Silkie problems and diseases

A sick Silkie chicken with an eye infection.

Silkie problems and diseases:

What are the things that can be problematic for Silkie chickens?

Silkies, like all other chickens will for the most part lead normal and happy lives but there are a few genetic conditions and care concerns for all stages of their life.

Is the Silkie Right For You?

A Silkie is the ultimate in kids’ chickens. They are cuddly, fluffy and tolerant, love sitting in your lap and even enjoy cuddles.

They are a very friendly, calm and docile bird and interact very well with people – they will follow you around and ‘talk’ to you. This docility can lead to them being picked on by more aggressive flock members, so try to keep an eye open for bullying.

Silkies are notoriously broody – the standing joke is that a Silkie can hatch a rock! They also make great mothers.

Many folks keep Silkies in order to hatch out other eggs. A Silkie in ‘broody mode’ will usually accept any and all eggs placed under her.

However, if you live in an area that is inclined to be wet and muddy, be aware that those conditions do not really agree with Silkies because of their feathering, but if you absolutely must have them you will need to keep them clean and dry.

Health Issues:

Apparently Silkies can be quite susceptible to Mareks’s disease. Many breeders have bred their stock for natural immunity, but of course you can get your birds vaccinated.

With Silkies being very fluffy they can be a target for mites and lice, so due diligence should be paid to these little fluff balls. You may also need to trim the feathers around the eyes to help them see a little better.

Occasionally, the fluff at the rear end does need trimming for hygiene and breeding purposes.

Other than this, Silkies are quite robust and will usually live for 5-8 years or longer with lots of tender loving care!

Do Silkie chickens have extra toes?

Yes, Silkies have extra toes, it is called polydactyly. Silkies have five toes on their feet instead of the usual four that most other chickens have. The fifth toe is normally small and causes no issues.

They also have feathered feet and shanks which can be more of a problem in wet and muddy conditions.

Split wings:

Split wings is a fault in Silkies as it is in other poultry. It happens when the axial feather, or the boundary feather between the primary and secondary flight feathers, is missing, and the wing droops.

It can be bad enough that the wings droop to the ground. You should never breed from split wing chickens.

Vaulted skulls:

Vaulted skulls are common in Silkies and in polish chickens. It started out as a mutation. People then selected it because they liked the look of it.

A vaulted skull is has an opening at the top not unlike when a human baby is born. The soft spot on a human skull grows together and become hard. Sometimes a silkies hole will grow over but sometimes it does not.

It has been selected for because it makes for a larger crest. It can cause problems, a well aimed peck can kill a bird with a vaulted skull.

Getting bullied:

Because they're so gentle and trusting by nature, they can often be bullied in a flock of other breeds.

If you intend to place them with others, you need to keep an eye out to make sure that doesn't happen and so a part of the Silkies brain is therefore unprotected.

Bad weather:

Their feathers are not like other chicken feathers. Because their feathers are more like down, they're not waterproof so Silkies don't do well in a wet climate, unless they can be sheltered properly.

For the same reason, they don't like snow.

Their feathers may look like good thick insulation but actually they don't do a good job of keeping Silkies warm, so very cold climates aren't good - unless, again, they can be kept warm and sheltered.

If you live in a climate which has frequent cold, wet spells, Silkies are not the best chicken breed for you. Going to the roost cold and wet is a killer for the Silkie.

Silkie bantams not laying:

It is not unusual to have laying problems with Silkies. For a start they just do not lay as many eggs as other chickens, sometimes only 80 to 100 a year and these often come in flushes of 14 to 16 eggs at a time with a week or two's break in between.

Silkies aren't bred for their laying ability and so will seem to be very poor layers compared to breeds that were bred strictly for egg production such as Rhode Island Reds. If you're used to your RIR being laying machines and just surprised at not seeing the same thing in another breed.

Ask yourself:

What age are these birds?

Silkies may not lay until they are 9 months old.

What condition did you get them in?

They may need some recovery time and a good feed.

What do they do during the day? Sit in the box? Normal chicken stuff?

Are they happy and relaxed or stressed out and hiding.

What are you feeding them?

Add some supplements like hulled sunflower seeds.

Exactly how long has it been since they've moved in?

All chickens require settling in time. sometimes as much a month.

What time of year is it?

Most bantams lay only in the spring, summer and fall, not in the winter much at all. The reason I mention this is that it has to do with the quantity of sunshine they get, the less sun, the fewer eggs.

Have they been broody?

Silkies are inclined to broodiness and often difficult to break them of it once started. They don't lay eggs during this phase, so it contributes to their overall poor egg performance.

Splayed Leg in Chicks:

Once in awhile, you may experience a chick, Silkie or otherwise that hatches with splayed legs.

It looks like they are doing the sideways splits and can't get their legs up underneath them. In milder cases, one leg will just slip out to the side, but it does interfere with the chick's ability to walk and move about normally.

What causes splayed legs?

I believe it can be genetic or environmental, since a long time ago, I bought a trio of coloured Silkies and the chicks from that trio had a high percentage of splayed legs. I sold off all those birds as pet quality and started over with a better line.

However I think that the occasional splayed leg chick is usually an incubation issue. A weak chick is more likely to have splayed legs, or a chick that took a long time to hatch, or required help in order to hatch.

The rubbery shelf liner that I line my brooders with helps a lot with the mild cases of splayed legs. It has a tacky rubbery surface that helps the chicks really get their legs up underneath them, even if one leg wants to slip out to the side a little. After a day or so, it's hard to even find the chick that had the problem, as it has gained strength and the ability to keep its legs in the correct position.

