Dyed Silkie Chicken

July 27, 2023

Nope, it’s not a fancy filter or clever photoshopping. Dyed Silkie chickens are for real!

Smartie-colored Silkie chicks tumbling over one another is next-level cute. They’re fun, fabulous, and as always…FLUFFY!

Chickens of any breed can be dyed, but Silkie chickens are one of the most commonly colored breeds because they seem to genuinely enjoy the salon session. The dye takes especially well to Silkie’s soft and lighter-colored feathers, and the result is compact, cuddly, candy-floss chickens. It’s easy to see why we people take pleasure in the sight of dyed Silkies.

dyed silkies

You can dye your dinky divas with any color or design that your heart desires. You can have pink, purple, or polka dot powder puffs. What about blue, green, and yellow hatchlings all from the same clutch. I’ve seen some multicolored marvels that look like they’ve been tie died, and just wait until you see Bell; the Silkie who was painted as a parrot for her Halloween party. Talk about a Pretty Polly!

The options are endless, but…there is a but!

However much the sight of Crayola-colored chicks makes you smile, dying chickens is a bit of a political hot potato. Is it the right thing to do?

Dying Silkies is intended as harmless fun, but it’s unnecessary, and whatever process you follow there’s always some element of risk or distress. 

It’s not just safety and ethics you need to consider. Did you know that you could find yourself in jail for dyeing your chickens? No? Well, you need to read on before you reach for the dye.

There’s always more to learn than you first egg-spect when you start your first Silkie family: Are you allowed to keep them free-range in your county? How many can you keep together? What varieties can you pick from? What will they need? My friends over at Chickenpedia will teach you how to care for them! You will never need to worry about what if something goes wrong (as it always does) because you will be prepared. I believe prevention, not treatment. Get specialised Silkie support and expert advice instantly with Chickenpedia. Everyone I have ever recommended them to as wished they had done it earlier!

Back to the fluffs… here’s what’s coming up…

  • How Do You Dye Chickens?
  • Why Do People Dye Chickens?
  • Is it Safe to Dye Chickens?
  • Is It Cruel to Dye Chickens?
  • Is It Legal to Dye Chickens?
  • How Long Does Dye Last on Chickens?
  • How To Dye Chickens
  • 5 Simple Steps to Dyeing Silkies
  • How Do You Dye Chicks Before They Hatch?

How Do You Dye Chickens?

There are two ways to color your Silkie chickens: Silkies can be dyed by painting their feathers as mature birds, or by adding food coloring into the egg at a specific stage in its development, so that hatchlings peep out of their shells already bright and beautiful.

dyed silkie chicken

Why Do People Dye Chickens?

Biologists and backyard breeders have used dye to mark and track offspring in breeding programs for decades, but today we’re just talking about the aesthetic dyes that are used just for fun.

Breeders dye young chicks to increase their saleability. They’re well aware that brightly colored birds make adorable Easter gifts and supply more dyed chicks in the spring to meet the high demand. It’s good business, but even breeders admit there’s a problem with painted poultry.

Nancy Smith, owner and operator of the Cackle Hatchery explained that lots of people who buy chicks for their children around Easter will give them to relatives or friends once the chicks “outgrow their boxes in the house.”

Sadly, dyed chicks aren’t being selected for their breed or characteristics with a lifetime commitment in mind, and once the dye fades, the fascination often does too. 

“Unfortunately, around Easter time we see an increase in people giving chicks and big bunnies in particular as pets. All too many of them end up not staying in those homes. Unlike bunnies, however, the chicks grow into hens or roosters, and their appeal fades fast.” (Inga Fricke of The Humane Society of the United States).

Silkie owners dye their grown-up girls for fun. It might be for a Halloween costume like Bell’s Parrot paint job below, or a poultry pamper day.

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Bell is a beautiful white Silkie from Colorado who loves a fuss and a blow dry, and she’s rocking her paint-on parrot costume!

Is it Safe to Dye Chickens?

If you use the right products and processes, then dyeing your chicken’s feathers isn’t physically harmful in any way. Selecting a non-toxic hair dye is not quite careful enough though, since chickens are likely to preen and ingest whatever product is used on their feathers. 2-3% food coloring is the only safe option.

Whilst the food coloring itself isn’t harmful to hens, the act of pampering your poultry could cause stress, feather damage, or even injury if there’s any kind of struggle. That brings me to the ethics of it…

Is It Cruel to Dye Chickens?

The ethics around dyeing chickens is subjective. Whatever process you follow there is some element of risk or distress which leads a lot of people to say it’s unnecessary cruelty.

“Animal rights workers say that the experience is stressful for the birds.” (New York Times)

As an owner, you’ll know your ladies best. If your Silkies savor a pamper and a blow dry, then there may be no harm in a makeover. If your chickens can’t abide being wet, humor being handled but don’t really enjoy it, or you’re not able to keep them warm during the process, then don’t do it. They’re beautiful just as they are.

Is It Legal to Dye Chickens?

In most states, it’s your decision whether you buy dyed chicks or take on a DIY dye challenge at home. 

