Raising Birds to Maturity

Raising Birds to Maturity
by Nikki Stetson
article © Nikki Stetson
HatTrick Silkies

"Don't throw the baby out with the bath water", a saying we've all heard. Never did it take on so much meaning to me as when I saw another breeder use that term. She was so right.

We all know silkies are a wonderful hobby and rewarding animal to raise. All it takes is a little patience and dedication, right? Dedication I have, it's the patience part I found myself lacking in. I've learned some valuable lessons along the way and I'd like to share this one with you.

I've been seriously breeding silkies for about five years now. Before that I was content to let hens hatch and raise their babies, I don't ever remember being anxious to see how they turn out. I enjoyed each stage of development. Then I met Janet, the birds were the least of what we had in common and we enjoyed sharing eggs, birds and ideas. Then it got serious. We wanted what we wanted and we wanted it yesterday. At least I did. I hated to hear a breeder say "they'll be ready in the Fall" or "I won't sell chicks and absolutely no eggs", "adult stock ONLY", etc. I had no idea why, but again, patience is not a virtue of mine. Now I understand.

A couple seasons ago when Janet and I met in the Fall to swap birds I decided to take her my "culls". These were decent birds, no faults. At the time I had alot of extra pullets and my space was somewhat limited. They were roughly 4 months old, I kept a few that I thought were the best and packed the rest up for Janet to sell at the shows and swaps she was attending. These were "average" birds in my opinion and I was sure I wouldn't want them. A few months later I saw some stunning birds in photos Janet sent to me. These were my "culls" who had reached maturity and bloomed into knock out birds. I was amazed and a little annoyed at myself. If I had just hung on a little longer. But I was certain at the time that they were just average birds.

Then this past Summer we went to Janet's place for a few days. I immediately fell in love with a splash hen, she looked just like the hen I had at home, just like what I had been trying a couple seasons to achieve. I asked Janet about her, and you know where this is going, "she's one of your culls" she said. I was floored. I couldn't believe I actually parted with her and what's even more sickening is, how many more like her did I sell off as "pet quality" and never gave the chance to mature? Needless to say I brought her home along with a very valuable lesson.

We're all in a hurry to get things done. Raising silkies unfortunately is not one of those things that we can speed up the process on. Sure, I've replaced my trusty broodies with a couple of incubators, because in my mind, I can do it better and do more of it. I still spend hours going over the birds and yes, I still label them as to quality, but I am not quick to judge a bird. It may be a late bloomer or it may be the "ugly duckling" who matures into bird you're proud to show against your peers. So when a breeder tells you no chicks or eggs, adults only, this is why. No one wants to sell a bird they've been trying to achieve and a buyer doesn't want a 4 month old lanky cockerel with the promise that one day he'll be a stunning bird. In the case of silkies, it takes time and patience and without that, the only place you'll go is nowhere, fast.