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Silkie Chickens

Poultry Profile: Silkie Chickens

One of the most adorable chickens at the Garden Home is called the Silkie because of its fine feathers that feel and look like strands of silk.

The Silkie isn’t a prolific egg producer, but it’s one of the best breeds to have as a pet. Docile and friendly, they will come to you when called and like to be held. The more you spend time with your Silkie chickens the more socialized they will be.

Children love Silkies because of their wacky appearance. They have a top hat like crest and turquoise earlobes that look like fancy earrings. And they have five toes! Most chickens only have four. They also have feathers on their legs, which makes them look like they are walking around in their pajamas.

Silkies come in both large and bantam (dwarf) sizes, but even the large version is small. They come in black, white, buff, gray, blue, and partridge (brown and black). You can get ones with or without a beard.

As an added bonus Silkie chickens don’t make a lot of noise, which is ideal if you live in an urban environment.

Where can you find these fuzzy fowl? One of the best ways to find them is at a poultry show. At the show you can find a breeder who offers baby chicks or adult birds.

Did you know?
Silkies came from China and were referenced by Marco Polo in the 13th century.

Raising Chickens – Purchasing Chicks

Spring time is chick time at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home. This time of year the hatchery and brooders are fully populated with baby birds getting ready to join the rest of the flocks on the farm.

So you may be asking yourself where one gets chicks if they don’t already have chickens. You can order them through a mail order hatchery, purchase chicks at a farm supply store or pick them up from a local hatchery.

Here are a few pointers to help you through the process.

Know the Breed

Before you start shopping do your research and get familiar with the different breeds. Much like dogs, every chicken breed has unique qualities. Leghorns are good egg layers, Wyandottes are calm and Orpingtons adapt nicely to confinement. You want to match your chicken to their environment and your needs.

Where to Get Your Chicks

Baby ChickensBaby chicks are available through mail order, farm supply stores and local hatcheries. To ensure success get your chicks from a reputable hatchery. Check with your extension service for local sources. You can expect to pay around 2 to 4 dollars for day old chicks depending on the quantity, sex and breed.

Mail Ordering : You can order as early as January and schedule delivery for later in spring. Early ordering is a good idea if you have a specific breed in mind because the selection gets slim fast. I’ve ordered from Stromberg’s with good results. You can order all female, all male or a “straight run,” which is a mix. As you can imagine chicks are very hard to sex so expect a few males/females in the batch even if you specify one sex. Most often the minimum order is 25. This is the number of chicks needed to keep them warm enough to survive transit. There are a few places that will ship fewer.


Make sure your chicks are vaccinated for Marek’s disease. This is an optional vaccine, but worth having. Marek’s is a virus that is extremely common and easy to catch. The symptoms include paralysis, drooping wings, thinning and blindness. Besides being painful and often terminal, a flock may be contagious without every showing signs of the disease. To be effective it is important that chicks are vaccinated as soon after hatching as possible. It will add a small cost to the price of each bird, but it’s well worth it.

Be Ready Before Your Chicks Arrive

It’s important to have everything in place before you bring home your new babies. They’ll need to stay in a heated brooder until they are well feathered with bedding, water & feed.


Heritage Poultry Expert Frank Reese on Aylesbury Ducks

Aylesbury ducks have an intriguing history, and they’ve been around for a long time. And at one time there were many of them. But now they’re considered a very rare breed. Earlier this year, Frank Reese, with the good shepherd poultry ranch, came to visit me at the farm to discuss the history and importance of preserving the heritage of these beautiful birds.

Allen Smith: Frank, I can’t believe how windy it is today. I’m so glad you’re here.

Frank Reese: Well, thank you.

Allen Smith: you know, the Aylesbury duck has been around for a long time, hasn’t it?

Frank Reese: Yes, it’s a very old breed. It’s so old, we don’t even know for sure their complete history. But it’s an old English breed of duck.

Allen Smith: You know, we have been fortunate here to be able to collect three genetic lines of that duck. I was stunned when I began to collect these birds, how few there are left in the country.

