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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 – and Partridge is one of the most popular colours!
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 Partridge is a wonderful colour variant and we can tell you all you need to know about this peculiar breed and their unique colours, because we’ve got more than 30 years’ collective experience with the adorable Silkie!
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 why the Partridge coloring of the Silkie is so interesting.
The term "partridge feathering" in chickens refers to the feather colour and pattern on the chicken. In chickens the Partridge colour is a matter of genetics and the pattern is expressed by 6 genes: 2 brown genes, 2 pattern genes, and the gold gene of which there are two in males and one in females. Partridge is by far one of our favorite colouring varieties for Silkies. It really is just stunning. The colors are so bright!
Pattern genes express the distinct three-penciled pattern found on many of the Partridge hen's feathers. The brown gene and pattern gene provide the stippling and black pigments to make the penciling on the feathers and the gold gene adds the red colour to each feather.
Overall, the Partridge colour looks like an overall reddish-brown tinged with black here and there. However, there are a great many variants of the Partridge colour and two birds may look very different even if they are both accepted as Partridge.
The best way to know whether or not the Silkie in front of you is a Partridge is to look closely at the feather pattern across the body. The hackle feathers are black in the center with a thin border of reddish bay and the body colour is the same reddish bay with beautiful black penciling.
The adult Partridge rooster will be brighter coloured, dark chest, and dark tail and the female is dull coloured with a dark undercoat with a light buff or red on the top that can be described as reddish bay colour. But they are both equally beautiful! Now that we’ve got the feathering covered, let’s take a look at the chicks.
Partridges start out as the cutest little chipmunk-striped chicks. The background color can be light or dark with the stripes then being either brown or black. The stripes occur on the back and on the face of the chick. These stripes, although adorable, can be deceiving because the chick will not grow up to show these same markings as an adult. Sometimes the partridge chicks will not hatch out with chipmunk stripes at all. You could get a solid buff or black color even with both parents being Partridge. However, even chicks that hatch out in a solid colour may become a true Partridge later in life.
The partridge variety in normal feathered chickens makes them easy to sex because the colour patterns are very different in males and females. The females are all golden brown with black penciling on the feathers in a regular pattern. The males will have solid black breast feathers and bright, deep red in the hackle and saddle.
With Silkies the difference is there, but more subtle as the pattern and colours are a little more difficult to see clearly in the Silkie feathering. This is why the Partridge is one of the types of Silkies that may be easier to sex than others, as Silkies are notoriously difficult to sex at a young age.
Check out this adorable video showing the chipmunk-chicks and what the fully-grown Partridge hen and rooster should look like.
And if you know what they should look like and you consider yourself an expert on the colour variety by now, why not consider breeding and adding to the legacy of these stunning birds?
The Partridge colour is a popular and beautiful colour and therefore many people would like to consider breeding with them.
The first thing you need to know is that Partridges start out as chipmunk-striped chicks but on occasion even true Partridge chicks will not hatch out with chipmunk stripes at all. You could get a solid buff or black color even with both parents being Partridge.
In order to hatch out the correct colour chicks for showing Partridges, you need two different breeding pens. Darker colored roosters will be needed to hatch out correct looking males. Roosters that are redder and have less black are better for hatching out correct females. This is also called a double mating system where one pen is used for breeding males and another pen is used for breeding females.
Occasionally, one of your colour pens which are not Partridge will produce a Partridge chick. For example, your all-black pen will suddenly hatch out chipmunk striped hatchlings. If you know that your blacks or your whites occasionally produce Partridge, you may want to use these colors as out crosses for your Partridge flock. It is a good idea to experiment and watch what they produce. If it improves the line, keep it in. If it doesn’t then remove those birds.
Once you’ve decided to breed with your birds, it’s handy to have all the necessary information close-by so that you can offer the cute little chicks the best start in life possible. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Incubation and Hatchingover on Chickenpedia for everything you need to know.
If you are intending to breed and show your Silkie chickens, you will need them to conform to the accepted standard for Show Poultry. One of the main characteristics of Silkie chickens is their adorable fluffy feathers and that is also one of the most important things that they look for when you’re showing Silkies.
Your Silkies need to have soft, silky feathers across their entire body and it cannot be interspersed with too much hard feathering.
“There should be an absence of hard feathering. The wings are described as ‘osprey’ feathered which can confuse people; the wings should certainly not be like those of an osprey – they should be ragged with some of the flight feathers hanging loosely down, almost tattered,” says Laurence Beeken, who has previously judged at National level and has sat on several international breed club committees. He is the author of the Haynes Chicken Manual as well as contributing to several poultry magazines.
Unfortunately, the Partridge Silkie has a tendency for hard feathering, which means that some of the black feathers on the tips of their wings, or tails, or even on their cute little faces may be hard – or ordinary feathers. This is a fault in the Show Standard and if you see this type of feathering, it is best to exclude those birds from your breeding program.
So, yes, we know that color is important for some people and the Partridge colouring in Silkies is especially beautiful. 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 Partridge variety being especially beautiful as we’ve chatted about in this article. If you don’t intend to breed with your Silkies, colour doesn’t really matter and the fact that Partridge is more likely to have hard feathering won’t be a problem. 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.
We hope you learned something today and leave us a photo of your Partridge Silkies in the comments – we’d absolutely love to see their cute little faces!
No matter the chicken you choose for your backyard buddies, make sure that you've got the knowledge you need to raise a happy, healthy flock. Did you know 67% of chicken keepers surveyed experienced a chicken health or behaviour issue in the first 12 months that they didn’t know how to handle?
But don’t worry! Our feathered friends over at Chickenpedia have created a comprehensive online course that covers everything you need, including what to look for in an unhealthy chicken and how to support your hens to optimal health. All of their courses are really well structured and beginner-friendly, which is why I highly recommend them to all of my readers!
Click here to check out Chickenpedia today!
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May 24, 2023
Love this article. Just wanted to say thank you for the great information.