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Why Silkies Are the Perfect Hens for Small Gardens

I started my journey with chickens with two lovely ex-battery hens who were so friendly and were real pets. However, they made short shrift of my garden and tended to wander everywhere into other people’s lawns. No matter how often I clipped their wings, they kept getting out. Although I really loved those two characters, they were causing problems for me and my neighbours. Sadly, they were subsequently stolen and so I decided to give Silkies a try.

Silkies are really cute little fluffy chickens, very docile in nature and do not make a mess of your garden. They have five toes instead of four and are much smaller than most chickens. They lay small eggs with big deep yellow yolks with not so much white, perhaps 3-5 a week.

You can see the difference above, between the silkie eggs on the right and commercially bought free range eggs on the left. The females tend to be broody and are often used for hatching eggs from other hens. They make excellent mothers. The males are not too noisy to have in an urban setting.

They don’t wander as far and it doesn’t matter if they get into other gardens because they don’t do any damage. The grass is slowly growing back in the run following the destruction that the warrens left.

With a bit of creativity and application of permaculture principles, I have been able to set up a really great little system for the chickens whilst solving some of the common backyard problems of keeping them.

I cobbled together a little run using posts and chicken wire, but I leave it open through the day. The chickens free range and provide entertainment for neighbourhood children who regularly come to visit and feed them.

I have planted some living willow around the edges. This will grow and help to keep the area drier, especially in winter when it becomes like a mud bath because of the rainfall, lots of traffic and saturated ground. The willow will also provide shade and look much prettier than chicken wire. We can harvest the willow to make other structures. I’ve made a path going up to the run to try and stop the bits of grass from wearing away and have planted lots of lavender to use in my soap-making.

Because silkies don’t eat cabbage plants, I have planted my brassicas in the coop. The Silkies keep the caterpillars and other pests at bay and fertilise the plants at the same time. They also drink the droplets of fresh morning dew from the leaves, it must be like nectar for them. Last year I lost all my brassicas to cabbage whites, this year they are in great shape and thriving. Result.

The straw and chicken poo from spent bedding makes an excellent addition to the compost adding much needed carbon, nitrogen and nutrients.

I use an upturned hamster cage to make a mini-chick tractor. This way they still get the benefit of being outside and on the ground, but they are safe from neighbouring cats and from the family of hedgehogs living nearby. I move the cage about each day, so that they have fresh soil and grass and they fertilise the area evenly. The adults can defend themselves from the cats.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to keep chickens — there are lots of ways to recycle the equipment that you need and off you go.

What you need to start keeping chickens

Keeping chickens can be quite expensive if you buy all the equipment new, but with a little creativity and scrounging around, you can do it for next to nothing. Obviously, it is better to recycle anyway.

First of all you need space for them to live. If you have foxes or other predators you will need to keep them enclosed and safe, especially at night.

Next you will need a coop or a house. This should have a place for them to perch and to lay their eggs. There should be enough space for them to snuggle up at night. The good thing about silkies is that they are small, so you can have more chickens in a small area.

You will need a chicken run. These can be bought, but you can make them out of pallets or old fence panels or even a swing set. An alternative is to make a chicken tractor out of recycled objects.

Silkies don’t fly very much, so you won’t have to clip their wings, but if you have other kinds of chickens, you may need to. Here is some advice about how to do this.

When making the run, make sure that you give them enough space if they are not able to free range.

You will need bedding in the nest boxes and the inside areas of the coop where it absorbs moisture, droppings and smells. It acts as a soft surface for the hen’s feet and provides insulation and warmth and protection for the eggs. You can use straw, shredded paper, soft chippings or shavings. Never use hay as this can cause respiratory problems. This can be used on the compost pile or as part of a hot composting system.

Then you will need to feed your chooks. Most people use pellets and grain, but Karl Hammer assures us that you can feed chickens on compost. Here is more information about that. You can also give them scraps from the kitchen although Silkies tend not to eat cooked things very much. The warrens used to love hot porridge in the mornings.

You should feed them twice a day or allow them access to food all day. They will peck away at the ground and feed on insects and worms and they absolutely love meal worms.

They need fresh water at all times. A little silkie can drink up to half a litre a day when it is hot, so make sure your container is topped up.

Hen’s don’t have teeth (hence the expression rare as hen’s teeth) so they ingest grit into their gizzards to break up their food. If your chickens don’t have access to natural grit, you should provide a little dish of it. Oyster shell is a great source of grit and provides added calcium content for stronger egg shells. Silkies tend to find grit easily and lay eggs with really strong shells.

Lastly, they get bored if they are cooped up. Here are 50 ways to amuse your chicken if they do seem a little frustrated!

That’s it. They are wonderful creatures and will provide you with hours of entertainment.

