I don’t think of myself as an overly sentimental person; I’m not prone to crying too often at sappy movies and I’m not exactly the most sensitive person on the planet. I usually wont even put a plant in my garden unless is serves some, typically pragmatic, purpose. So, why keep Silkie chickens, I asked myself. They’re so tiny, what more can they do besides eat a few bugs?
Silkie chickens are such favorites of our that we included this information (plus so much more) in the Homestead Livestock section of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. There’s useful information on a myriad of homesteading topics in this book! Four hundred pages of material presented on four different levels of homesteading experience, there’s bound to be something useful to you. Be sure to check it out by clicking below:
Where Do Chicks Come From?
Over the generations of chickens, and typically driven by commercial production needs, humans have bred out the instinct for egg-laying chickens to set their eggs and become mammas. The reason?
When a hen “goes broody”, or in other words, is biologically overcome with the overpowering urge to sit on and hatch out eggs, she stops laying new eggs. Once a hen has lain enough eggs for a clutch, or a group of eggs she plans to sit on and hatch out, she stops laying new egg for about twenty one days.
A nice sized, fluffy hen that can usually comfortably hatch out around ten eggs. For a bantam or Silkie the number of eggs they can sit on can be around six of their own (smaller eggs), or four standard size eggs. It’s all relative to the bird, of course – some of them are just natural over achievers when it comes to motherhood.
Although, it’s uncommon for a hen to actually hatch out all of her eggs. Some end up not fertilized and others simply don’t thrive.
Most chicken keepers, however, are not impressed with the number of chickens being hatched since they’re too busy screaming, “A hen that doesn’t lay eggs?!!! Well, we can’t have that!”
Why a Sitting Hen Matters to You
Establishing your own breeding program in your flocks is important for many reasons. Laying hens only reliably lay eggs for a few years. They must then be replaced with new layers to keep your egg production up. Therefore, you have a built-in need to provide yourself with new chicks every few years.
You can buy chicks from various venues so why would you want to think about establishing your own backyard breeding program? Here are a few reasons:
- You want to save some money
- You want to improve the health and well being of your birds by learning to grow your own
- You want to control the genetics in your flock and breed for strengths or even egg color
- You foresee a time when perhaps the poultry houses can no longer afford to ship chicks to us for whatever reason
- Your incubator’s electrical cord can no longer suck energy from the plug in the wall for whatever reason
A Few Good Men
To start your own breeding program for backyard chickens you will need a willing rooster but, trust me, they’re not hard to find. If you aren’t allowed a rooster as part of your zoning, find a friendly farmer who is willing to share the services of one of his lads.
You might also be able to buy fertilized eggs for your broody hen to hatch out since they won’t mind at all where the eggs came from. Where there’s a will, there’s a way; nothing is more obstinate than a broody hen.
Through natural selection of non-broody hens, we’ve reduce the breeds that have a tendency to go broody down to just a handful. Silkie chickens and other Bantams (half-sized version of standard breeds), Buff Orpingtons, Ameracanas/Auracanas, Brahamas and a few others. There’s a great list at this site – it has a lot of general information in regards to about sixty breeds.
If you need to take notes on each breed, or want to start making plans for your flock, be sure to check out the Homestead Management binder by clicking below. This is a great resource and the one I use to keep track of things on my homestead.
It’s worth looking at those few, last standing chicken moms and deciding what you think about the trade-off of baby chicks for eggs. Will we live to regret our demand for egg production over the capacity for our ladies to naturally produce their own posterity? I’ve come to the conclusion that I already regret it!
Silkie Chickens Go Broody
Silkie chickens, the hens anyway, are reliably broody and any time you research the topic you will run into the breed as being worth trying if you’re in need of a good mom. In fact, Murano Chicken Farm has a post about a Silkie Chicken of theirs that hatches out Guineas every year!
Incubators are a great option for hatching, and the modern provision for the production of more chickens. We do use ours, especially for large quantity production – like with broilers (meat chickens). However, I wanted to know the process and be a part of it – how does an egg turn into a chicken? Incubators and humans can’t replace a mother hen, we can only step in and do our best.
