I’m following on from yesterday’s post which was entitled Rare Breeds, but I never got round to them – smile. In fact due to the increasing popularity of “backyard chickens” these aren’t really rare breeds any more, but pure breeds. There are very many different pure breeds to choose from. I thought I’d start with Silkies.
They are as far from factory farmed chickens as you can get! They wouldn’t survive in those sheds, they’re not good to eat, they have very little meat on them, and they aren’t prolific layers.
But apart from being really attractive, they are docile, can be handled easily – altho the full size cockerels can be fierce in protecting the hens – but best of all, silkies go broody, and will sit on any fertile eggs you have, and mother the chicks perfectly!
Silkie crosses, the hens, will usually go broody too. This was a silkie X cockerel I once had, to show you the variations you can get. I can’t remember what he was crossed with but he was a handsome fellow!
Pure Silkies are usually white, black or a ‘golden’ brown colour. A particularly prized colour is ‘blue’ which is a pretty blueish grey, and they go for very high prices!
Silkie feathers are different from other breeds, they are ‘fluffy’ not flat and streamlined, and unusually the feathers also extend down to their 5 toes! Other features are bright blue ear lobes and black skin.
Origin: China, found there by Marco Polo in 1298. (ref here!)
If you are keeping chickens, you are usually keeping them for the eggs, and hens are quite happy without ever seeing a cockerel. Many, but not all of the breeds of hens, will go broody from time to time, and stop laying to sit on a clutch of eggs that are not fertile.
You have two choices in this circumstance – you can buy in some fertile eggs as fast as possible – and put them under her – removing her own eggs, and she will normally but quite happy to continue sitting on them for the 21 days they take to hatch.
If you don’t want to do that, the only thing to do is to keep removing the eggs and taking her out of the box she lays in. You may even have to move the box, or block it, so she doesn’t return immediately your back is turned! She may go off lay for a while anyway, until the hormones triggered by broodiness have disappeared from her system.
If you do breed from your chickens, please remember that you should not allow related chickens – ie those hatched from eggs of one pair – to breed with each other. You may have to swap cockerels, or sell them and buy an unrelated one.
On the other hand, recent genetic research seems to show that chickens actually have more genes than humans, and thus more variations are possible. You might like to look at this lesson in the genetics of chickens.
Chickens were originally wild birds that lived in forests, before they were domesticated. They still like scratching around under trees, which give shade in summer, and are omnivorous ie: they will eat almost anything, including insects and raw meat off carcasses! Of course grass and grain are the usual feeds we give them, together with leftover food scraps. Exceptions are covered in my recent blog. If you want to give them a real treat, try grapes and watch them fight to get at them!