Frank Reese: Yeah, you probably have one of the bigger flocks that’s even in existence in North America. There’s just hardly anybody left breeding them, especially in any numbers. So the work you’re doing here is extremely important. And they’re not the only bird in trouble. There are many of our varieties of standard-bred poultry — the Jersey Giant, the Barred Rock, the Silver-laced Wyandotte, the old, original meat birds. And there are many, many other varieties of poultry that are in great danger.

Allen Smith: Now, you’ve raised poultry your entire life and know a lot about all the different species. But with the ducks, any advice as we move out of winter into spring?

Frank Reese: Well, you know, this time of year for ducks, they do quite well in cold weather and just getting ready for spring and that they have all of the water and feed and nutrition they need to lay good, healthy eggs. The majority of the time we get in trouble with a little duckling is because we let him get cold, and we let him get wet.

Little ducks, believe it or not, drown very easily. And so you do have to just watch them. You are their mother. They’re babies. They need to be watched. And you need to help keep them warm and dry and have good bedding and clean water.

Allen Smith: Well, my hope with this series of strains, these three that we have, that we’ll be able to hatch a lot of ducklings and really bring up the population of Aylesbury and be able to offer them to other farmers.

Frank Reese: Yeah, and hopefully you’ll also become the center of teaching, a place in which people can come and learn what an Aylesbury is about and why that duck needs to be preserved and be part of our future.

Allen Smith: Frank, so good to have you here. Thank you.

Sebastopol Goslings

I want to tell you about what’s just hatched in the incubator. A beautiful little Sebastopol gosling. Sebastopol is a breed of geese with the curly feathers as adults. Their feathers have a little twist to them so the bird looks like a feather pillow. When they are little like the most recent hatchlings you can’t really tell that they will have that kind of hairdo, or, I should say, feather-do, but eventually, as they mature the feathers will curl.

Now when the goslings first hatch they don’t need any feed or water for up to 48 hours. There’s enough yolk still left in their systems that will supply energy and food for them. When it is time to give them water to drink, I like to give them a vitamin supplement too.

Next we start them on a feed that is 20% protein. I also add a little brewer’s yeast to the feed because it gives them a little more niacin and they need that.

Once the goslings start eating you would not believe how much they will expand in just four weeks. They start going through that very awkward stage where they begin to lose their down and put on feathers.  By six months they look like they’re full-grown.

I enjoy having geese at the Garden Home Retreat, particularly the rare Sebastopols, because it provides an opportunity for their genetics to be perpetuated, and also they’re very beautiful to have out in the pasture and on the pond.

Clever Chicken Coops

If there is one thing that people know about me, it’s that I love chickens! Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Black New Jersey Giants, I couldn’t pick a favorite if I tried. It’s important to have safe and stable housing for our feathered friends and there are so many alternatives to the standard chicken coop. Let’s take a look.

Here is a custom chicken coop that I built. The design of the coop makes it a pleasure to look at while providing a great home for my friends.

Beautiful and fully functional!

You never know when your environment may change; here is a mobile chicken coop I have at the Garden Home Retreat that can go just about anywhere because it is built on a trailer.

Take your coop with you wherever you go!

Here is one of my favorite chicken coops, the Chicken Tractor. It weeds and fertilizes your garden at the same time while providing great housing for your chickens.

This chicken tractor serves several important needs around the farm or garden.

I saw this coop at my friend Jerusalem’s (JollyGoodeGal.com) house. Her husband made it from old doors and windows.

Use your imagination! A chicken coop can also be a focal point in your garden

I hope these chicken coops inspire some great ideas for your own homes and gardens! For more information on unique chicken coops, visit my website at www.pallensmith.com.

Pet Chickens? You bet.

About this time last year I sent my friend Mary Beth home with 2 dozen hatching eggs and one of the roosters from the group made into Cooking Light's Fun issue and not as an entrée! And if you are considering a backyard flock, but haven't taken the plunge yet pick up a copy of this Cooking Light and read Mary Beth's article. You can get a sneak peek here.

The top dog at Moss Mountain Farm is not a dog at all but a rooster named Amos. Amos is a Buff Orpington you’ll find strutting around the front lawn with his entourage. I like to think of them as the welcoming committee.

