We all adore Silkies for the same reason. They are cute and cuddly, and make fantastic pets. One of the first things that you might consider when deciding to add Silkies to your backyard flock, is which colors you’d like your Silkies to be. Silkies come in a range of weird and wonderful colors, but all of them are equally beautiful, so it really boils down to personal preference when choosing a color variety.
Silkies are most commonly found in a crisp white tone, but for those of us that like our backyard to be dotted with colorful little cotton balls, the possibilities are near endless. As a collective, we have more than 30 years of experience with these fluffy little bantams of the chicken world, and among us have owned at least one little critter in each color, so we’re well-suited to telling you all you need to know about Silkies and the colors they come in.
Silkie Chickens are one of the most unusual chicken breeds available today. They are renowned for their fluffy plumage and uniquely black skin, as well as several other differentiating qualities including extra toes and blue earlobes.
The Silkie has the polydactyl gene which means that they have an extra toe on each foot, giving them a total of five as opposed to the usual four toes associated with chickens. The fifth toe extends to the back and is not unlike the dewclaw sometimes seen in dogs.
The most unique and interesting quality of the Silkie chicken is its atypical plumage that is more fluff than actual feathers. This gives them the appearance of having fur instead of feathers and they generally feel very soft and silky to the touch. This, of course, is what makes them so highly popular as a pet because there is nothing better than cuddling a cute little cotton ball in your lap.
The origin of the Silkie chicken can be traced back to Asia and the early thirteenth century. It is now generally accepted that the Silkie originated in Eastern Asia where it was known to have existed in China some 1000 years ago. There was probably also some Japanese influence in the development of the breed particularly with regard to the soft feathers. During the sixteenth and seventeenth century the Silkie was brought to Europe and it reached the British Isles towards the middle of the nineteenth century. Here it was developed further using strains with stronger feathers but still having the silky and fluffy appearance.
Although early travelers like Marco Polo and Aldrovandi made mention of the unusual quality of the Silkie chicken’s plumage, there were many myths that surrounded the unique feathering once these little chickens made their way to Europe. Stories abounded that the Silkie chicken was the result of crossing a chicken and a rabbit and Silkies were even included in sideshows and labelled bird-mammals. Even though we can definitely see the likeness between the satin-like coat of a rabbit and the fluffy feathers of a Silkie – we can say with absolute certainty that these little chooks are not mammals in the slightest, just a very unique chicken.
Yes, the Silkie has fluffy feathers that feel like silk or satin when touched. But they are feathers. A regular feather is constructed of individual hairs with little hook-like appendages that are called barbicels. The barbicels hold all the individual hairs together in a smooth and tidy feather shape. When a regular chicken preens their feathers, they are smoothing the barbicels to make sure that their plumage lies nice and flat and tidy against their bodies. A Silkie has feathers like other chickens, but their feathers lack barbicels, which means that the individual hairs of their feathers are left to grow in a fluffy and untidy fashion, which gives them the look of little cotton balls running around your yard. The Silkie’s fluffy feathering extends to their legs and they will have impressive fluffy legs and toes as well!
Check out this cute video detailing the Silkie chicken breed and see if you can spot the different colors!
So, now that we know where they come from and what they look like, let’s take a deeper dive into the various varieties of this special little bird.
Now, in the chicken world, many people choose to show with their chooks. As with any other competition or sport, there are certain rules, regulations and standards that you’ll have to comply with if you’d like to show your Silkies. One of these is the color varieties of the Silkie. You will only be able to show your Silkies professionally if they adhere to the standard accepted color varieties and the overall breed standards.
There are eight color varieties that are accepted by the American Poultry Association, namely black, blue, buff, gray, partridge, splash, and white. Although other color varieties exist and you’re free to keep them and cross-breed them for interesting colors, these are the only ones that you’ll be allowed to show with. So, let’s take a look at the breed standards.
Alright, now we know what the Silkies look like, but did you know that there are breed standards that they have to conform to?
According to the breed standard, as per the American Poultry Association, accepted Silkie colors are white, black, blue, buff, partridge and splash.
All the breed variants will have black skin, an extra toe on each foot, brilliant black eyes, a rounded crest like a powder puff, rounded tail and wings and the characteristically fluffy plumage on the body, down the legs and on the toes.
White Silkies are white all over and should have brilliantly turquoise earlobes. Black Silkies have black feathers with a green sheen in the light and their faces, combs and wattles should be dark mulberry approaching black. The Blue Silkie must be even-toned throughout, almost slate grey in color, without any lacing or barring. The Buff Silkie is a golden-brown color, also even-toned but they may have some darker feathers in the tail area. The Partridge Silkie is dark brown in color with a black head and tail and some black penciling on the wing feathers. The Splash Silkie is white dotted with black spots throughout the body.
Now that we have covered what they should look like, let’s take a look at non-standard color varieties.
Just like with any other animal, there are non-standard varieties of the Silkie available, and there are several color varieties that have been bred and can be bought, but are not accepted by show poultry organizations. The most common non-standard colors for Silkies include cuckoo, lavender, red, and paint. These have occurred due to cross-breeding, and in some cases, people just like the look of a Silkie in a different color than is an accepted standard color, because they are just so darn cute that you have to have a whole Smartie-box full. Even though these colors are non-standard, this does not mean that you are not allowed to have them. In fact, many people pride themselves on these colors and will breed them to the best of their ability. All of these color varieties are found in other chicken breeds as well, and as such, there are color standards available for breeders to try and match. It is difficult to start breeding a non-standard color as there won’t be many quality color specimens available to start with, however, this is how any color variety becomes standard. Therefore, breeders that are breeding non-standard colors may soon see their color varieties become accepted by the large show poultry organizations – like the cuckoo, for example. It is a stunning color, but quite difficult to breed, and once an accepted standard has been achieved, it may well be accepted as a show color.
