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Why do everybody else’s silkies always seem to be bright white and fluffy and my silkies have mucky faces and muddy feet? Believe me, you are not alone! Most silkie owners struggle with this same dilemma.
Due to the unique nature of silkie feathers and the fact that they have feathered feet, they do not repel dirt and dust the same way other chicken feathers do. To prevent this from happening, keeping them in a chicken run on shavings and preventing them from getting wet, are a few of the strategies that can help keep white silkies clean.
Why is it that the white silkies always seem to find the muddiest areas in the garden or love to play in the rain? Whoever thought that keeping a fluffy white chicken is a good idea? There are only so many times you will have the time to bath your silkie, but before you give up, there are a few things you can try to help keep your white silkies looking fluffy bundles of cotton wool.
Why Are Silkies Magnets for Dirt?
Silkies have very unique feathers. Their feathers lack barbicels, the microscopic structures that keep feathers looking smooth and neat and also make them water- and dust-proof. You can read more about the uniqueness of silkie feathers in this article.
Because of this Silkie feathers can not repel water the same way other birds’ feathers can. This causes them to become completely soaked in rainy weather and their soft fur-like feathers to be sponges for mud and anything dirty when their feathers are just slightly wet. This, combined with their love to scratch and take dust baths equals mostly dirty silkies.
What I fail to find an explanation for, is the fact that white silkies seem to love these filth-inducing activities much more than most other color varieties of silkies.
Tips To Keep White Silkies Clean
1. Keep Them Dry
So we know that the combination of silkies and moisture results in something less clean and white, so protecting them from wet weather is one of the first and best things you can do. A coop can provide good cover for occasional rainstorms, but having a run with a roof, or at least a large enough roofed area to keep your silkies until the soil dried completely after the rain, is definitely necessary. If you live in an area with high rainfall, building a large enough covered run to keep them long-term is the way to go.
Not only does avoiding wet areas prevent a muddy-silkie situation but will also prevent much more serious issues such as hypothermia, especially in the winter months. If you live in an area with winter rainfall, I would strongly suggest that you keep your silkies in a covered run. Because silkie feathers become soaked when wet and do not dry easily, it can cause them to lose a large amount of body heat at a fast rate and potentially becoming hypothermic which can be life-threatening.
2. Limit Access to Dirt
Dust bathing is a very normal part of chicken behavior. It helps repel external parasites plus they enjoy it and it is usually a sign of a comfortable, happy chicken.
Limiting time spent in the garden among the flower beds will help avoid the temptation to take dust baths. I do not believe that this will negatively impact the well-being of your silkies as long as you provide them with other sources of environmental enrichment. Providing them with swings, hiding treats, or placing mirrors in the run will help to keep them happy and occupied. Allowing them to roam in an area where they have access to sand and dirt on occasion, could be a good way to spoil your chooks from time to time.
If your silkies are free-range in your garden, fencing off flower beds or dusty areas is a good idea. The ideal backyard free-ranging situation would be if the space your silkies have access to is either lawn, pavement, or asphalt.
3. Avoid Filthy Feasting
Silkies love, and I mean LOVE watermelon. Watermelon just does not love white silkies so much. Needless to say, avoiding messy treats will help avoid the crusty, but admirably cute, face and neck situation. Other ‘wet’ treats such as yogurt can also be a culprit. I love giving my chicks a yogurt treat (recipe in the article link mentioned in the next paragraph), and it usually does end up with the chicks having dirty faces, but they just love it so much and I love seeing them enjoy the treats, so sometimes I have to throw a blind eye and let them have some fun.
Alternatively, if you want to steer clear of bathing your flock after a feast, rather offer treats such as grated carrots, mealworms, or scrambled eggs. For more options on what to feed your silkies, have a look at this article.
4. Lift the Water Drinkers Off Of the Ground
If you have water drinkers on ground level or water drinkers with large openings, you may have seen your silkies ‘splashing’ more than necessary. I have even seen some silkies trying to stand inside the water drinker. Silkie-logic baffles me sometimes.
An easy solution to this problem is simply placing the drinkers on bricks. Alternatively, hanging drinkers at chest height works great. If you have chicks, just make sure that they can reach the drinker as well – so in essence the drinker should be adjusted so that the shortest member of the flock can reach the water.
Amazon has great hanging water drinkers available. I like this one which has two smaller openings that will prevent your silkies from potentially trying to take a bath in the drinker. If you are up to DIY a hanging drinker, have a look below at this lovely idea by a fellow silkie-lover on Facebook. They used a hanging pot plant pot, cut out the bottom, and placed the drinker inside so that it can be suspended.
5. Using a Caged-in, Covered Run with Appropriate Floor Coverings
If seeing your white silkies resembling mud cakes makes you gasp in disdain, or if you would just rather avoid having to bath your silkies every other day, this option might be worth your while.
The first prize will go for a run that is preferably lifted off of the ground or at least has solid flooring. Wood or concrete works well, but I know of some silkie owners who have found vinyl to work as well. As long as it is easy to clean and mostly dust-free.
The floor covering that will cause the least dust is pine shavings (never use Cedars- it’s toxic to chickens!) or sand. Plain builder’s sand works well if you choose to go the sand route and is relatively cheap, plus they will still be able to have the fun of dust bathing without all of the dirt. For more in-depth information on good floor coverings, have a look at this article by The Feather Barn on floor coverings for chicken runs.
Protecting your silkies from the elements comes at a cost in more ways than one. On the downside, it can be expensive to set up at first and will take some maintenance on your side. You will, for example, have to completely change out the shavings at least every 2 weeks, which can be rather labor-intensive, depending on the size of your run.
Your silkies will not have access to plants to peck or dust to bathe in, so you will have to make sure you feed them enough fresh snacks and provide them with sufficient scratch to be able to ‘chicken’.
6. Check the Sleeping Arrangements
Another common cause for dirty silkies is when one finds itself sleeping in an unfortunate location below the roosting spot of a flock mate. Most birds will move out of the way as soon as they feel the bombs dropping but I find that especially the youngsters do not always have that type of common sense.
Silkies do not roost very high and many choose to roost on the ground all their lives. Some do enjoy getting as high as they possibly can for bedtime. Keep in mind that silkies can only jump about 10 inches so they will either need low perches or have multiple steps to jump up to a higher perch.
The solution to this problem would be to make the roosts low enough so that there is no space for another silkie to sleep underneath a perch. Alternatively, place objects such as bricks underneath the perch to avoid any unfortunate accidents.
7. If All Else Fails- Bring the Shampoo!
I am not going to go into the details on how to bathe a silkie in this article, but if you would like to read more, Backyardchickens.com has a wonderful step-by-step article with lots of photos on giving your silkies a spa day.
Just a few pointers to keep in mind: use appropriate pet shampoo or fragrance-free baby shampoo (avoid dishwashing liquid or other harsh soaps) and do not bathe your silkies more than once a week. Bathing is harsh on their skin and strips away the natural oils that help to protect the skin and feathers.
Don’t be fooled by pretty white silkie pictures all over the internet- their owners will attest that keeping them that pristine is almost a full-time job! Hopefully, these tips can help keep them looking photo-ready for longer. No matter how much trouble they may cause us to try and keep our white chickens actually looking white, we will forever love them for their wonderful sense of “I look fabulous covered in mud!”