Our two little silkie bantams have just started laying again after a long break! So I thought it would be nice to write about them.
First I will start with why we have had no eggs for awhile! As a first time backyard chicken owner, I didn’t know that chickens moult their feathers. So after no eggs and a lot of feathers in their space, I did some googling and found this out through a few sources. This moulting can last 3-4 months. For us, it was about 3 months. So they can be excused for the egg absence. And having had them around the house and garden for 2 years, I have nothing but good to say about them. Although I am not an experienced Silkie Bantam owner or breeder, I would like to share the experience as it’s been really enjoyable.
When we were researching breeds, my husband, Cass suggested Silkie Bantams; I had one look of them with their fuzzy head and feet feathers and I was sold! But we did do some reading about the breed.
Some negatives we read were about laying – small eggs and temperamental layers, and also about their broodiness. They are also difficult to sex.
A big positive was that they are into cuddles and good around children. My husband had not-so-fond child memories of crazy red hens pecking at him as he collected eggs.
Before we got the chickens, we bought a 6 hen (we intended to keep more but have found 2 give enough eggs) hut from Snoozy Pets and wired off a 3 m by 1.5 m section down the side of our house so our dogs couldn’t get in. We first wanted 3. I got them from a friend at work. She had chicks that were 8 weeks old and so it was unknown which were female and which were male. I read up on sexing Silkies and it is notoriously difficult to do so. However, I could see that two out of three that we were given were beginning to develop longer wattles and larger combs. The two that looked like the first picture did turn out to be male.
When we swapped them over (they aren’t dead, they now live at the school) I just picked one to replace (just in case it turned out to be male). I made sure to look at its wattles. It did turn out to be female. This may have been pot luck but I do think that looking at the wattles can be a clue. If you are buying from a breeder they will have experience and you can always buy an already laying hen if this is a concern.
We never really got close to the chickens from young because of the fact that they may have turned out to be roosters. Once we knew we had hens, and also because they were now a lot bigger, we started to let them roam out the front for a few hours on the weekend. This involved catching them. Because they were not used to us, they did run at first. However, after a few goes and realising the good result after being picked up, they are now very settled and do enjoy cuddles. I would say this would have been the case from the start had we made the effort to go in and pick them up, pet them and feed them treats from hand.
We haven’t really had an issue with laying. We receive at least one egg a day. There was a time when we had a Red hen and the Silkies. We were lazy about clipping its wings, and it was too curious for its own good. After flying the wrong way over the fence while we were at work, it ended up as a treat for our two hounds. But this did end up to be a good thing; a week or so prior to losing the Red hen, the Silkies had stopped laying and were spending most of the day inside the hut. We assumed it was because of the weather, as it was late Winter (August) and we had read that Silkies are dependent on warmer temperatures for laying. But a week or so after the loss of the Red hen, they began to lay again. I had noticed it pecking at them from time to time and so maybe this stress was the reason. However, it was now early Spring. But our Spring has not been a whole lot different to our Winter – and so I will wait to see what happens next year.
It may have also been that at this time both were broody. Since then, we have only had one that has become broody twice. So I am not sure about that theory – I feel it is more to do with the Red hen. When a Silkie is broody it will stop laying. You can tell a Silkie is broody in a number of ways. It will lay an egg a day for about a week. This is it preparing its clutch – even if there is no rooster there. When it is broody it will lay on any eggs – even if they are not its’ own. It will also hang out in cool, dark spaces. I read a few other tell-tale signs, and for me the raised tail end is a give-away – its’ back feathers are raised compared to my other one – like they are coming to attention. To break the hen out of its broodiness I have done several things, and after a few days, it is back to laying. In the morning I take it out of the roost and shut the roost off. Make sure you shut the roost off as it will just go back there, and it is stressful for the chicken to be taken in and out of there. I make sure to free range them in the front yard. Shutting it in the hut (with food and water) and shutting the roost off also worked. I haven’t been able to break the habit completely, but I now know when it is preparing as we will receive 2 eggs a day rather than the one. So I will make sure to give it extra free ranging time to possibly cut down the length of time it goes without laying.
This brings me to eggs. Silkie Bantam eggs are smaller than regular hens’ eggs. But I have so far not had any major issues with having to add extra eggs to recipes or to a meal. Only to a whole-egg dish, like a frittata, or making a 3 egg omelette rather than a 2. If a recipe says large eggs I will put in an extra. I feel as though regular free ranging hens’ eggs are perhaps too large, and it is the free ranging Silkie that has a nice sized egg.
Sticking with my comparison, Silkies are also much better free ranging in the garden. In comparison, the Red hen would cause quite a disruption to the ground around plants and to the plants themselves. For this reason, we could only really have it out free ranging for an hour or so. If you moved it away from the area it was happily destroying, it would make a bee line back for it. We can leave the Silkies happily out there for 4+ hours and barely notice where they have been.
Again, I am aware that I have only had one Red hen, and that this trait could be its personality. And so I would like to add that I did really like the Red hen we had, it did engage with you more than the Silkies. However, now that it’s gone, the Silkies have become much more confident around us and their personalities show much more.
In terms of food, they are pretty easy to please. We have a compost bin and worms so they only get selected food scraps only with chicken feed from the fooder. They love breads, pasta and rice and soft, sweet things: watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes and cucumber. They have left anything too green and flimsy- parsley, rocket etc so that goes in the compost or to the worms.
If you are or have been a Silkie Bantam owner – have you had similar experiences? Or share your questions or comments if you are thinking of buying some chickens to have around your house.