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 Silkie.”

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 “show quality.”
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 same weakness.

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.

 

   
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