So, don’t be discouraged if you happen to like the non-standard colors. If your main interest is having a colorful backyard flock, then nothing can stop you from investing in the non-standard color varieties. The only time a standard color variety is important is if you’re interested in breeding for profit, or showing your Silkies. But let’s take a closer look at breeding.
It is important to know that you can cross-breed Silkies to achieve interesting color results. Although breeding for color is generally only done by experts who’ve been around Silkies for a while, it may be a very interesting and insightful learning curve for even novice backyard chicken keepers to try and breed their Silkies together for awesome color combinations in one flock. However, if you do consider breeding, please remember to do so responsibly, and remember that if you allow nature to take its course, that the chicks you get are likely to be 50% roosters. In order to avoid unnecessary heartache, make sure that you have potential homes or space for all the possible roosters and hens that may come from your breeding efforts.
“To breed a chicken having a particular color scheme, one begins with the background color,” states Dr. Jacquie Jacob from the University of Kentucky. “Several different genes interact to determine feather colors and patterns. Considering white and black to be colors, there are three basic feather colors: black, white, and red or gold. Technically, white and black are not colors: white is actually the result of all the colors combined, and black is the lack of reflection of light in the visible range. The colors of chicken feathers are achieved by diluting and enhancing or masking black and red. For example, Rhode Island Reds have the gold gene with the dominant mahogany (red-enhancing) gene. A blue feathering like in blue Silkies is produced when a black-feathered chicken has the blue gene, which dilutes the black color. Two copies of the blue gene result in the splash effect.”
The below chart is useful in knowing how to cross-breed your Silkies for specific color varieties.
If you are interested in breeding Silkies, it is always best to stick to the standard color varieties. But you may find that crossing your Silkies make for interesting color combinations as they may have dominant genes from previous generations residing in their fluffy little bodies. Do you own Silkies? Are they of the standard or non-standard color varieties? And have you ever bred interesting colors yourself? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear your stories!
As you can see from the table above, the most interesting color combinations you can get will always result from the blue-black-splash varieties. So, basically, if you only had blue, black and splash Silkies in your flock, you could have them mate and produce chicks of blue, black and splash colors in varying numbers without worrying that they will produce a confused color such as if a buff hen were to be covered by a black rooster.
When it comes to breeding for Blue Black Splash, gender does not matter. This means that it doesn’t matter whether the hen or the rooster is blue, black or splash. If you have the necessary colors, you can breed the desired chicks with fair accuracy.
The rooster and hen can be any of these three colors. What does matter is which colors the parent birds are, though. This will determine the percentage of the blue-black-splash coloring in the chicks.
So, now that we’ve taken a good long look at the color varieties, let’s take a look at the other varieties you find in Silkies.
Silkies may come in a variety of colors, but they also come in two other varieties, namely bearded and non-bearded. The presence of beards on some Silkies mark them out as an anomaly as far as chickens go. These beards, like feather muffs, cover the earlobes and flow down below the beak of both male and female chickens. They also have the typically fluffy feathers protruding from both sides of the beak, the center and vertically down to almost form a collar made up of three oval parts. Bearded varieties easily distinguish themselves from non-bearded ones, as it is quite hard to miss. The beard will completely surround the face of the Silkie, leaving only their cute little beak poking out from a sea of fluff.
Non-bearded Silkies look very similar to bearded Silkies overall, with the only exception being their adorable little face. In a non-bearded Silkie, without the presence of a fluffy beard, the face, turquoise earlobes and wattle will become more obvious and apparent. They have a “clean” face whereas a bearded Silkie has a very fluffy visage.
Unlike with humans, both hens and roosters can have beards in the Silkie world! Yes, Silkie hens can be incredibly bearded and have very fluffy little faces. But, are there other ways of telling the girls apart from the boys? And does color play a role in that? Let’s take a look.
Silkies are one of the breeds that are the most difficult to sex, which means that it is near impossible to distinguish the hens from the roosters until they are about six months old. In many cases, you may only be able to tell whether your little fluffball is a hen or a rooster until it starts crowing or lays an egg! However, there are a few ways that can help you determine whether you may expect eggs or early-morning crows a few months down the line.
Roosters generally stand taller and have a more upright posture than the hens. The rooster’s wattles will also develop faster than the hen’s, and they will be more dominant and inquisitive as they grow. You can use regular sexing methods on Silkies, like wing sexing, but the margin of error is great and you may end up with roosters instead of hens, so it is wise to wait until you are sure before investing in your chosen flock. But, what role does color play?
Unfortunately, color cannot help you sex your chicks in the case of Silkies. They are not sex-linked or autosexing, which means that there is no difference between the girls and boys when they’re little, and you’ll just have to wait and see.
There are some breeds that you can tell apart the minute they hatch and others that are easier to sex once they’re a little older. For a full guide on chicks and how to raise them, check out the Ultimate Guide to Raising Baby Chicks over on Chickenpedia.
So, there you have it. Silkies are some of the most adorable little chickens that you can find, and they come in a wide variety of wonderful colors, so you’re sure to find at least one that tickles your fancy.
There are several colors available including standard and non-standard colors, so just pick the one that you like best, but remember that if you’re interested in showing or breeding, sticking to the accepted breed standard colors is best. Do you have Silkies in your flock? Send us a picture of the color varieties you have and the ones you love the most – we’d absolutely love to see them!
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