Silkie chickens are among the most popular pet poultry breeds, as their distinctive appearance and their gentle demeanor make for ideal backyard flocks. For all their appeal, however, Silkies present a downside: Determining Silkie gender is less straightforward than with other breeds and nearly impossible during the chickens' early days. But differences do become apparent in time.
Meet the Silkie
Silkie chickens have a distinct appearance -- their feathers appear almost furry. The feathers' silkiness is due to the birds' lack of barbicels, hooklike endings that typically hold strands together to create the “feather" effect. Silkies look puffy. Some Silkies have bulbous topknots on their heads and feathers that extend down to their feet.
The Silkie is one of only a few chicken breeds to possess five toes instead of four and is the only chicken known to have black skin. In addition to the breed's unmistakable looks, the Silkie boasts a markedly gentle demeanor. Silkies cannot fly, and they live well in confinement.
Sexing a Silkie Chick
Knowing a chick's sex has distinct advantages, namely in predicting egg production and eliminating the risk of keeping roosters, which are unwelcome or illegal in some settings. Breeds such as Barred Rocks, Golden Comets and Rhode Island Reds are capable of being visually sexed at hatching with high certainty, but Silkie chickens are not -- Silkie pullets and cockerels look the same for the first few months. The only way to ensure the gender of a newborn Silkie is to pay to have a DNA-testing company determine gender based on blood, feathers or egg shells.
The Silkie Rooster
Crowing is a certain sign a chicken is a rooster, but it doesn't start until maturity, around 8 months of age or a little earlier. Silkie roosters are larger than hens. They have larger and rounder wattles, and their combs are larger and shaped differently: These fleshy growths on adult male Silkies' heads feature extensions that are like streamers; they appear swept back rather than rounded.
Silkie roosters possess unique feathers in addition to the fuzzy ones, with long, pointed hackle and saddle feathers that more resemble those of other birds. The hard feathers may also be present in a pointed tail, though this isn't always the case. Roosters also have spurs.
The Silkie Hen
Silkie hens have a characteristic that makes them distinctive, even from other breeds: Silkie hens are extremely broody. Broodiness refers to a chicken's inclination to remain in the nesting box, keeping a clutch of eggs warm with her body heat for successful chick hatching. When a Silkie hen is in her broody cycle, she is singularly focused on keeping her eggs warm. It's not uncommon for keepers to use Silkies to warm eggs from other chicken breeds, other types of poultry or game birds, as a Silkie hen is sure to hatch and raise any eggs she's sat on.
Rodney Wilson is owner and manager of Goldfinch Farm in central Kentucky, where he oversees veterinary and management practices for a diverse group of animals, from dogs and cats to pigs and chickens. He's written professionally since 2001, with articles appearing in such publications as The Cincinnati Enquirer, CiN Weekly, Baby Guide and Akron Life.