But Y Tho explores a plethora of funny, strange, and peculiar trends to provide long sought-after answers to questions that have been swimming in all our heads.
When Aaron Chong and his sister Angelique take their offbeat pet out for walks around their neighborhood in Singapore, they receive friendly comments from strangers who mistake it for a small dog. Then, intrigued stares ensue when people realize that it isn’t a furry dog but an ultra fluffy chicken. For the siblings though, they’re almost the same thing.
“I think, generally, they are very well-natured and easy to take care of, and they bond quite well with humans,” said Aaron of his pet Silkie chickens. “They have a lot of nonhuman charisma, and it's enjoyable to be around them.”
Aaron, 24, and Angelique, 13, first got their Silkie chickens in November last year, after watching tons of farm videos on YouTube featuring the fluffy pets. They are now the proud owners of four Silkies.
Silkie chickens are instantly recognizable by their fluffy feathers and black or bluish skin. Also known as “black bone chicken” in Chinese cuisine, Silkies have long been used in herbal soup due to their nourishing properties.
In Singapore, chickens are not classified as pets, which means pet shops are not legally allowed to sell them. However, aspiring chicken owners can get their hands on chicks or chickens from existing chicken owners who have hatched their eggs, or shelters like chicken adoption rescues. And while chickens are technically prohibited in public apartments (also known as HDB flats), Singaporeans are legally allowed to keep up to 10 poultry on private property.
Over the past year, however, Silkie chickens seem to have become the trendiest pet in Singapore.
While the exact number of Silkie chicken owners in Singapore isn’t known, those that VICE spoke to all agreed that there has been a drastic increase in the popularity of these animals, as seen in social media accounts dedicated to people’s pet Silkies and activities in online community groups.
Noel Tan, a 23-year-old student at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, was a Silkie chicken owner early on. When he first started raising chickens about four years ago, the Facebook community group for local chicken owners, Backyard Chickens Singapore, only had 500 to 600 members, he recalled. The group has since grown to comprise over 3,000 members, many of them Silkie owners.
So, why are Silkie chickens becoming such popular pets in Singapore?
To get to the bottom of the country’s latest obsession with fluffy poultry, I spoke to both experienced and newbie Silkie chicken owners.
For Tan, it was love at first sight. He was immediately smitten by the Silkie chicken’s adorable appearance when he saw it at a friend’s house. Now, Tan owns about 10 Silkie chickens—what he calls “a full flock of fluffballs”—and has become one of the most prominent figures in Singapore’s chicken keeping community.
He co-founded a chicken supplies company as well as Chicken Adoption Rescue SG, a local chicken shelter; since the shelter was set up last year, during Singapore’s COVID lockdown, Tan said his team has rescued nearly 200 chickens around Singapore.
Silkie chicken owners VICE spoke to all agreed that the pandemic quarantine is a major contributor to the recent Silkie craze. With more people working from home and having their social lives stripped down to a fraction of what it used to be, pets appeared to be attractive home companions to combat COVID loneliness.
“I think COVID really accelerated [the popularity of Silkies],” said Adrian Ng, a chicken owner who got his first Silkie in 2019.
While pet ownership has increased globally during the pandemic, Ng thinks that Silkies became especially popular among Singaporeans due to their novelty. “If you have the chance to hold them, you will fall in love,” he said, adding that both kids and adults would regularly visit his house to pet his chickens.
Ng, who works in the pet food industry, saw chicken keeping as a good way to educate his children about pet nutrition and ecosystems. For example, he demonstrated to his children how chicken manure can be used as fertilizer, while fruits grown from the plant can then be fed to the chicken.
“For me, it’s… the education part that I find very fascinating,” he said.
And of course, how can one ignore their fluffy cuteness?
Gloria Sharp, a 31-year-old sports massage therapist, said that she and her partner first decided to get a Silkie chicken because of how adorably poofy they were. “You can’t see their eyes,” she laughed. The organic eggs laid by their two Silkie hens are a bonus.
While their “aww” factor has always been apparent, Tan said that social media definitely helped to set more eyes on the adorable world of Silkie chickens and provide community support for budding chicken owners.
From how to handle roosters’ crowing to common ailments like bumblefoot, Silkie owners often discuss and share tips for raising Silkies in online community groups. Experienced chicken owners are also generous in guiding newbies who are dealing with chicken-related issues. Thanks to these tight-knit communities of local chicken owners, having Silkies as pets has become a far less intimidating endeavor than it might have been.
Sharp, who got her Silkies in January, noted that she has received lots of support from the community of chicken owners in Singapore.
“I think the support from the community really helped with the adoption and taking care of chickens,” Sharp said. “If they didn't have that, then people would be quite clueless as to how to take care of chickens, because they're different from dogs and cats.”
“You build this trust, you [share] this joy. That's how you spread the love in this community and that's what pet keeping is about,” said Ng.
After hearing owners rave about their pet Silkies, I was dying to meet one of these charming chickens. So, when Tan invited me to his house to pet his chickens, I jumped on the opportunity to experience firsthand what the Silkie trend is all about.
Once I met his chickens, I got a good glimpse into Singapore’s Silkie obsession. I was instantly captivated as the fluffballs strutted around the garden, glorious feathers shielding their eyes from public view. These chickens were pecky, clucky, and fluffy as heck.
While they seemed to be less engaged than dogs and cats, they were gracious enough to allow me to cuddle them. I petted them to my heart’s content.
It’s not hard to see why, over the past year, Silkies have attained the status of Singapore’s trendiest pet. They’re unusual in the most adorable way; they make photogenic appearances on social media that attract people into becoming Silkie enthusiasts; and there’s a community of local chicken owners that support newbies.
But please don’t hurry to secure a Silkie just yet.
Like other pets, Silkie chickens are a long-term commitment that many, enchanted by their fluffiness, may forget. With a life span of about nine years, Silkie chickens come with quirks and responsibilities that some may not be ready for.
As their innocent appearance may suggest, Silkie chickens are a vulnerable lot. Having long been domesticated as ornamental pets, Silkies are prone to sickness if not taken care of properly. If abandoned recklessly, they’re basically defenseless against natural elements and predators like cats, snakes, and monkeys.
“It’s like leaving a hamster in the wild and then expecting it to survive the way a normal rat does,” said Tan.
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