Silkie Chickens are one of the most highly sought-after chickens to keep as pets because of their uniquely down-like feathers that almost look like fur and feel like silk or satin. They are soft, cuddly, and super sweet. They are also covered in feathers from their heads down to their five toes – that’s one more than your average chicken has!
They also have unusual black skin and a crest atop their head that looks similar to a very large and round powder puff. Just like with most chicken breeds, the Silkie comes in a variety of colors – blue being one of them.
However, unlike the more common black or white coloring, the color blue does not breed true. This makes it a very unique color for a Silkie to be and scarcer than the white or black Silkies. As blue does not breed true, the chicks hatched from blue parents can be blue, black, or splash.
Silkies are some of the sweetest chickens you’ll ever come across, and whether you’re interested in breeding your own stock or not, the blue coloring of the Silkie is especially interesting. So, if you’re here to learn more about color genetics in chickens and why the little blue is so special, stick around, because we’ve got more than 30 years’ collective experience with Silkies and know all there is to know about these cute little bantams.
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 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!
So, now that we know where they come from and what they look like, let’s take a deeper dive into chicken genetics and why the blue coloring of the Silkie is so interesting.
Although the average backyard flock beginner won’t necessarily ever have to worry about genetics, it does help having a basic understanding if you plan on allowing your chickens to procreate. There is no bigger joy than watching little chicks running about your yard after their mama, and Silkies are such good broody hens and make such fantastic moms that it seems a shame to deny them this privilege.
So, let’s take a closer look at chicken genetics.
A gene is a section of DNA that carries the blueprint for such traits as color. Austrian scientist Gregor Mendel discovered the keys to hereditary traits through his studies in the mid-1800s.
Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance state that genes occur in pairs and that each parent contributes one gene to that pair. That gene pair determines how the hereditary trait manifests in the offspring.
When a rooster and the hen contribute both contribute Gene A, the genetic state is called homozygous (homo- comes from the Greek word meaning “the same”). When a rooster contributes Gene A and a hen contributes Gene B, the genetic state is called heterozygous (hetero- comes from the Greek word meaning “different”).
Genes can be either dominant (manifesting in both homozygous and heterozygous states) or recessive (manifesting only in the homozygous state).
If a rooster’s Gene A and a hen’s Gene A are both dominant, the result would be homozygous dominant (same genetic state) offspring AA. But if a rooster’s Gene a and a hen’s Gene a are both recessive, the result would be homozygous recessive offspring aa.
If a rooster’s Gene A is dominant and a hen’s Gene a is recessive, the result would be heterozygous offspring Aa. However, if a rooster’s Gene A and a hen’s Gene B are both dominant, the result would be codominant offspring AB, showing both colors equally.
In poultry genetics, both black (BB) and white (WW) are dominant. So, breeding a black rooster with a white hen would result in a black-and-white chicken.
In color genetics, the genetic code Bb represents blue while the genetic code for black is BB. The ‘b’ comes from splash (genetic code bb). Splash coloration in chickens manifests as a white or very muted grey (in other words, black) ‘splashed’ with irregular splotches of black or blue.
Splash chickens are beautiful, eye-catching birds and are often in high demand. They look like little Dalmatian chickens running about and are often very striking.
If you ask any chicken expert, they’ll tell you that the color blue does not breed true in chickens. And this goes for all chicken breeds, including Silkies. The genes for "blue" are actually more like diluting genes. They are genes that dilute black feather color. One copy of the gene makes any black feathers "blue," which in chickens is more of a pretty bluish grey. Two copies of the diluting gene result in "splash" plumage. In chickens, splash is a very light color, pale grey or white with "splashes" of black and darker grey in the feathers, especially in the wings and tail.
This means that when a blue rooster and a blue hen reproduce, even though they're both blue, only about half of their offspring will be blue. About 25% of their offspring will be black and the last 25% or so will be splash.
“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.”
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.
The below chart will depict how to breed your Silkie blues and what you can expect from crossing the blue-black-splash gene.
Blue Silkie Chicken Breeding Color Chart
So, that’s the basics. And although many backyard keepers don’t need to or possibly want to bother with it, it does help to know the basics of color genetics if you want to have an idea of what your future chicks may look like. Have you ever bred your blue Silkies? Or did you order a batch of black Silkie chicks and receive an oddball that turned out to be a blue? Send us your bluebird stories – we’d love to hear them!