Amos is one of my favorite characters at the farm. I would even go so far as to say he’s a pet, which will not come as a surprise to those who have raised chickens. Their plucky personalities can be very endearing. In fact, some folks treat their poultry with as much love and devotion as the family dog.

Thanks to products like chicken diapers birds can live indoors and special leashes allow Foghorn Leghorn to join his person on a stroll around the neighborhood. I even hear tell of chickens wearing sweaters and scarves to protect them from the cold.

Now, I adore the poultry at the farm, but I think we are all better off not being roommates. And Amos probably prefers life in the buff to wearing anything that would cover his beautiful feathers.

What about you? How do you pamper your chickens?

A Treat Toy for Chickens

The girls love this treat ball from Manna Pro.

How do you pamper your pet chickens? The Chicken Chat community weighs in.


A Mobile Home for Chickens

My fascination with unusual chickens started at a young age. When I was nine I entered a trio of Silkie bantams in a show at the Warren County Fair. Silkies are pretty fancy looking birds. They are covered in downy feathers with a head crest and feathers around their ankles and toes, as if they are wearing a fur coat, cap and boots.

Since then I’ve raised a variety of birds some that I’ve given names including Slim, a Modern Game bantam; Jackie and Elroy, a pair of Barred Plymouth Rock bantams; Mottled Cochin bantams and French Porcelains.

Because space is limited in my urban home garden I’ve found the smaller bantam breeds to be the ideal size. However, the roominess of the Garden Home Retreat has made it possible to select some large birds like the colossal black Jersey Giant. First developed in the 1870s, they are still the largest American breed. Roosters can weigh up to 13 pounds and hens as much as 10 pounds. The chicks that I have are only a few weeks old and they are already as big as crows.

The second type of chicken I’ve selected is a French variety called Houdan. Like the Silkies, it’s a flashy breed with a feathery head crest and muff around the neck. They also have 5 toes.

Old TrailorSome friends of mine have been kind enough to keep the chicks for me until I’m ready to move them to the Garden Home Retreat. The construction of their new house is underway and its going to be something special. After years of checking out all the amazing houses people provide for their chickens, I knew exactly what I wanted to build – a portable chicken tractor. It is designed to protect the chickens from predators while giving them free range to graze on fresh grass. I took an old trailer frame and had it straightened and strengthened by a local welder. Then I stopped by to talk to a talented local woodworker I know and sketched out a design on a napkin. He took the plan and constructed a house on top of the trailer. Once finished, it was stained in the same colors as the other outbuildings. A portable electric fence is strung around the area to protect the birds. As the birds graze in an area and need fresh pasture, the entire house can be moved and the fence repositioned.

Back View

Side View

Cut Away Interior View

If you want to try your hand at raising chickens, spring is a great time to purchase chicks. For the best success, I recommend that you find a local breeder. You can do this by checking out the publication The Poultry Press or your local cooperative extension. For poultry raising supplies, nothing beats Stromberg’s. I have been purchasing material from them since I entered my first competition with 3 white Silkie bantams.

I also recommend that you purchase a copy of A Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow. It is an excellent book that will help you learn how to raise chickens successfully, and before you know it you will be sharing chicken stories of your own!

Poultry Profile: Jersey Giant

Jersey Giant is the largest breed of chicken that I raise at the farm. The hens can reach up to 10 pounds and the roosters a whopping 13 pounds. In comparison with the Jersey Giant, the typical weight of a Leghorn is 4 ½ pounds for hens and 6 pounds for roosters. Their hefty size demands more space than other breeds, but they are well worth including in your home flock if you have the room.

Jersey Giants were developed in New Jersey between 1870 and 1890. The objective was to produce a chicken that could replace the turkey as America’s favorite roasting bird. It’s a dual-purpose breed, which means they are raised for both the meat and eggs. I raise black Jersey Giants, but white and blue are also colors recognized by the American Poultry Association.

As far as temperament goes, you’ll find them to be very mellow and easy to handle. Jersey Giants are adaptable to both confined spaces and free range. They produce a good amount of large, brown or cream colored eggs.