13 Comments

  1. i concur that Silkies are docile and make great pets and yes are Super Broody which is why they are used to hatch other eggs. I was a falconer for 15 years and I also raised chickens for 20 years. My laying hens were Hardy Concord or New Hampshire Reds depending on where I bought them, same bird different name. They were quite docile,roosters are docile, though they will peck at ripening tomatoes so had to be fenced as the garden progressed. Back to the Silkies……a falconer friend had a breeding project to re-establish Peregrine Falcons back in the Mid-West of the USA. He would artificially inseminate his falcons as he had many females and a few males. He also pulled the Falcons eggs to get them to double clutch, thus making as many baby falcons as possible. He used Silkies to sit on his falcon eggs because they are so broody and do such a great job. Then when all the eggs were hatched he always gave me the Silkies as he had no use for them any more. Let me alert everyone to the fact that Silkies are not the sharpest chicken in the coop. In fact I found them to be extremely stupid, saying that about a pea brained Aimal says a lot. Very sweet birds, just dumber than a stump. Every night I had to go in the coop and Lft the Silkies up and put them on perches or set them in a nest box for the night. Seems that going up to roost at night has been bred out of them. The rest of my chickens put themselves away and I only had to close the coop door till morning when I let them out again. Eventually predators got the Silkies every year as they grazed outside and wander over the my 153 acres with the other chickens.
    Like I said very sweet birds, just dim bulbs! So be forewarned they must be protected at night. Cheers

    1. Very interesting story. I’m based in the UK, I wonder if they are a different strain. These little guys are quite sharp actually and will roost. Great story about the falcon eggs! How were the mother hens when you took the chicks away?

  2. Hi, nice article. Just wanted to point out that oyster shell serves only as a calcium source, it doesn’t serve as grit even though it looks like it. All chickens need true grit such as sand and/or tiny rocks, while only laying hens need calcium such as crushed egg shells and seashells to keep their own egg shells strong.

  3. Actually, Silkies are great if you have the europeen version without a big crest and non bearded. Otherwise, the have problem seeing around. And yes, if you have good quality SIlkies they don’t roost and there is a good reason for that, they have dawn feathers so they can’t fly. The poorest the quality, the more they will fly cause they will have hard feathers on their wings (wich we don’t want when we breed them). But a little ramp to go up on a roost that is not very high, can sometimes be use by them. I have some here as well as Chanteclers. They are not in the same coop. With my Chantecler, I can use deep litter method in the coop since they are scratching a lot. Bot with the Silkies, they are not good foragers. But they are going outside during the summer and forage a bit. They are also very cold tolerant despite what everybody thinks (got -12 in the coop only heating lamp for the water). For me, there main purpose is for hatching my Chantecler eggs since the Chantecler are not supposed to go broody, but are really great foragers.

  4. Hello. My husband and I have just begun raising silkies. Got them as babies. Cute little buggers. Turns out 3 are roosters. Two roosters chummed up together and will not tolerate the third rooster. In fact tried to murder him! So be careful when pairing your chickens up.

  5. Great read .Silkies are the best breed of ted with chicken.They hatch very well.I started with two Silkies 8 months ago,I have 50 Silkie chickens.

    1. Hi Jeanne,I’m in Australia and think I’m going to try chicks for the first time!i think silkies as I have a small yard and don’t care if they lay much but would they be quiet enough to pick up and cuddle? I have older kids and a Cavalier that is not real curious in fact a bit of a scardy cat! But have friends with young kids I’d like them to have a cuddle.What do you think?

  6. You said that silkie chickens don’t eat brassicas? How is that working out for you?

    I have raised silkies for years and I have always fed silkies brassicas, I even grow walking stick cabbage to lower feed bills. My silkies, and everyones silkies that I have ever seen love brassicas.

    You claim that yours lay 3 to 5 eggs per week? That is 150 to 260 per year? I have never ever heard of silkies laying that many eggs. Those are the kinds of numbers that you would get from dedicated egg breeds that rarely go broody!

    In spring and autumn they may lay 3 to 5 per week when they are not broody. Over winter when it is dark, or summer when it is hot, they won’t lay many. When broody or moulting they will not lay at all.

    We average about 80 to 90 eggs per year per bird.

  7. Hi, You didn’t mention about red mites & the even worse feather mite sucking chicken’s blood at night, (& in hot weather, broody hens can die of bloodloss as so many millions of mites) unless rigorously controlled . As these things live & breed in tiny crevices, it is extremely difficult to eradicate them, & then wild birds drop off a new lot! High headroom in the coop helps, as roof felt is a main hiding place, ivermectin drops/per weight on back of neck helps, but can’t eat eggs for 10 days after; please don’t use creosote- it is extremely cruel to shut hens in a creosoted house. Fumes last for weeks. Spraying new houses with garden lime ‘paint’ (beware Not the sort that burns your skin!!) is said to help repel the mites.

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