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Identifying Silkie Crosses

By Alan Stanford Ph.D. and Inga Ladd

Chickens sometimes hop the fence and cause their owners to wonder, "Are those chicks from two Silkie parents?"   One way to tell is with a recessive gene in Silkies that the interloper does not have.   The trouble to find out when the offspring are still chicks the recessive gene must have an effect visible in chicks.   The effects of most of Silkies' recessive genes are not visible until the chicks are juveniles.   Most of the dominant genes do not help, but one sex linked dominant and the interloper's single comb can.  

The article at by Dr. W. F. Hollander

         Silkie Genetics

lists several of the Silkie breed's genes.  

The Problem with Dominant Genes

Feathered Legs - Dominant Gene

As an example of a dominant gene, consider the gene for feathered legs.  

         Feathered legs: F

The trouble with this (and other not sex linked) dominant genes is the gene will affect all the chicks.   Silkie cross Silkie and Silkie cross Interloper will all have feathered legs.  

Recessive Silkie Genes

Silkie Feathers - Recessive Gene

Silkie feathers are recessive.   The symbol for the gene causing Silkie feathers is

         Silkie: h

because the feather are hookless (no barbs).  

A first generation cross with not Silkie feathered birds usually has no Silkie feathered offspring.   Unfortunately the chick down will not tell you if the bird will have Silkie feathers after it grows and molts.  

For completeness, I should mention the possibility of Silkie genes in the not Silkie parent.   The not Silkie parents probably do not have a gene for Silkie feathers.   If they and their mate each have a single "hidden" single Silkie gene, they will produce 25% Silkie feathered chicks.   Even if only one bird in your flock has a single Silkie gene, sooner or later you will grow a surprise Silkie feathered bird.  

Crest - Recessive Gene

Another recessive listed in the article is

         crest: cr

and this is not visible at birth.  

Recessive White - Recessive Gene

The only other recessive listed in the article is

         recessive white: c

This MIGHT be visible at birth.   If your chicks have a color of down that white chicks never have and your Silkies are white, you have your answer.  

Dominant Genes

Black Skin - Sex Linked Dominant Gene

The dominant gene responsible for the Silkies' dark skin

         Black skin: Fm (Firbromelanosis)

is sex linked; it is on the chromosome that determines gender.  

Before I go into why this fact will help you find the chicks with one not Silkie parent, you need to know that with birds the female controls the gender.   The male does not; with humans males determine the sex.  

So, when you breed a not Silkie male to a Silkie female, the pullets from the cross will be completely light skinned just like their father.   The cockerels from this cross will have one gene for light skin and one for dark skin.   Because the gene for dark skin is incompletely dominant, you'll see some traits of the recessive light skin "underneath".   The cockerels won't be as dark skinned as a Silkie or as light as a light skinned chick.  

Conversely, if you breed a Silkie male and a not Silkie female, the pullets from the cross will be completely dark just like their Silkie sire.   The cockerels from the cross will be intermediates just like cockerels from a not Silkie father and a Silkie mother.  

One more thing about the intermediate cockerels from both breedings is they can be gray skinned or they can have really light skin with dark spots.  

What this all means is that you can be sure that any light skinned chicks from the hatch are females and not from a Silkie sire.   Be very careful of chicks with lighter skin than most Silkies.  

Rose Comb - Dominant Gene

Pure Silkie chicks will have proper Silkie combs.   The responsible gene is:

         Rose comb: R

They will not have single combs.   By looking carefully, you can distinguish a single comb on a day old chick.   Of course, this only applies if the not Silkie parent has a single comb.  

Five Toes - Incomplete Dominant

About four toes, pure Silkies can have four toes unfortunately.   The responsible gene is

         Polydactyly (five toes): Po

So just having four toes is not an absolute sign of a cross with a not Silkie.  

Look For This

So unless you have white Silkies, you need to look for

         Light skinned females          Gray skinned males

If the possible not Silkie parent has a single comb you can look for chicks with

         Single Combs

or wait for your chicks to grow feathers and look for


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