If you are planning to raise these chickens for meat, keep in mind that it takes longer for them to mature than other breeds. Plan on it take several months for a Jersey Giant to reach a big enough size for the pot or roaster.

Black Jersey Giant Chickens
Black Jersey Giant Chickens

Poultry Profile: Slate Turkey

My first go at raising turkeys was at the age of twelve. I purchased a trio of Bronze turkeys from a local poultry show. I never got over the turkey bug and as soon as I was able I started building a turkey house at Moss Mountain Farm.

Due to their size and talkative disposition turkeys are not for everyone, but if you live in a rural area with room for them to roam I highly recommend adding a few to your backyard flock. Most turkeys are curious and sociable and a pleasure to have around the farm. They are also great foragers and will help manage insect pests in the garden.


I think most of us can visualize the bronze, fan-tailed tom turkeys that we’ve seen in pictures and on television, but the turkey breed actually comes in several colors. The American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes eight color varieties: Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. These are all heritage varieties designated so by their ability to reproduce without artificial insemination, ability to thrive and be productive in an outdoor habitat and have a slow growth rate. Believe it or not, these characteristics are no longer common for the turkeys we serve at Thanksgiving or slice up for a sandwich.

Black Turkey

Black Turkey



Since the 1960s the broad-breasted white turkey is the variety most common on the American table. Its rapid maturity, large breast and low cost make it popular in the industry. Unfortunately the rise in popularity has been at the expense of the other colors. Within 30 some odd years heritage varieties had dropped to critically low numbers. According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) the total number of breeding turkeys in the eight recognized colors was down to 1,335 by 1997. That’s when the ALBC kicked into high gear and started promoting the merits of heritage turkeys. As of 2006 the population of all varieties of heritage turkeys (including those not recognized by the APA) was 10,404. This was just about the time that my turkey house was ready for new occupants.

To help me decided what variety of turkey to raise I sought the counsel of heritage poultry advocates Marjorie Bender and Frank Reese. Their advice led me to the Slate turkey also referred to as Blue Slate, or Blue.


The APA accepted the Slate turkey in 1874, so the variety has had a long career. Unfortunately, that career has waned and the population has dwindled. An added concern is the size of the current birds, which is down 18 to 20 percent from what their weight was in 1874.

Slate Turkey

The stone wall at the farm serves as a catwalk for the turkeys to strut their stuff.


The coloring of Slate turkeys is variable and contingent on the genetics of the bird. They can be ash-blue with or without black flecks. Lavender Slates are pale blue-gray. These are also referred to as Self Blue.

As for size, young toms usually weigh about 23 pounds and hens weigh 14 pounds.

Slate Tom Turkeys

Frick and Frack are a pair of Tom turkeys at the farm.


I find Slate turkeys to be very gentle and they will gladly take up the role as farm pet if you are so inclined.


We keep about 30 birds at Moss Mountain Farm and we do process some for eating. Like other heritage turkey varieties the flavor is exceptional. I usually roast a few for Thanksgiving. The key is to brine the birds for 24 hours and cook them slow. Every spring about 100 poults (baby turkeys) are hatched that we sell and use to replenish the permanent flock.

To help improve the genetics of our Slate turkeys eggs are collected from only the most robust birds. Spanish Black turkeys also play a role in our breeding program. By introducing them back into the lineage every few years we hope to strengthen the genetics.

Black Turkey

Slate turkeys are very personable.


Conservation was the motivating factor for me, but their unique coloring, good nature and flavorful meat are other reasons to add the Slate turkey to your flock. You can even use the eggs for cooking. They are quite flavorful and can be used just like a chicken egg.

The Chicks are Hanging Out

Spring is the season of adorable out at the farm. This week the chicks get first prize for cuteness. They are about 4 days old and starting to show some sass. Jersey Giant, Buff Orpington, Dorking, Wyandotte and New Hampshire are the breeds we’ve hatched.

These pictures beg for captions don’t you think? Well, the folks in the office sure thought so and spent a good deal of time emailing choice chick words; some with visual aids. Check out their suggestions on our Chicken Chat Facebook page.