A vaulted skull is a hole or unclosed portion of bone in the top portion of the Silkie’s skull. This genetic trait was introduced into Silkies via crosses with the Crested Polish breed of chickens. The Polish were bred into Silkies to improve and create a larger crest size. Often chickens are bred to another breed to get new colors, traits and types.
Since there is an opening in the Silkie’s skull, it can allow a portion of the brain to protrude through the opening. It’s not as bad as it sounds, cause it’s covered with skin and feathers. However… it causes the chick to be quite delicate. If the Silkie chick gets pecked on the head or bumps it’s head, it can die instantly. Chicks with vaulted heads should be protected and handled as gently as possible, as they are more vulnerable. As the chick grows, this hole will usually grow shut or at least get smaller. Occasionally though it does not.
Sometimes in Silkies with vaulted heads, the vaulted area can either press on the brain or the chick can get the slightest pressure on it’s head and it can cause a brain injury. Once they are about a month old, the bones in the vaulted area usually grow thicker and closer together and the risk of brain injury drops. It’s a good idea to move any Silkie chicks with really vaulted skulls into a separate brooder for added protection.
It’s also good to try and cross vaulted birds to non vaulted birds, as the gene can sometimes be fatal when you breed two vaulted head birds together. When crossing two vaulted skull birds, you are taking a chance that about 30% of the eggs will die during incubation and about 25% of the chicks that do survive will die in the first 10 days. It’s a lot like breeding Araucanas and the “Tuft Gene.” Kind of tricky to get the right genes together.
Many breeders believe that a vaulted skulled Silkie means a bigger crest and many judges now seem to like the big, poofy crests, so hence, the need for vaulted skulls. This is not necessarily true though. Many Silkies that are not born with vaulted skulls develop just as big, if not bigger crests than those with a vaulted head. Unfortunately, it’s one of those terms that gets used and abused, and suddenly it’s the newest thing to breed for.
Originally… a vaulted skull usually meant the chick was a pullet. But, as the Silkie’s breed type improved over the years, some males were hatched with vaulted skulls as well. There is some evidence out there that a vaulted skull in a male Silkie can improve the appearance of their crest. The vault sits right behind the comb area and seems to give a nicer rise to the crest. There are still nice males out there without vaulted heads though.
Many breeders still think good old fashioned selective breeding is all you need to make a nice crest.
The best thing to breed for in Silkie’s Crests is a nice full, round, pompom shape that’s not flat in the front. It should be nice and round and even in shape (like a poofy ball). Your breeding stock dictates crest shape, just like other traits, and if they have vaulted skulls or not. If they have a nice, round, upright crest, they should pass that along to their chicks. You should always breed to the standard of perfection of your chicken and cull those that don’t make the cut. That way you’ll end up with chicks that all the Silkie lovers will want and admire, vaulted skull or not.
This video shows some cute little Silkie chicks with vaulted skulls that we hatched. Enjoy!
Photo of some Silkie chicks with vaulted skulls.