Use: The Silkie is a bantam chicken breed used mainly as exhibition and pet chickens; however, due to Silkie hens’ extreme broodiness, they make wonderful surrogate hatchers, as well.
History: The Silkie (sometimes spelled Silky) is an ancient Asian chicken breed. Adventurer Marco Polo described the breed in an account of his travels penned during the late 13th century. In 1599, Italian naturalist and author Ulisse Aldrovandi wrote about “wool-bearing chickens;” however, today’s Silkie chicken breed, is considerably different than those of the past. It was recognized in the American Poultry Association’s first Standard of Perfection, published in 1874.
Conformation: Silkie plumage looks like fur or down instead of feathers. This is because Silkie plumage lacks barbicels, the hooked projections normally extending from and interlocking the secondary branches of chickens’ feathers. In addition to luxurious, fluffy plumage, the breed has a small walnut comb, dark-blue legs with abundant feathering, turquoise-blue earlobes, black skin and bones, grayish-black flesh, and five toes on each foot instead of the usual four. The breed comes in an assortment of colors, and some varieties are bearded with an extra muff of feathers covering their earlobes. Silkie cocks weigh 36 ounces and hens weigh 32 ounces.
Silkies are sweet, ultra-docile chickens. They lay about one tinted egg per week. They are broody hens and are supremely happy to hatch the eggs of other birds. Some poultry fanciers consider them the ideal organic incubator and set them on eggs as diverse as quail and duck. Given the chance, Silkie hens cheerfully brood and raise their unorthodox offspring, too.
Gray-black Silkie chicken meat is in an element in Asian haute cuisine. The breed’s name in Chinese, wu gu jis means “dark-boned chicken.” The chicken occasionally appears in French cuisine, as well.