie owners get between 90-120 eggs per bird per year.

What you Need
Before keeping any chickens, you need to check that the zoning law in your area permits you to. You don’t need much in the way of equipment to look after Silkies. Obviously, they will need an enclosure, which should be large enough that they can walk about in; around two to three square yards per pair. As Silkies can’t fly, you don’t have to worry about them escaping, but any enclosure left outside overnight should have a strong cover to keep out pests and predators.

Most chicken feed pellets are too large and coarse for Silkies, so they are best fed on chick feed, which is available at most produce stores or can be ordered online and received by parcel delivery. Silkies also need a little greenery in their diet if they aren’t on a lawn, so lettuce or cabbage is a good alternative to grass.

Grooming and Upkeep
The biggest difference between Silkies and other varieties of chicken is their soft, fluffy feathers, which can knot, particularly on the underbelly of the bird. This is not really a problem unless the hens are brooding when it can strangle the chicks. Breeders often trim their hens to prevent this. As with other chickens, their claws can grow sharp, so it’s worth filing and trimming these too.

Breeders that exhibit their birds spend hours washing and grooming their Silkies, but this is not necessary for amateurs just keeping chickens in their backyard. Access to a dust bath will help to prevent mites and lice, and birds should regularly be checked for such parasites. Treating the enclosure and nest box with lice powder once a month should prevent problems, and they should be wormed every three months.

As with other breeds of chicken, Silkies can produce a lot of dust from their feathers. This is caused when the chickens molt and grow new feathers. With Silkies, this becomes more noticeable during the fall when they start molting, so it’s best to clean their nest boxes more frequently during the autumn months.

One particular difference between Silkies and other chickens is that the top of their skull doesn’t completely close. This gives their head a particular domed appearance, but also means this area is vulnerable to injury by other birds. If you find birds pecking each other, it’s worth separating them for a while, and make sure they are all getting enough feed and exercise. As for exercise, it’s a good idea to allow your Silkies to roam free at least once a day. While they can’t fly, they can make use of holes in fences, so make sure there are no escape routes off your property.

Silkies are an ideal bird for the novice chicken keeper. Their soft feathers and calm manner make them perfect for households with children, and as long as they are looked after properly, Silkies will provide you with both eggs and character traits that your family will come to grow and love.