Why Do Silkie Chickens Have 5 Toes?

Silkies stand out from other chicken breeds because of their unique traits and fluffy appearance.

These fluffy chickens are often known as “bunnies with chicken legs” because of their fur-like feathers.

In addition to the funky feathers of these distinct chickens, other unusual qualities of Silkies include blue earlobes, dark mulberry combs and wattles, and black skin and bones.

A fascinating feature you may not know about Silkies is they have five toes on each foot.

But why do Silkie chickens have five toes?

The reason Silkie chickens have five toes is due to a gene abnormality. Silkies with five toes were selectively bred, and over time, the five-toed trait became the breed standard. The extra digits on a Silkie’s feet do not serve a purpose and are strictly for appearance.

Silkies are only one of five breeds of chicken with five toes on their feet.

Silkies are popular with backyard chicken keepers because of their unique traits and calm temperament.

Keep reading to learn more about a Silkie chicken’s feet and how to prevent some common foot problems this breed may have.

why do silkie chickens have 5 toes

Do All Silkies Have 5 Toes?

While all Silkies are born with the polydactyl gene, it is not uncommon to see chickens of this breed with four or six toes.

It is sometimes possible for a polydactyl chicken with this dominant trait to have five toes on one foot and four toes on the other.

Some chickens may have six toes on each foot or six toes on one foot, and four or five toes on the other.

Silkies with four or six toes on each foot instead of the usual five are typically not used for breeding purposes.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Silkies having more or less than five toes.

But they are not desirable as show chickens because they do not adhere to the breed standards.

Are Silkies Prone to Foot Problems?

On top of having extra toes, most Silkies have fluffy feathers on their legs.

This combination of traits makes Silkies more prone to foot and leg issues.

The most common foot and leg problems in Silkies are overgrown toenails, scaly leg mites, bumblefoot, and frostbite.

Understanding these problems will help you prevent them from occurring in your flock of Silkies.

Overgrown Toenails

When a Silkie’s toes grow in odd directions, their toenails may not be worn down naturally by walking or scratching.

Overgrown toenails may affect a Silkie’s ability to walk or hold its foot in a normal direction, causing the animal to stumble or appear clumsy.

Check your Silkie’s feet every 2 to 3 weeks or whenever you notice one of your chickens walking funny.

Regular nail trimming will prevent any problems your Silkie may have with long toenails.

Silkies are generally very calm birds, but you will likely need someone to hold the chicken while you trim its nails.

Chickens do not like having their feet touched, so you will need to keep a firm grip on the foot during trimming.

If there is a lot of dirt on your Silkie’s foot, use a damp washcloth to wipe it clean before you trim the nails.

Use a nail trimmer specifically made for small animals, such as this one on Amazon.

To avoid a bleeding nail, do not cut more than 25% of the toenail at one time.

If your Silkie has an extra long toenail, you may need to trim it over several sessions until it is the correct length.

Wait 5-7 days between each nail trim if you have to do a toenail multiple times.

Keep some styptic powder handy just in case the nail is cut too short and starts to bleed.

Once the bleeding is stopped, spray the area with an antiseptic to prevent a possible infection.

File any rough edges, so the Silkie does not snag the toenail on anything and cause an injury.

If several Silkies need a toenail trim, place them in a separate pen when you are finished.

This separation helps you keep track of which birds you have already trimmed.

Scaly Leg Mites

Fluffy feathers on the legs are one of the unique characteristics of Silkies.

However, this distinctive feature makes Silkies more susceptible to scaly leg mites.

These external parasites will burrow into the skin of a chicken’s legs and cause scaling, crusting, and flaking skin.

Open wounds on the legs increase the chances of bacterial infections and cause permanent deformities if not treated.

Scaly leg mites will quickly spread to the entire flock.

Infected chickens must be isolated from the others and treated as soon as symptoms are spotted.

You will need to throw away all of the bedding and thoroughly clean the chicken coop to remove any mites hiding there.

Dust the entire area with poultry permethrin to keep the mites from returning.

To treat scaly leg mites on your Silkie, cover the legs with paraffin oil or petroleum jelly.

You will treat the legs twice daily until the mites are gone and healthy scales grow back.

Veterinary care is recommended for severe scaly mite infections.

This is needed to prevent permanent damage to the chicken’s legs.


Bumblefoot affects the bottom of a chicken’s feet and causes pus-filled ulcers and scabbing.

This condition is very painful for a chicken and causes issues with walking and perching.

Silkies are prone to Bumblefoot due to overgrown toenails or uneven pressure on the foot caused by extra toes.

For mild cases of Bumblefoot, soak the chicken’s feet in a warm solution of Epsom salt and water.

Bandaging the feet after applying medicinal honey or a colloidal ointment will promote healing.

The bandages must be kept dry and changed daily to prevent further issues with the chicken’s feet.

Surgery may be required for severe cases of Bumblefoot.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics.


Silkies are very tolerant of cold temperatures, but the birds will have frostbite if their feet and leg feathers get wet or muddy.

Silkie feathers do not repel moisture like coarse feathers, and it is crucial to keep your birds as dry as possible during the winter.

If you suspect your Silkie has frostbite, seek veterinary care immediately.

Do not allow the bird to be exposed to cold temperatures until it has healed.

Ensure the coop has adequate heat and ventilation to prevent moisture accumulation.

This prevents frostbite in your hens.

Check your Silkie’s feet daily during cold weather.

If temperatures are severe, provide the birds with a warm indoor space to protect them.

Taking Care of a Silkie Chicken’s Feet

There are several ways to prevent foot problems in your Silkie chickens.

Regularly inspect your flock for any signs of diseases, mites, and other health issues.

Keep the outdoor area where your Silkies roam free from mud or snow, and gently wash their legs and feet whenever they are extremely dirty.

Provide your Silkies with dry sand or soft grass to walk on whenever possible.

The lack of feather barbs in Silkie plumage means they do not dry quickly after getting wet.

Regularly trim the nails of your Silkies to prevent overgrown toenails, especially if their extra digits grow abnormally from the feet.

Provide smooth, rounded perches of different sizes, so your Silkies are applying even pressure to their feet when sitting for long periods.

Always isolate new Silkies from the rest of the flock to ensure the new birds do not have scaly leg mites or other highly-transmissible diseases.

Do not breed chickens with extremely abnormal toe growth or excessive leg feathers to avoid having more Silkies with these bad genes.

Read next: Do Silkie chickens roost?

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Growing up amidst the sprawling farms of the South, Wesley developed a profound connection with farm animals from a young age. His childhood experiences instilled in him a deep respect for sustainable and humane farming practices. Today, through Farmpertise.com, Wesley shares his rich knowledge, aiming to inspire and educate others about the joys and intricacies of rural life.

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