The Silkie is an ancient Chinese breed that already was described by the Venetian explorer Marco Polo (1254 - 1324). He found them near the South Chinese town of Quelinsu, but its history goes back further than the first century. The Swiss professor Konrad Gessner described the breed in his "Animal Book, - Section Birds" as early as AD 1555 as a snow white fowl with blue skins. The German Dr. M. Bechstein mentioned the fact that he had spotted Silkies or Wool Fowl in the Netherlands, France and Germany around 1800. In the nineteen century, Darwin described them as Negrofowl and spoke about three varieties the Siamese, the African Cafferfowl and the rumples. The Standard Chinese Silkies are actually semi-bantams, but in Europe, they are classed as large fowl. Apart from the large fowl, there are very small and popular bantam Silkies throughout the whole world. They came to the West via former Ethiopia. The main feature of the breed is the hair-like plumage through the lack of barbs and hooks in the feathers. Other typical features are the purple skin and meat, the fifth, hind toe, pointing slightly upwards. Also, varieties with crests, beards and the foot feathering exist. The breed is only recognised in a few colours of which the white is the best known. The bantam version comes in more colours. The legs have to be short, but due to a variable gene, (too) long legs occur fairly regularly. Silkies were used to create or to improve breeds or varieties such as Cochin-, Brahma-, varieties of the Polands, Wyandottes and Sultan Fowl. They also were known as a bird used for genetic research in poultry and much is published about that as for example the Dutch written excellent book 'Zijdehoenders' by Ing. J. Ringnalda of Holland.
The most important characteristic is the silky feathers they have, because the lack of the little hooks in the feathers they have very fluffy, hairy feathers. The Silkie is a small, slightly cobby bird with a rich silky plumage, with or without crest and beard, five toes and moderately feathered legs. The middle and outer toes are feathered. The purple skin colour and the bluish flesh are typical. The head is moderately broad, short and neat and adorned with the circular, mulberry comb carried on the forehead very near the beak and sometimes covering the beak. The eyes are dark brown and the wattles; beak and comb are purple to dark blue coloured. The crest and beard are medium sized. The neck is short rather than long. The back is broad, short and almost U-shaped. The wings are rather short and are carried horizontally and somewhat loosely. The tail is short and high. The short shanks and toes are purple coloured.
A very friendly, quiet and placid breed that lays few eggs - sometimes
no more than 50 a year- that weighs around 40 grams. Its main
characteristic is its persistent broodiness and it very often serves as a
"surrogate broody" whereby it hatches eggs from other poultry
breeds. Silkies can be kept successfully in small pens.
The weight of this semi-bantam breed lies between 1000 and 1600 grams.
Mostly represented in the colours White, Black, Partridge, Gold and Blue. There are some more colours that are kept on a restricted scale. Further, they are known as Bearded, Non-Bearded and in the Frizzle feather variety.