After losing most of my Silkies in the great poultry slaughters of 2017, I was left with a pair of buff chicks. These are descended from the first buff hen I bred a few years earlier. Buffs have always been my favourite colour of Silkie, but I hadn’t been able to get very many, so I had previously concentrated on blacks and blues.
Most Silkies in Australia are not bantams at all, they are in fact a standard breed. Bantam Silkies are rare in Australia and you would know if you saw one because they are tiny.
In their pure state, all Silkies are white, and the best birds you will find are bred entirely from white stock. In order to introduce colour, white Silkies were bred with other breeds, mostly Pekins, to get the range of colours we are used to seeing in Silkies today. But since white is recessive, it will pop up in a population even after generations of breeding for colour.
Of course when you contaminate the gene pool by adding in colour, you then have to work hard to get the important Silkie characteristics back into your birds. Things like proper pillow or button combs, black or very dark faces, 5th toes and of course Silkie feathering. Silkie feathering is also recessive, so your first generation of crossbred birds will all have regular feathers, so to get the Silkie feathering back and retain the colour you have to breed first-cross birds together and from there start selecting for Silkie feathering and fancy colours.
In Australia we have been breeding coloured Silkies for many years, so there are a lot of birds to choose from with Silkie feathering, fun colours and varying degrees of authentic Silkie characteristics.
All of this makes them quite interesting and fun to breed.
I started working towards my ideal of buff Silkies with a clear gold colour, good Silkie characteristics including dark faces and five toes, good vision (eyes not obscured by their fluffy heads), with good fertility. Bonus traits will be maintenance of good body condition (Silkies tend to run a bit skinny), and laying for longer before going broody.
My foundation birds are Prince Harry the rooster and Citrine the hen. I also purchased Fanta, an unrelated hen.
Too many feathers around the face can obscure a bird’s vision, and while this is not a problem in exhibition stock it is a definite handicap for farmyard birds in mixed flocks. The feathers make it difficult for them to find food, find each other, find safety and avoid bigger, bossy birds. Birds who are feather blind tend to be thinner because they are less efficient at free ranging. They run into things and freak out when anything touches them. It does make them easier to catch because they can’t see you sneaking up behind them, but this also means they are more likely to be taken by predators.
Our oldest chicks are almost mature and they show a good contrast of good and bad. Normally I might keep one chick from a clutch and either sell or eat the others (hence why I want birds who are easy to fatten).
Rose and Redboy are the two I’ll be retaining from this group.
The other real plus that Redboy has is a great temperament. He is not at all aggressive and he is relaxed to handle, making trimming his face feathers less of an issue.
The younger chicks are still to young to sex, but their other characteristics are becoming visible.
This little one has a nice flat comb, but a look at its feet shows an extra toe. Most chickens have four toes – three main ones at the front and a smaller one at the back. Silkies’ fifth toe is due to polydactyly, a genetic condition which gives extra digits. In line-bred birds you can get even more toes, and while some breeders don’t mind this, I prefer to select away from it.
If you want a bad example, check out this guy. He is from the same hatch as Rose and Redboy and shows how even full siblings whose parents are also full siblings can inherit very different genes.
This bird has excellent Silkie feathering, despite not being the colour I was after, and he is a good size, but look at that upright comb – a complete no-no in Silkie breeding.
I’m always happy to rehome pullets with breed faults because at the end of the day a chicken is a chicken and no matter what colour she is she still lays eggs and can lead a productive life. I won’t pass on a faulty rooster, however, because I feel that I have some responsibility to the breed and I’m not keen to send faulty roosters out into the world to produce more faulty birds. Fortunately, Silkies taste like chicken, which is why birds that are easy to fatten are important to the process. I can’t keep them all, and I certainly won’t breed them all, but in the end they all contribute in one way or another.