There are many chicken breeds that are classed as ornamental.
The Silkie Bantam is a beloved and popular variety and you can have many hours of entertainment watching them.
Named after their fluffy feathers and come from the Far East originally, these birds are popular in their home land as they are here and abroad.
The History of Silkie Bantams
Although the history of the origins of the breed is now well documented, Silkie Bantams are considered to have developed in ancient China. Marco Polo wrote about the birds during his travels.
By the late 1500s, a naturalist and writer, Ulisse Aldrovandi referred to the birds’ feathers as cat hair and wool. Their popularity spread worldwide as the silk trade developed.
Features and Varieties of Silkie Bantam
Silkie Bantams are stout, broad looking birds with a short tail. Their short neck and head are held upright with a full mulberry comb and short concave, semi-circular wattles.
There are different varieties of Silkie Bantam that have been bred. From non-bearded and bearded, partridge, grey, blue, red, splash, cuckoo, lavender, white, black and buff types commonly available.
Bearded varieties have a gathering of feathers under their beak, which extends to their earlobes to give them the bearded appearance.
Some striking features other than their spectacular plumage is that their skin is black, they have 5 toes (rather than four), and the breed is known to be caring fosters to other bird’s chicks, including other chicken breeds and ducks.
They are an ornamental breed that has feathers covering their legs, crests on their heads, and have a walnut comb.
Their earlobes are also blue or turquoise. Their bones are dark in colour and the Chinese believe they hold healing properties.
The silky appearance of the feathers is due to a lack of barbicels, which prevents the feather components from sticking together. This also prevents the birds from flying.
Keeping Silkie Bantams
Silkie Bantams are easy to keep, are affectionate and good with children. They are often seen at poultry shows.
Their docile nature helps them to adapt to being handled. Birds can live up to nine years and are fairly hardy. The breed is susceptible to scaly leg.
Egg Facts of Silkie Bantams
Silkie Bantams are good egg-layers producing about three eggs per week. The eggs are small and cream or tinted in colour.
The breed’s tendency to brood interrupts their egg-laying. While hens are broody, males will also show affection towards chicks, and encourage them to food when they are old enough.
Brooding hens will incubate quail, pheasants, ducks and other fowl’s eggs as dedicated mothers.
Keeping Silkie Bantams
Silkie Bantams are small chickens so can be easily kept in a yard with a hen house. They tend to be easily bullied by larger breeds or more aggressive varieties if you decide to mix them.
You should always home bantams in dry, draught-free housing. Overnight accommodation should allow for about 50cm2 per bird.
Roosting perches should be about 30cm off the floor and the minimum height of the pen should be 1m.
Outdoor accommodation should allow about 70cm2 per bird. However, for healthy birds, you should provide the largest exercise space that you can make available in excess of these measurements.
Outdoor runs that are static should have a deep layer of woodchip or washed gravel that can be changed every so often. A roof over the run may be beneficial to keep the birds dry.
Feeding Silkie Bantams
You should feed your birds a quality mix to keep the Silkie Bantams in top condition. You can feed pellet food that provides a complete diet with appropriate levels of nutrition.
Food should be supplied via a hopper to stop the birds scattering it everywhere. The hoppers also help to keep the feed dry so that it does not end up becoming mouldy and reduce the attraction to vermin.
Clean water should always be provided as well. Birds should be able to help themselves to food and water as desired.
You can supplement their diet in the winter by feeding corn, sunflower seeds, pasta and greens.
Birds should have access to gravel and grit to help them break down and digest their food. During egg-laying, there should be ample supplies of oyster shell and protein supplements.
Young chicks can be fed feed formulated for them until they are about a couple of months old. Make sure chicks can access water and feeders or place in shallow trays. Do not have water too deep as chicks could easily drown in deep water.
Generally home feed can be mixed from a 20 percent protein based feed mixed with oats, barley, wheat, sunflower and safflower seeds, flax and germ oil. Grated carrots, chopped eggs and kale, lettuce and tomatoes and fruit can be served regularly.
Never feed your Silkie Bantams raw, green potato skin, citrus fruits, dry beans, raw eggs, avocado or sweets like candy or chocolate as these foods can cause poisoning.
Similarly, be careful if you have your bird’s free running in your yard as some plants may also prove toxic.
Hatching Silkie Bantams
If you keep Silkie Bantams, you can allow the hens to naturally hatch their chicks. Bantam eggs will take about three weeks to hatch.
If you are trying to hatch other eggs, then turkeys and ducks will take about four weeks and goose eggs will take about a month to hatch.
Nest boxes should be about 40cm square and kept away from other hens. Boxes should be lined with wood shavings and straw and be well ventilated.
Some people will test brooding hens before having them sit on a clutch to ensure that they will nest. Try not to disturb the birds into the last week to ten days as the chicks will be nearing their hatch date.
Keep shallow trays of food, such as chick crumbs, and water available nearby so that when the chicks hatch they have adequate access to them.
Once the clutch has hatched remove all the remaining shells and nesting material and debris.
Do not disturb the hen while the chicks are hatching as this is the critical period where she bonds with her chicks.