Alternative Therapy by S.J.

I first came across Silkies at my brother’s house. My brother had 3 white hens and a cockerel, and I straight away named them after my Mum and her 2 sisters: the funny way in which they ran up to you on approach, bobbing up and down on pantaloon-like legs was an automatic temptation to tease my Mum and Aunts.

I had no idea that 3 years on I’d be their keeper, and them my friendly charges.

It was then that I moved in with my brother as a temporary arrangement. I had been living a very happy and independent life on my own for 7 years, but the last 12 months has become increasingly difficult for me: I was becoming more and more restricted by the effect a genetic disorder I had inherited from my parents, who (unbeknown to them) were carriers.

Despite a very healthy and constructive 25 years I was always aware that my medical condition was a degenerative one.

Now, with breathing problems, combined with potentially fatal seizures, it was time to review my living arrangements. My brother was only too willing to offer me a stopgap until my partner and I could find a home together.

My brother’s 4 Silkies were now at least 20 in number and in return for my accommodation I took their upkeep (along with chief cook) as my new role. Not that there was a lot to do, mind. My brother’s instruction on Silkie care involved throwing out wheat to them in the morning, making sure they had access to water, and were secure at night.

My brother is a busy man: the holder of 2 part-time jobs, the practising owner of a business, and a young male with a very hectic social life. This lifestyle left no spare time for high maintenance birds.

In fact I am still convinced that one of the motives for the novelty of keeping lovely, fluffy-looking Silkies was one of my brother’s many strategies to wooing the birds of the unfeathered variety. I often spotted him taking over the morning release of the flock out of the shed when he had a female audience, and enjoying the credit that came from the ‘oooh’s’ and ‘aaahhhh’s’!!

The Silkies became my friends and the glorious summer I spent at my brother’s farm brings back memories of discussions with my loyal, white companions about topics ranging from my brother’s antics to my own personal worries: when I needed someone (or something) to listen, they always responded with their calming, babbling chatter.

Six months on, and my partner and I moved on to our own home. Although I was happy at my brother’s and he was a great support to me, the amount of time he was present (although more than when I lived on my own) was not enough as my health situation had evolved that being alone was even more of a risk: I now needed access to someone 24 hours a day. Neither my brother or partner could realistically provide this around their work, and a 3rd party needed to be organised. I felt this kind of intrusion would not be fair to a bachelor such as my brother.

So, time to move on…… where we currently live: a small cottage next to a farm, and surrounded by fields – a haven for me, which although not our own, I consider a home for me, my partner, our dog and (of course), our Silkies.

Bringing 3 Silkies with us: Comfy and Kiev the hens and Rebel the cockerel, we began their family planning! We then slowly introduced other coloured Silkies from a local breeder, who has since become a great advisor to us in the ways of Silkie care. This was something we needed much advice on: it wasn’t long before Comfy, and then Kiev began to limp badly, with their feet bleeding intermittently. Ready to whisk them off to the vet I happened to watch one of the numerous pet rescue programmes on the television. It was there that they documented the case of a chicken with exactly the same problem. The presenter went on to describe the scale-like appearance of it’s feet: it was infested with the scaly-leg mite!

Due to my extreme ignorance this had gone unnoticed. Due to having never been that close to a chicken, let alone a Silkie before I met them, I had assumed this was normal. The poor things. It’s true that previously they would never have starved to death, but I was soon to discover that not only did they have this terribly irritable and sore skin condition, that their diet also needed drastic supplementation. It was now that I began to learn how best to care for Silkies to maximise their quality and quantity of life, and as a result of that, also their friendliness, and output in regards to eggs for eating and breeding.

Although this meant a lot more work than I anticipated, it was manageable, and this by far outweighed the return: there is nothing I like better than to see a happy and healthy Silkie. Twelve months on and they were all free of scaly-leg, being wormed and de-flead regularly, were on a far better dietary regime, and daily attention to their bedding and feeders kept potential infection to a minimum. I have much to thank the Silkie Club for in an advisory capacity, as well as the breeder I mentioned earlier. We look forward to (hopefully) attending the Silkie Club open day this Summer.

My Silkies are now the happiest chickens you can imagine, and I am convinced they assist me to be so, too. Our dog loves them (although unfortunately sees their excrement as a delicacy), and I have my partner and Mum well trained to take over their care at the drop of a hat: this preparation is necessary when you are regularly carted off to hospital.

My partner looks at me in despair when I remind him of my lottery dream: to buy our own smallholding, extend to goats and pigs, and afford to hire in help when needed.

We now have Silkies of every colour, and they all have names to match their personalities, of which they are all so individual, from Bungee to Heparin.

Heparin being so-called for the following reason:
He hatched whilst I was in hospital, and on instruction my partner administered the vaccine injection against Mareks, which needs to be taken care of within the first 24 hours. In his rush to get everything done that day once he got home from work, ie feeding the dog and the Silkies, cleaning the house, cooking the dinner, etc, etc he forgot that when I referred to the ‘vial in the fridge’ that I meant the fridge in the chicken barn. Marek’s vaccine had been replaced with Heparin, a blood-thinning drug I inject myself with when on intravenous therapy! My partner was horrified when I told him what he’d done. ‘An honest mistake’ I told him and Heparin was then vaccined correctly, and survived.

And then there’s Delta. He’s special to us as he was one of the 2 of the first chicks we ever hatched. He arrived with a very wonky comb and a beak which doesn’t quite line up correctly. Delta 508 is the name of the most common faulty gene which causes my medical complaint. Therefore I figured Delta was appropriate, as he’s a little wonky, just like me. (And cocky with it…….pardon the pun!)

My illness can cause me quite a lot of discomfort and pain now, and the restriction it has on my life, and particularly my independence (having someone around 24 hours a day is a drag – and I let them know it too, sometimes!) gets me down at times. But aside of the unwavering support I get from my partner and family (and my faithful dog), I know that any time of the day I can walk outside and my Silkies will put a smile on my face.

Whether it be Bungee going for a swift love-making session with the early-nighters in the coop before King Cockerel Rebel retires to bed, the chicks doing an acrobatic routine of running and jumping at me as I deal out a rare treat of chopped cucumber, or Tia, Maria and Guinness following me around the garden until their curiosity is satisfied.

I can’t wait for the Summer this year. I have lost many friends to this illness recently and am conscious of how precious each day is. I will be spending as much time outside with my alternative Silkie therapists as I can.




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