Unbearded silkie pullet.
Silkies are one of the most ancient breeds of chicken. There are traces of them mentioned in biblical times, and also during the Spanish annexation of South America, where birds with black skin and hair like a cat were frequently mentioned. They are a Chinese breed and were written into ancient Chinese texts as far back as Marco Polo.
They have some remarkable genetic traits, one of them being the black skin with the white hair like feathering, the blue ears and the five toes.
The bones are also black.
The original silkies were all white so any other colour is a mutation.
There are two types, the bearded and the unbearded.
The unbearded tends to be more active probably because they can see, whereas the bearded silkie is often handicapped by not being able to see. The beard comes up under the chin and the crest down from the top of the head. In between there is the eye!
They are vulnerable to predators because of this and also because of the brilliant white colouring.
Silkies have the gene for a heavy crest, and this has been developed by the show poultry man who likes a heavy crest.
This is not always in favour of the bird, since with a heavy crest comes a mutation on the skull, which sometimes causes neurological problems.
Add to this the very small gene pool available, and you get in breeding added to that mutation.
The crest is homozygous or heterozygous in the heredity of the bird’s genetic make up. Homozygous if the crest comes from both parents, and heterozygous if inherited from one parent only. I also thought it should be the other way round but there it is folks!
In pure bred silkies, the crest is inherited from both parents, actually increasing the chances of mutation on the skull.
ALL silkies have a skull that is not completely sealed on the top. Some have a cerebral hernia as a result of this. In showing circles it is known as a vaulted skull, and is found in some other crested breeds, polish among them.
Not all vaulted skulls have the hernia, but in cases where breeding is selected to increase the size of the crest, the herniated skull is more likely.
Some birds go through their entire life with no sign of this, some become affected from a young age, with the bird losing control of the neck, and the head constantly disappearing between the legs, so that the bird walks backwards.
This is usually because at some point the bird has been hit on the head, walked into a wall, or been pecked by other birds.
Some do recover very well, and show little sign of a crook neck after a time, others recover with a permanent tilt to the head, where the bird looks down always.
Others do not survive, cannot feed themselves or drink and die of dehydration unless treated.
The only treatment is symptomatic and supportive, ensuring the bird drinks, feeding by hand etc.
No drugs I have tried have ever helped, but supportive treatment with plenty of fluid intake has saved a lot of my silkies.
This I have found to be the only down side of silkies as a breed as they are gentle, make lovely pets, are intelligent and make excellent mothers.
There have been articles written about crook neck some available on the net. They make interesting reading, and some treatments are interesting too…they don’t work so don’t waste your money or your time!
I have as I say tried everything from steroids to aspirin and anti inflammatories, antispasmodics…..nothing works.
I even tried to increase minerals and vitamins, as it was suggested a lack of selenium was the cause of crook neck.
Again there was no improvement, but hydrating the bird subcutaneously with mild saline, and forcing plenty of boiled water down the neck, that helped tremendously. It takes time, at least three weeks of constant treatment three to four times a day, but if the bird is a good one, worth doing.
I injected boiled water with mild salt content, about 2% salt, under the skin twice a day.
Silkies brood exceptionally well, and fiercely protect their young.
They lay exceptionally well too, a fairly large egg for such a small bird.
Silkies in South Africa are only large, bantams not being available here.
I have tried in the last 15 years to improve on the size of silkies, which tended to be too small, especially the males. A silkie is a fairly chunky bird, should be heavy and solid in structure and not hollow boned in handling.
I remember being outraged at a national show some years back when a clearly uninformed judge commented on my cages that the silkies were too big! This after so many attempts at getting them to standard CORRECT size!
Judges should be better informed before they reveal their ignorance to the world.
COLOURS IN SILKIES
There are many colours now available, including a Cuckoo silkie and a blue.
These are mutations on the gene which I am not keen to follow, as I am basically a purist and I like to stick to the original!
I know the American Poultry Club has accepted a naked neck silkie that they call Show Girl.
This is the ugliest bird I have ever had the misfortune to see, with its ugly black skin revealed on the neck.
To each his own, but why ruin a perfectly beautiful bird?
It seems for some breeders, the original is not enough, and this type of thinking has its place in the poultry world, where experimentation leads to more beautiful breeds and gorgeous colours….within reason.
WHAT IS REQUIRED OF A SHOW SILKIE:
A good quality show silkie needs to have the following:
1. The correct number of toes and separate fifth toe that is not fused to the fourth toe.
2. SILKIE type feathering that is almost like fur, and needs as the word says to be long and extremely silky in feel and texture.
3. The skin needs to be black and the comb in cocks mulberry. Red is a disqualification. The comb is a cushion comb and should be small as possible in cocks, neat and not obstruct the eyes. In hens there should be no comb visible at all.
4. The ears need to be blue though mulberry in cocks is allowed, and the eyes should be dark brown.
5. Silkies are NOT BANTAMS and need to be of a good size and weight. I never breed from a female that weighs less than one kg. They are solid birds and should not feel hollow boned on handling. The breed is stocky and almost square in shape.
6. In bearded silkies the crest has to be completely round over the head of the hen, and the beard very visible below. Feathering has to be dense and the undercoat very dense. In white colour variants the white has to be pure white and not yellow or buff.
7. Feathering on the feet has to be fairly full, although it is not a Brahma and should never display huge solid foot feathers. The feathers on the feet should be on the middle toe and be soft and abundant like down.
8. Wing feathers should display a shredded appearance with no sign of split. Tail feathers should be soft and abundant but never solid as in other soft feather breeds. A silkie feather has only a soft shaft, and no weft as in other breeds, Cocks should not have a flowing tail.
9. Over all, the silkie should present a completely round appearance from the side and almost square from the top. There should be no differentiation between the back saddle feathers and the tail but the whole structure should flow into one another into one smooth line.
10 Vulture hocks with hard feathers pointing straight down from the hocks at the back is very ugly and undesirable in the breed. Hocks should be round with
soft fluff all over.
This is the fluff you need in a show silkie. Dense, very thick and perfectly white. In fact it is difficult to find the skin under the fluff! Pulletts will show a kind of bustle over the tail.
The feathering must have the silk like appearance, soft and very silky to the touch.
You will find that silkies in the UK have longer silkier feathering, and this is desirable but I have not as yet achieved it.