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QAre Silkies, with their fine feath­ers, any more likely to suc­cumb to the cold (we live in eastern Scot­land!) than other breeds? Our young daugh­ter is set on hav­ing some for her birth­day and whilst we have the fa­cil­i­ties to keep a few, we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the weather!

AJeremy Hob­son says: I don’t think you’ll have any prob­lems as all feath­ers pro­vide both in­su­la­tion and wa­ter­proof­ing. Some are, though, bet­ter at do­ing so than oth­ers and you are right to think of this as­pect. How­ever, so long as they have shel­ter to get out of the rain and wind, you should be okay.

It’s of in­ter­est to note that the colour­ing of a feather as well as its struc­ture af­fects its re­silience to a cer­tain ex­tent. Black feath­ers, for in­stance, are thought to be more re­silient to ‘wear and tear’ than white ones be­cause they con­tain more pig­men­ta­tion. The main pig­ments are melanins (man­u­fac­tured in the bird’s body) and carotenoids (which are ab­sorbed from foods, es­pe­cially green­stuffs and roots).

Whilst ob­vi­ously not a chicken, the snow goose is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the dif­fer­ence. Although pre­dom­i­nantly white, it has black tips to its wings due to a high con­cen­tra­tion of me­lanin at this point; the rea­son be­ing that this helps strengthen the pri­mary feath­ers, mak­ing them more re­silient and ca­pa­ble of the ar­du­ous sea­sonal mi­gra­tions be­ing un­der­taken.

A Silkie. Black feath­ers are thought to be more re­silient to wear and tear

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