However, sometimes intervention is necessary. If you determine that the chick is going to need help, this is a fairly easy method that produces good results. Choose a time when you can spend 45 minutes to an hour with the chick, as they will need your help after you tape the legs.

Take a regular band-aid that has a middle pad measuring 3/4 inch long. Cut the band-aid in half lengthwise. You will only use 1 piece, so save the other piece for the next chick needing help. Wrap each side of the sticky surface around 1 leg, leaving the 3/4 inch pad in the middle as the spacer between the 2 legs.

When you put the chick back in the brooder, they usually do flips and are very frantic since they have to find a new way to move around. Stay with the chick, righting it when it lands on its back, or when it sticks its legs out in front of it.

After about 15 minutes or so, they usually figure out how to move their legs normally. Stay with the chick until it learns how to move around. If it flips over on its back and just gives up, it can die.

Once your chick learns how to move around, it will be OK. Usually the band-aid holds quite well, and you can remove it after 3 or 4 days. If the legs aren't completely normal at that time, use the other half of your band-aid to tape them up again.

Curled Toes in Chicks:

I haven't had nearly as many chicks with curled toes since I started leaving them in the hatcher for 24 hours after hatch. When we first started hatching chicks, our instinct was to get them out of the incubator right away and into the brooder where we could give them food and water and watch them.

But chicks feed on the absorbed egg yolk for up to 72 hours after they hatch and really don't require food or water right away. And the time spent in the warm, moist incubator with other chicks hatching around them, just seems to straighten out any toe issues.

Once they are put in the brooder, the rubbery shelf liner on the bottom seems to really help them to extend their toes normally. (Can you tell I REALLY love that shelf liner stuff?)

But if you get a chick with curled toes and it needs help - the sooner you can intervene, the better. This method works well, although you will have to watch it and replace the tape every day or so. I use clear packing tape, cut 2 pieces about 2 inches square each. Place one piece sticky side up on a hard surface.

Holding your chick firmly with its leg extended, spread the toes into the desired position, and press onto the sticky tape. Put the other piece of tape, sticky side down onto the foot and press all around and between each individual toe. The chick's toes will be sandwiched between the 2 pieces of tape, hopefully in the correct position.

Press firmly all around the foot and between the toes, and using small scissors, cut off the excess tape, creating a tape slipper that will hold the toes in the desired position. Do the same on the other foot if necessary. Watch the chick when you put it back in the brooder - make sure it can move about normally, and make sure the other chicks aren't pecking at the taped chick.

Some interest is normal, but you might have to remove your curled toe chick into a private brooder for a day or so, if the others are convinced that those taped toes are really juicy worms. :-)

Check the tape every day, food will get in between the taped pieces and eventually it will loosen, and will need to be replaced. Sometimes the toes will straighten out entirely within 24 hours with this method, especially if the problem is discovered right after hatch. The longer the chick's toes are curled, the longer it will take to fix.

In a dire situation on an older chick, I even super glued a chick's toes to a piece of cardboard, because I couldn't keep the tape on the toes. The cardboard was cut into the shape of the chick's foot and the toes glued in place on top of it.

It worked really well, stayed on about 10 days before the glue broke down, and the chick had normal toes again. However that is not a method I would recommend for the average chick hatcher - so many things could have gone wrong, and I think I was just really lucky.

Crookneck in Chicks:

Silkies are susceptible to crookneck, also called limber-neck. Symptoms are a gradually bending down of the head, until the head is between the legs, the bird scuttles backward, sometime doing flips, and eventually dies.

Crookneck can occur in chicks as well as growing and adult birds. Cause is unknown, however Silkies have a hole in the top of their skull and easily suffer injuries to the brain.

This article will only address chicks with crookneck. Sometimes a chick will hatch normally, eat, drink and poop normally, but begin to show crookneck symptoms in 3-4 days. At first, you might just notice that the chick always seems to be looking down in front of it. As soon as you notice this, begin treatment immediately.

Massage is the best way to cure crookneck in chicks. I learned about this from a very successful breeder in CT, and have had 100% success on every chick that I have used this method on. Hold the chick, and using your thumbs, rub up its neck to the base of its skull. You might hear little popping noises, but don't worry.

Apply just enough pressure to move the skin and the muscle beneath. Massage for 3 minutes or so, and put the chick back in its brooder. Do this every few hours or every time you pass by the brooder. Best results are realised when you can massage the chick at least 6 times a day.

In our experience, within 3 days, we couldn't tell which chick had been showing the symptoms, but we keep up the massage after the symptoms have passed, until the chick looks and acts exactly like the others in the brooder. Our experience has been that chicks that recover from crookneck do not have any tendency to develop it again as adult birds.


The Silkie chicken always brings a smile to peoples’ faces. This ‘odd-ball’ and slightly unusual bird is certainly a crowd pleaser!

Although they won’t keep you in eggs, they will supply you will lots of love, smiles and cuddles. When they become bonded to their owners they can be described as ‘dog-like’ in their devotion.

They will follow you, talk to you, check out what you are doing and ‘help’ too!

They are certainly a great bird to have around if you have eggs you want to hatch, but don’t want to fiddle around with an incubator. Read how to hatch eggs with a broody hen for more on that.

All in all, these funny little birds are a joy to have and give much pleasure to their owners.