Two years ago, when Brenda Walden unexpectedly arrived at her family’s West Seattle home with four tiny chicks in tow, her husband looked at her, surprised – then grabbed a scrap of paper.
She had just been out on one of her regular trips to the feed store to pick up some supplies for the family’s horses, who live in a barn in Renton. But when she spotted the collection of spring chicks, Walden says, they were just too cute to leave.
So her husband jotted onto the paper, “These chicks are going to the barn,” adding an underscore for her to sign and date. Then he rolled his eyes, saying “I know this isn’t going to hold.”
Today the couple, along with their children, ages 14, 16 and 18, have 13 chickens spread out between their home and the barn.
The birds living at their house full time are all Silkies and have names like Henny Penny, Chipmunk and Venus. The Silkie is a breed believed to have originated in China that is about half the size of a standard chicken, can’t fly and has feathers that look a lot like fur. Walden, who likes to call them “puppies with wings,” says they feel as soft as silk.
Although the couple had to think fast initially when it came to housing for the pets (think a converted guinea-pig pen), they have since revamped a 4-by-8-foot dog pen, adding a roof to it, along with a wooden henhouse, feeder, water container and heat lamp. Walden also created signs to spruce up the space saying “Silkies Welcome Home” and “Home Sweet Home.”
Walden’s sister’s family became interested in chickens around the same time, so Walden gave them two Silkies. Her nieces, Pepper and Cricket Williams, 5 and 7 years old, have completely fallen in love with them.
“They carry them all around like dolls and they have a leash for them,” she says. “They dress them up.”
Each morning, Walden lets them out of their pen so they can wander around the yard. Then after she’s had some coffee and breakfast, she gives them her fruit scraps and some extra veggies she buys just for them.
When Walden takes a break from her remote work, she says, she enjoys sitting outside with the Silkies.
“They love the attention, so they’ll come and they’ll hang out by my feet until I start picking each one up individually, and then I’ll throw them some snacks,” she says.
The Silkie chickens are useful – producing at least four eggs a day during the spring and summer, naturally fertilizing and weeding the yard and happily eating the family’s fruit and vegetable scraps. But Walden says she’s also found them to be helpful in more subtle ways. With the stresses of work and parenting mixed with daily life in the midst of a pandemic, she described them as being a nice escape.
“When you just hang out with them, they’re such simple animals, and they give you a sense of outlet,” she says.
“There’s a sense of relaxation that they’ve created.”