Health problems when raising Silkie chickens

The Silkie chicken is one of America's favorite chickens! They are known to be gentle with children and great mama hens, often raising several clutches a year. Plus, they are super cute and fluffy! Their popularity as a pet had led me to have silkie chickens for sale at my farm for over 10 years!

A flock of healthy silkie chickens

There are lots of reasons that you should raise silkie chickens, but of course with the pros come the cons. While their fluffy feathers are super soft, they can also get messy and cause other problems. Since they are so small they need low nest boxes and often pile on the floor to sleep at night. They also have problems when it rains and a few other issues...

Health problems of silkie chickens


Many of the problems you'll encounter with silkies are caused by their feathers. Silkie feathers lack barbicles which are the tiny hooks that keep feathers attached to each other, so they are not smooth but rather fluffy in appearance. They tend to attract mud and unlike a regular chickens, when a silkie gets caught in the rain they end up soaked down to the skin! This can be a big problem in colder weather.

Fluffy chickens


They can't see.

When you look at a silkie chicken you're bound to think "How can they see?" I get people asking me this all the time! I think the answer is that, most of the time they can't! Because of this, I've had large created silkies end up at the bottom of the pecking order. This problem is worse on the bearded silkies since their beards tend to fluff up on the sides underneath the eyes. The easy answer is to trim their feathers, especially the ones in front of the eyes.

Ice on crests.

I talk about this in Frozen chicken feathers, ummmm hair? Silkies tend to get wet head feathers as they drink water. In the warmer months this is no big deal, but in winter those wet feathers can freeze. I normally clip those ice drops off their crest feathers because it seems uncomfortable and cold! To prevent this I often give them complete haircuts as the winter weather sets in. They look funny for a few months, but I'm sure they are more comfortable

Dirty feet feathers. 

Silkies have heavily feathered legs and feet and if there's one thing that fluffy chicken feet get, it's dirty! If the chickens have access to mud it's even worse! Dirt tends to ball up or mat itself around foot feathers causing discomfort for the chicken. This will need carefully trimmed out or soaked till soft then removed. If these clumps are not removed they can cause the feather follicles to pull out which can then get infected. Wear gloves since there's a pretty good chance that mud clump is actually poop.

Susceptible to lice and mites.

While all chickens can get lice and mites silkies seem to have more problem with them than other breeds. I provide my silkies with a special dust bath mixture that helps prevent these problems but they still seem to get them from time to time. You'll have to be extra vigilant checking the chickens and their coop for signs of parasites. You want to catch an infestation as soon as it starts.

Fluffy butts get dirty. 

The fluffier the butt feathers the more likely that they will get poo on them at some point. To make it worse, when silkie feathers get poopy they don't dry right up and fluff back out. They tend to stay compressed and wet making more poo stick to them. Poo sticking to the bum feathers is an attractant for flies which can lead to deadly flystrike. You might need to either wash dirty bum feathers or trim them, depending on how severe the problem is.

Fluffy chickens, silkies as pets

Other health issues of silkie chickens


Vaulted skulls. 

The term vaulted skull refers to the bulge on the top of the skull that many silkies have. It's a skull malformation known as a cerebral hernia. Silkies are either born like this or they're not, but many breeders prefer it. It used to be a pretty good indication that the chick was a female but with so many breeders specifically trying to breed for the vaulted skull, it's just no longer a trait of females only. 

It also used to be a pretty good indication that the bird would have a full, fluffy head of feathers but once again, breeders have made that null by breeding for the fluffy crests. Unfortunately it can be a softer area of the skull. While it should not cause the silkie any discomfort, a hard peck to this soft spot of the skull can cause damage.

Silkie chicks with vaulted skulls.

Wry neck. 

Unfortunately silkies have a few genetic tendencies that should be mentioned here. Wry neck is one of them. I have had success treating we neck with vitamin E & selenium. It's easier to just not breed any chickens that have either had wry neck, or who's offspring have had it. 

Susceptible to Marek's disease.

Silkies seem to be more susceptible to Marek's disease than most other breeds. Fortunately this deadly disease is completely preventable. Many breeders and all hatcheries offer this vaccine, so you can get your chickens vaccinated for this disease and it's quite affordable. 

Often broody. 

I've often described my silkies as perma-broody! They don't care if it's cold out, or their last set of chicks is only 6 weeks old...They are going broody again darn it! If you try to take their eggs and prevent them from going broody, they will sit in an empty nest box and attempt to hatch nothing! They are harder to break from being broody than the usual hen.

Many times a silkie will go broody just a few weeks after her chicks have hatched. If you have a repeat broody or a hen that never breaks broody no matter what you try, she runs the risk of becoming malnourished. Since hens only eat once a day when broody, they lose weight. The 3 weeks it takes to hatch eggs is one thing, months on end is another! Lose too much weight and they can actually die.

Need low roosts or nest boxes. 

Silkies cannot fly very well at all! They do this sort of flutter hop to get up on things that are less than 2 feet high, but it's much easier on them if you place roosts and nest boxes close to floor level for them. I have nest boxes that sit on the coop floor for my silkies and they love them. 

I have heard that scaly leg mites are a big problem in silkies. After 10 years of raising them and knowing dozens of other breeders, I've never seen or heard of a single case. However, you will probably want to keep an eye out just in case. 

Despite all these possible problems, I have found silkies to be my absolute favorite chicken to raise!

~L

Want information on raising chickens sent right to your email weekly? Click right here to join my list and get new posts sent directly to you the day they're published ... plus, you'll also get the free download '25 Ways to save money raising chickens'.

4 comments:

  1. Whenever I need to boost my morale, I spend some time in my Silkie run. They're ecstatic to see me, rush to be near me, and generally make my day. I have short ones, tall ones, fluffy ones, one that can see and roost, others that have trouble seeing their way out of their coop. They are the best chicken ever, and I get Silkie eggs ALL the time. I will always have Silkies as long as I can manage to keep chickens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awww that's so sweet! I just adore my silkie chickens too! They are definitely my favorite breed! Thanks for stopping by!

      Lisa

      Delete
  2. Good evening, how cold hardy are silkies?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They do really well for me in winter. I'm in Western Pa where it often gets into the single digits or below and I never lose them to the cold.

      Lisa

      Delete