Silkie chickens are unusual-looking birds with feathers that resemble silk or fur. These fluffy creatures have crests or topknots on their heads, and extensive feathering down their entire leg and part of the foot. They also have five toes instead of the standard four. According to the American Silkie Bantam Club, these chickens are mentioned as far back as the 13th century, in the writings of Marco Polo. However, male silkie chickens can be difficult to tell from females.
Silkie chickens take longer to mature than many other chicken breeds--as much as eight to nine months. Unlike sex-link chicken breeds and chickens bred to be feather-sexed, silkie chickens show few difference before they reach maturity. According to the American Sikie Bantam Club, experienced silkie owners develop ways to identify the sex of their chicks by about eight to 12 weeks, but can be wrong as much as 50 per cent of the time.
Male silkie chickens, or cockerels, are usually larger than the females, or pullets, even at a young age. Males also usually have larger, quicker-developing combs, a swept-back crest and larger, rounder wattles. Males tend to develop spurs, and will have longer, more pointed feathers around the neck, or hackle, and just in front of the tail. In some cockerels, the saddle feathers in front of the tail may slightly cover the wings. Males also tend to have less fluffy, more pointed tails.
All breeds of chickens, including silkies, can be vent-sexed. This method involves inverting the chicken and examining its cloaca, or vent, for male sex organs. According to Chicken Crossing, experienced workers have around a 95 per cent success rate sexing chickens through the vent. Amateurs who've just learnt the basics are usually no more accurate than 60 to 70 per cent. For the most accurate assessment, silkie owners should get in touch with a professional, such as an avian vet.
Sexing silkie chickens via external characteristics isn't always effective, even for the most experienced chicken owner. Silkies with all the characteristics of males, including a tendency to crow in the morning, have been known to suddenly lay eggs. Cases like this are unusual, but demonstrate variability among individual animals. A silkie may be nearly a year old before it displays its gender.
Despite their attractive appearance and docile personality, silkies aren't the ideal chicken for all situations. Silkie chicken owners should be aware that sexing these birds can be difficult and inexact, even when done by professional breeders. It's a good idea to raise silkies only in areas that permit roosters, in case of an incorrectly-sexed bird.