Besides, both replacements require electricity somewhere along the line to perform their functions and power is not necessarily an unlimited, eternal or affordable thing.
Here’s a post from The 104 Homestead on the Pros and Cons of Broody Hens vs. Incubators.
Silkie Chickens Are Sweet
I’d raised Buff Orpingtons before and loved their mild dispositions. However, Silkie chickens were new to me, so we tried a few and I waited around for at least one to go broody. In the meantime, I fell totally and completely in love with these little chickens. We’re talking holding them all the time, cooing at them, bringing them treats – totally sappy stuff.
And I wasn’t the only one – every one of us fell under their spell. These animals went from being chickens to pets from the first little peep. They have big personalities for such little things. We ended up with two roosters and two hens.
One rooster, a darling lad we named Reepicheep, ended up being too crow-ey for our neighborhood and we gave him away to friends who had lots of space around their property. The other roo, Samson, is gentle with his girls and appropriately fierce with encroachments into his territory – if you count snuggling up when he’s held being fierce, that is.
For a fun article from ImaginAcres, here’s their post on Silkies “The Weirdos of the Chicken World – Silkie Chicken Facts”. Here’s another of Meredith’s articles on Silkies but from her Backyard Chicken Project website, which is a great resource for all things backyard chicken.
Silkie Chickens as Moms
One Silkie hen has so far refused to do much that is very useful in the way of chick production, but she eats bugs and lays little eggs and she’s welcome to stay as long as she wants. Then there is Snowy.
Snowy is a lovely, gray little bird that my daughter named, cuddled and adopted when Snowy was no more than a handful with a pom-pom of feathers on her tiny head. Dear Daughter truly believes that chicken is her baby. Maybe that’s why Snowy turned out to be such a good mother herself.
To Learn to Be a Chicken
This being our first time having a mother hen raise her babies, I only now have begun to see how much those chicks learn from their mother.
A chick brooder really is an odd environment from a chick’s point of view. The padded floor is made of paper and shavings and there are no grass or bugs. There’s certainly no fresh air since fresh air is too cold for a newly hatched chicken with no mother to hide under. There’s food and water, but no other chicken to show you what to do with them – it’s the huge, human hand that comes out of nowhere to dunk your beak into both troughs, hoping that you’ll figure it out from there. Watching Snowy take such time and care with those chicks has been fulfilling.
Silkie Chicken Mom Talents
Snowy snuggles those babies under her to keep them warm, allowing them to venture out but clucking them back in when they stray too far or are gone too long. She carefully shows them the water dish and reminds them to drink. The food they only pick at now and then until their appetites kick in and then she explains that grain is food and wood shavings are…well, she doesn’t seem sure what they are so they’re just classified as “not food”. Sometimes will take larger bits of grain and crack them in her beak, allowing them to fall to the ground for the chicks to eat.
Once the chicks graduate to their outdoor pen, she’s right with them, keeping up a constant, low chant of cluckings to let them know what to do and where to go. “This,” she explains, “is a goat. Watch its feet as it is not clever with them.”
Even after several weeks, long after I’ve moved on to other obligations, Snowy is still out there instructing and watching over her now adolescent babies. They are small enough to escape through the chain link fence and go off under the apricot tree for some big adventure. This distresses Snowy to no end and she has a smack-down cluck she brings out for these occasions. As big as they think they are, these baby Silkies still get lost in the alfalfa and cry for their mother. She patiently picks her way over to the sounds of distress, calmly assessing what’s what and kicking a little feathered patooty if she needs to – figuratively speaking, of course.
Give Silkie Chickens a Try
In short, if you’re curious about the process of hatching eggs or you want to allow your birds to take care of their own, I highly recommend you bring in a Silkie or two. They can only set a handful of standard size eggs, of course, but what you give up in volume you’ll make up for in quality. If Snowy is any indication, Silkies deliver in every respect!
If you don’t have the benefit of a Silkie, here’s some general chick care information from Flip Flop Barnyard. For some interesting reading on broody hens raising their own babies from Better Hens and Gardens. If you’re interested in learning how to build a special space for your broody hen, here’s a post on that.
Silkie cover photo gratefully attributed to this Wikipedia Commons user.