In Florida, it’s illegal to dye chickens, and can land you in jail for anything up to 60 days. 

The ban on dyeing any animal in Florida was lifted in 2012 when some rather prestigious dog groomers fought for their rights to be able to style pampered pooches as their owner’s requested. In 2013 some revised rules were reinstated when animal activists insisted on some boundaries. Florida’s animal cruelty laws now clearly ban dyeing fowl of any age.

Not every state makes it super clear where it stands on dyeing chickens, but they all have guidance on what they consider animal cruelty. If you were to dye your chickens in California it would be frowned upon, but not punishable. In Massachusetts, there would be a $100 fine to pay (Find Law Legal Blog, 2013). 

How Long Does Dye Last on Chickens?

Chicks that were dyed inside the egg will lose their color when they shed their baby feathers just a few weeks after hatching. Their adult feathers will grow as nature intended. 

Chickens that are painted with food dye are likely to hold the color – to some degree – for a few months. Here’s a picture of our beautiful Bell a few months after her Halloween party still looking pretty in pastels.

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How To Dye Chickens

If you decide to dye your Silkies, then the most important thing is to keep them happy and safe throughout the poultry pampering process. I can’t stress enough that there are no fancy feathers worth upsetting an animal for.

Vegetable-based food dyes are the only responsible choice. You can get non-toxic dyes, but they’re not designed with consumption in mind, and Pricilla will be proudly preening her new feathers and ingesting anything that you use on them.

Most vegetable-based food dyes are 2-3% solutions anyway, but if you select anything stronger then you’ll need to dilute it down.

You can use any color you want, but red, green, and blue typically show up the best. To tint feathers with food coloring, blend 3/4 cup of water with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and several squirts of food coloring. Stir the liquid to blend it, adding more coloring if the shade still looks too light.” (Wikipedia)

5 Simple Steps to Dyeing Silkies

steps to dyeing silkie chickens

1. Prepare a warm prep area and get your dye, towels, and some treats ready beforehand to minimize the amount of time your chicken will be wet.

2. Once your client is in the salon, dampen down their feathers with warm water. Be careful to monitor their mood, and if they’re in any distress at all then call it a day and have a cuddle instead.

3. You can paint on the food dye using an old and soft toothbrush, or a small makeup sponge or brush in the direction of feather growth. Dye the face last and never get too close to your chicken’s eyes.

4. Allow the dye to take for up to 30 minutes before rinsing thoroughly with warm water and drying as quickly as your client will allow.

5. Then, take a photo and share it!

How Do You Dye Chicks Before They Hatch?

dyeing silkies before hatching

Food coloring can be injected into the egg before hatchlings are ready to peep. If the timing is right, the dye will cover the whole chick and they’ll enter the world with designer feathers. Momma hen may get a bit of a shock!

The best time to inject the food coloring into the egg is between day 11 and day 14 of incubation when the dye can fully saturate the chick’s feathers, and you’re more likely to end up with an even color. 

You can still give this a try anytime from days 10 to 19 of their incubation, but after 14 days or so the chicks are so cramped in the egg that the color might not reach the whole bird.

Roughly 0.5 ml of 2-3% food dye should be injected into each egg using a hypodermic needle. The more dye that you use, the deeper the color will be on the chick’s feathers.

After carefully injecting the dye just below the membrane of the egg, the egg needs to be re-sealed to avoid infection. This can be done by spreading a tiny amount of melted paraffin or wax over the injection hole and allowing it to dry and seal the shell before you pop it back into the incubator or underneath Momma. 

Are Skittle-coloured Silkies to dye for, or a step too far?

We asked x Silkie keepers their thoughts on dying their Silkes and here’s what they had to say…

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Silkie newborns are utterly adorable just as they are. In my opinion, even the slightest risk of infection or damage to baby chicks from injecting the egg is unnecessary. It’s a step too far to risk a happy and healthy hatchling for a funky color that will only last a few weeks at most. Enjoy the photos you’ve seen here - they are divine - but let’s not try this one at home or encourage breeders to continue the practice.

If you like the look of funky feathers then check out <paint Silkies>, <lavender Silkies>, or frizzles. You’re never short of options with these little beauties.

Dyeing adult Silkies is harmless so long as they’re not stressed by the process, so this is one to be judged on a hen-by-hen basis!

We love our Silkies because of their friendly and tactile temperaments. Lots of Silkie owners, myself included, will swear that their soppiest hens enjoy a warm bath and a towel dry more than treats. My girls have been known to purr when bundled into a soft towel! 

If your Silkies revel in a pamper and adore attention, then go for it. If they’re look-don’t-touch ladies, then leave them be. 

Knowing what’s right and wrong, safe or risky, and even what’s legal or illegal can feel like a lifetime’s research when you start to keep Silkies. If you want to get eggucated without sitting a diploma then Chickenpedia is exactly what you need! Fast answers, expert advice, breed guidance, step-by-step guides, and the chance to test your knowledge all in one beginner-friendly place. Check out my friends over here…with every membership there’s loads of free downloads to keep too!

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