Check out this video of blue and splash Silkies having a whale of a time while free-ranging. See if you can spot the difference between the blue ones and the splash ones!
We’ve now learnt that blue is a diluting color and we’ve studied up on the basics of color genetics, but it doesn’t stop there. Have you ever heard of a lavender coloring in chickens? Or a self blue? Let’s take a closer look at what these labels mean.
Self-Blue is the term used to describe a blue color in chickens that does genetically breed true. How interesting! Generally, if a breed is genetically self-blue, it will be described as a lavender colored breed.
For example, consider the Lavender Orpington versus the Blue Orpington, they are similar-looking birds but genetically the former will breed true while the latter will not. Self-Blue parents will produce 100% blue (lavender) chicks without the dominant black and recessive splash color variations. You can almost always assume that if any breed is called just “blue” without the “self-blue” designation, it may produce the black and splash offspring in addition to the blue. Producing a self-blue breed takes many generations of selective breeding to develop the pure genotype and the resulting strong phenotype expected in a self-blue breed. Now it’s getting complicated!
Lavender or self-blue chicken feathers are a uniform light grey across all of the bird’s plumage. The lavender itself is actually black but with a reduced amount of pigment showing it looks a soft and even shade of blue.
Lavender is such a hard color to produce and, being a recessive gene, it requires inbreeding to propagate correctly and this can leave chickens with poor feather quality and a number of other health issues as well. If you’re interested in keeping lavender chooks, it might be worthwhile to study up on how to best take care of any problems that you may find. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Chicken Health course on Chickenpedia to ensure your flock stays fit and strong.
The lavender color does not naturally exist in silkies and it isn’t an accepted color by the American Poultry Association. It has to be introduced by way of another breed. Noted breeders have been working on lavender Silkies for many years to improve type on these uniquely colored Silkies. Lavender Silkies have been shown since the early the 2000's. Lavender is a recessive color and requires two copies of the lavender gene to express itself. The thing with lavender is that they are weak genetically. Many people have a hard time keeping them alive since they seem to be more fragile than other colors, so perhaps this is a bird for more experienced Silkie keepers.
But color isn’t everything. Many people who choose to keep Silkies do so because they are just such delightful little pets. They are sweeter than sweet, docile, calm and friendly and adorable to boot. They are such a joy to have around that it is no wonder that their popularity has skyrocketed across the US, UK and Australia.
So, yes, we know that color is important for some people and the blue coloring in Silkies is especially interesting. But, if you’re choosing Silkies to add to your flock, you’re probably wondering how they stack up in other departments as well. So, let’s take a look at their temperament.
You will be hard-pressed to find a more docile and friendly chicken companion than the Silkie. They are known for being easy to tame, friendly and inquisitive. They love a good cuddle and will happily sit in your lap for treats. Their friendly disposition makes them an excellent choice for families with small children, as they are not intimidating, cute and quite happy to follow your young ones around the yard.
Their docile natures, even in roosters, mean that they may get picked on by more aggressive chickens – and your special Silkies won’t fight back! It is best to keep Silkies separate to more aggressive chickens and although they will happily scratch along with others in a mixed-breed flock, keep a close eye on your fluffy friends to make sure that they don’t get picked on!
By now, we’re sure that you’re just itching to run out and buy some Silkies of your own, but before you do, here’s a quick facts chart so that you have all the necessary information at the ready before you bring these little beauties home.
So, there you have it. Silkies are some of the most adorable little chickens you’ll ever come across. They are friendly, docile and stunning to look at – and they make the most fantastic family pets!
They also come in a variety of colors, with the blue variety being especially interesting as we’ve chatted about in this article. If you don’t intend to breed with your Silkies, color genetics can be complex and unnecessary for you to understand. However, it is always a good idea to have even just a basic understanding of these types of things, especially because Silkies are such good broodies and make such fantastic mothers. If you want to know what your future chicks will look like, it helps having a grounding in basic color genetics of chickens.
We hope you learned something today and leave us a photo of your blue, black and splash Silkies in the comments – we’d absolutely love to see them!
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