Selecting Silkies for Breeding
By Carina Moncrief
Breeding silkies can be a very rewarding
and fun experience. First and foremost, I believe
you have to have a purpose or reasoning for breeding.
Knowing what you wish to accomplish is the first step
in obtaining ultimate results. Some people breed silkies
to keep as pets for their own flock; others breed
for profit; while others breed following the APA/ABA
standard for exhibition purposes. There are numerous
reasons for breeding birds; however, knowing your
purpose for breeding can help you determine what birds
to select when making breeding choices. For this article
I will focus on breeding standard bred poultry for
exhibition. I would like to note that there are different
opinions and methods to breeding and, in this article,
I will be discussing my own.
The stepping-stone behind this is to
educate yourself and know “the Standard.”
You can do this by purchasing a copy of the “Standard
of Perfection”, which is distributed by the
American Poultry Association, or the “Bantam
Standard”, which is distributed by the American
Bantam Association. You can also read about the Silkie
Standard at the American Silkie Bantam Club website.
If silkies are your bird of choice I would recommend
joining the American Silkie Bantam Club. Attending
poultry shows and exhibitions are a great way to meet
other breeders and educate yourself about the breed.
There are also several forums or yahoo groups on the
Internet that focus on raising silkies.
Once you are familiar with the Standard
and you have a general idea of what the requirements
are for the ideal silkie you are ready to select the
proper birds. I must note that it is on no account
possible to acquire ‘the perfect’ bird
that possesses all the characteristics desired; as
well as a bird that has acquired a ‘show win’
considered perfect. Let’s digress and visit
the “show quality” silkie. I have once
seen a bird placed as Champion Silkie, which, in my
opinion, I would have termed as far lesser stock.
The reasoning behind this is simple: any silkie can
be shown as long as it does not inhibit any disqualifications
regardless of its quality. A less than perfect bird
may be the best at this show; hence, “Champion
Show quality to one individual can
be breeder quality to one and pet quality to another.
This goes back to knowing the Standard and what YOU
want to get out of your stock. “Show,”
“Pet,” and “Breeder” qualities
are simply labels. They truly hold different meaning
to different people. If you are in an area like myself,
silkies of good quality are not locally available.
This means your only source is by shipping and buying
site-unseen. It is essential that YOU, as the buyer,
ask the breeder questions. Do not assume that the
breeder knows what you are looking for. A few years
ago I had purchased a pullet labeled as “Show
Quality.” Her photo looked great. Once she arrived
I was disappointed at her extremely bumpy, large comb
that was hidden underneath the crest and split wings,
which were not seen due to the way the photo was taken.
She did not have a single comb so of course she was
not “pet quality,” but according to my
book, that large bumpy comb and split wing dropped
her status to a much lesser quality, and I did not
want to introduce that fault into my flock. Because
I considered these faults I assumed everyone else
did – especially if the bird was considered
This was a big lesson for me as I learned that I couldn’t
assume that every breeder out there knows the Standard
to the fullest or has the same breeding goals as myself.
As I would not consider a big bumpy comb “show
quality,” some people do. I have learned to
take the labels with a grain of salt. When looking
for a silkie, doing your homework can save you a lot
of headache and money: first and foremost, ask questions
about the bird and learn about the breeder.
When selecting your birds you are looking
for birds that come as close as possible to the Standard
in both sexes. Here you want to note the strengths
and weaknesses of the male as well as the female.
It helps if you have access to exhibition cages where
you can have them together side by side for comparison.
The goal is to balance out these traits and offset
the weak points of one sex with the strengths of the
other sex. For example, if a male has a long back
you would not want to breed him to a female with this
Breeding birds with defects depends
upon how serious the defect is. If the bird that has
the defect is an outstanding bird in all other respects,
then it is usually advisable to breed it; however,
if your flock shows a tendency towards this defect
it is better not to breed it at all. There are several
defects that are caused by incubation or condition
rather than genetics such as crooked toes or yellow
streaks in white birds, etc. If this is the case,
then by all means breed; otherwise, do so with your
best judgment forward.
Breeding birds with a disqualification
is usually a big no-no. Disqualifications are likely
to be defects which are harder to breed out and are
therefore quite likely to be reproduced. Some of these
qualifications include incorrect number of toes, single
combs, vulture hocks, etc.
With each breeding the goal is to produce offspring
better than the parents themselves and as close to
the Standard as possible. Two parents that come close
to the standard can produce offspring that show improvement
as well as produce offspring that show absolutely
no improvement. It should also be noted that improvements
are not readily visible within one generation. It
is by the careful selection of breeders that we can
start seeing improvement in our flocks.