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Silkie x Rhode Island Red Mixes

The Silkie chicken is prized for it’s unique temperament and black skin/bones. A breed native to China, the Silkie is prized for its fluffy feathers and unique soft, fluffy hair-like plumage. Despite it’s fluffiness, the Silkie has a surprisingly good egg production while also being an excellent mother. Silkie chickens have long broken my heart as they have a very ‘pet’ like temperament yet are not great at avoiding predators with their temperament and crest obscuring their vision to blame.

The Rhode Island Red is a popular dual purpose breed with a very strong ability to avoid/survive predators on small farms, thus making it an excellent choice for a backyard chicken. They are notorious for their large size and good egg production making them a great choice for small farms. The Rhode Island Red’s temperament is typically very skittish at first; but you can gain their trust over time.

The two breeds are almost polar opposites; a skittish, dual purpose chicken and a friendly ornamental chicken. F1 crosses of this breed showed a lot of potential for the market and homestead.

2 Female Silkie x Rhode Island Red F1 Hybrids on baby greens (6 weeks old). These 2 pullets prominently exhibited black skin, feathered legs, and a crest from their Silkie father and size .

The F1 Cross

I chose a very high egg producing female Rhode Island Red (2018 – 305 eggs, 2019 – 298 eggs) with a nice form and high survivability (she was the only chicken that escaped no matter what, I swear she would escape from Alcatraz) . The rooster was a White Silkie raised in New York until I bought him at Root’s Country Market Auction in Lancaster PA. He had a calm temperament, small-medium comb, and was a standard Silkie by all accounts.

3 F1 offspring hatched. One a cockerel, with typical RIR (Rhode Island Red) plumage, skin, and size and silkie temperament, slight crest, and comb.

F1 Rhode Island Red (Hen) x Silkie.(cock) A young cockerel in front with 2 pullets in the rear. Thus far I have a small sample size <10 but all females have had dark skin and all males light skinned. I will need to look into if males ever result in dark skin with this cross.

Both females had RIR feathers and size along with silkie skin, crest, and temperament. Eggs were medium/large brown on a regular basis like the Rhode Island Red. Unfortunately, no long term egg data was able to be collected as predation problems resulted in the loss of both pullets. The Silkie temperament and crest of the birds may need to be selectively bred out if I want to continue to raise these birds on open pasture instead of a closed solution such as a range coop; the crest appears to hinder the bird’s ability to see aerial predators.

My thoughts

F2 and backcrosses have been made; however, right now this chicken is not ready for production. I believe the Rhode Island Red and the Silkie crossed can create a great chicken for the homesteader as a dark skinned, high producing bird could cater to specialty markets. I am going to continue to look into and refine these genetics focusing on the health of well being of the bird on pasture as well as suitability for the homestead.

The original parent Rhode Island Red (hen) and Silkie (cock). The Silkie appears off colored due to dust bathing and grass stains as he has access to pasture at all times.
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Winter Free-ranging Chickens

Free-ranging chickens’ and allowing them to graze as nature had intended is always recommended over just keeping them in the coop. Chickens and any domestic bird will peak their productivity and health when they have a space to roam around freely.
Healthy, happy, and natural birds are in our interest. Spring, summer, and fall months are easy. Let the chickens outside, provide them with some basic food and fresh water, safe overnight space in the coop, and the rest they will find on their own.

Chicken in Snow


Winter months require more care and work to maintain the overall health of the flock. In some areas, the winters can be harsh, with the temperature not reaching above freezing point and a ground covered with snow most of the time. But even with mild winters, occasional frost, and a minimum of snow, chickens will require additional attention.

How much cold weather can chicken tolerate?



Chickens are very hardy birds by nature. With their body temperature around 106°F (41°C), chickens can withstand the external temperature down to 32°F (0°C) or even several degrees below that, but this should not remain their living conditions.

As any warm-blooded animal, chickens prefer the warmer conditions, ideally around 75°F (23°C).

Signs that a chicken is too cold?


If the temperature is uncomfortably cold, a chicken will show it by ruffling its feathers, tucking its head under the wing, and lifting one leg. Head and legs are at the most risk of freezing, so the chickens attempt to worm up those body parts.
Roosters and breeds with a large comb, like Leghorn, are susceptible to getting frostbite, and a breeder needs to pay special attention to protecting them.

Coop condition during the winter



Unless there is deep snow, chickens will still run around the free-range area regardless of the temperature. Birds shouldn’t be restricted in their freedom for too long. Extremely bad weather, disease, and risk of predators are the only situations where keeping your chickens in a contained space is recommended.

Turkey’s and Chickens after a 5 inch western PA snow. Temperature 5 F.



The chicken coop needs to provide safety during those cold frosty days and nights. Avoid the draft by any means but have an air circulation enabled to prevent a buildup of ammonia from the manure; this is best achieved by having ventilation toward the coop’s roof, where it will not affect the birds.
The floor should have some isolation in the form of wood shavings or straw. This will also prevent the risk of wet feet, which can lead to freezing.
Enough natural or artificial light will keep bacteria away, and chickens will gladly spend more time inside.

Roosting bar or roosting surface in the coop will make a big difference. When it’s cold, chickens tend to roost close to each other, sharing their body temperature and warming up each other.

Chicken feed during the winter.


With the lack of greens and insects that free-range chickens find during warm months, chicken feed must be supplemented with extra proteins, minerals, and vitamins over the winter. The best solution is pellet food which contains all the necessary ingredients.

Food and water must be placed inside the coop. When the outside temperature doesn’t go above freezing point, water must be checked several times a day and defrost if it turns into ice. A water warmer can be used to heat the water if needed; these generally run on electricity and consume ~300 Watts.

Conclusion



There is no fear of winter as long as chickens have a proper coop, food, and water. Free-ranging will be beneficial to birds’ spirit, vitality, and overall quality of life. With all of these requirements met, don’t be surprised if you find plenty of eggs even during the harsh winter months because that’s what happy chickens do.

This article is also found on my personal blog https://deluisio.com/2021/12/06/free-ranging-chickens-in-the-cold-winter-months/