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The Ayam Cemani chicken may be the most unique breed of chicken you will ever see. If you have never seen one before, you are in for a treat!
You can very well see, in the above picture, the Ayam Cemani is unlike any other chicken you have ever seen.
Their appearance is certainly an eye catching conversation starter. However, not only are they beautiful to look at, they are also some of the friendliest and docile chicken breeds available today.
Let’s took a look at some of the history and genetics behind this mysterious looking breed.
Everything About Ayam Cemani
History and Origin
The Ayam Cemani is believed to have originated as far back as the 12th century. The name is derived from two languages, Indonesian and Javanese. “Ayam” is the Indonesian word for chicken while “cemani” is believed to be taked from the Javanese word meaning “thotoughly black (to the bone)”
The first breed appeared on the small island of Java, Indonesia. There it was bred and cultivated over centuries. It did not make it’s way over to Europe until 1998 when a Dutch breeder named Jan Steverink imported them in.
Currently, there are only around 3,500 Ayam Cemani chickens world wide. The largest flock of breeding pairs is maintained by a Congolese-Belgian philanthropist named Jean Kiala. They are a part of a breeding program called the African Ornamental Breeder Association (AOBA).
The American Poultry Association has yet to recognize the breed. However, the Ayam Cemani Breeders Association (ACBA) currently has a breed standard of perfection.
What Do They Look Like?
The contrast between an Ayam Cemani and, really, any other breed of chicken is quite stark. In the image below, you can really appreciate just how striking this breed is compared to a more commonly colored chicken.
The single most distinguishing, and desirable, feature of the Ayam Cemani chicken is its distinct coloring. Every single feature of this breed is a deep, deep black.
The feathers, the skin, beak, tongue, feet, everything right down to their bones and internal organs.
How is it that a single breed of chicken can be one single color, literally, right down to the bone? It is because of a dominant gene which causes hyperpigmentation or fibromelanosis.
Hyperpigmentation aka Fibromelanosis
Ayam Cemani are known for their all black appearance – both outside and inside. This all black appearance is due to hyperpigmentation known as fibromelanosis.
You may be familiar with this fibromelanosis as it also occurs in another breed which is a bit more well-known, Silkies.
What causes this hyperpigmentation? Scientists have shown that it is due to a duplication of a particular gene. That gene is known as EDN3.
This duplication causes a large amount of black or dark pigment melanin to show in tissues – both internal and external (skin).
Although this gene duplication and the responding fibromelanosis was something that occurred in the wild, it is a trait that has been heavily selected and bred for which has worked to further solidify this characteristic in the breed.
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Feathering, Comb, & Wattles
The feathers of the Ayam Cemani are typically tight and uniform against the body with little to no fluff and is jet black in color. However, roosters will sometimes have an iridescent turquoise/green/purple sheen to it when the light is at a certain angle.
Their head looks very similar to other single comb breeds, like the Rhode Island Red. The obvious difference is their comb, wattles, earlobes, beak, tongue, and eyes are all completely black.
The comb and wattles on a chicken are used to help regulate the body’s temperature. Blood flows through the thinner skin and is either heated or cooled. That blood is then recirculated throughout the rest of the chicken’s body thus cooling or heating it appropriately.
Additionally, the Ayam Cemani has black legs with four toes on each feet.
This is not a particularly large breed of chicken. They are more compact, strong, and muscular. Their body type is described similarly to a game bird.
Ayam Cemani hens are pretty small. They generally only weigh between 3 and 4 ½ lbs. As with most breeds, the roosters are larger, but not by much in this instance. The roosters average a weight between 4 ½ and 5 ½ lbs.
As we mentioned above, the Ayam Cemani Breeders Association has their own breed standard of perfection. Some of the highlights include:
- large, deeply serrated comb with 5 points
- completely black skin
- completely black feathering
- muscular, game like, body confirmation
- black legs with 4 toes on each foot
What can disqualify a chicken from meeting the standards of perfection?
- Any color in the mouth other than black or gray
- feathering of any color other than black
- toenails any color other than black
What Are They Like?
We like to break this down into two sections; temperament (what they do) and personality (why they do it).
Ayam Cemani hens are known to be good mothers. They are also known to go broody fairly often. Both of these things may seem normal, but are kind of odd when you hear that they are terrible setters. They tend to not set long enough for their young to hatch.
If you are wanting to raise your own Ayam Cemani, you will likely need to hatch the chicks on your own with an incubator. Alternatively, you could use a different chicken to help hatch them.
This breed loves to forage and free-range. They are excellent hunters and will clear your yard of the majority of unwanted pests, like ticks. They also make great watch dogs as they are a very alert breed. Not much goes on in their yard without them knowing.
These chickens are a very sweet and loving breed. They do well with other chickens, pets, livestock, even small children. Not many other breeds are as docile as they are.
They are generally a pretty peaceful chicken. Rarely are they skittish or flighty. If they have a safe place to shelter on your homestead, they will be in paradise.
What Is Their Purpose?
The Ayam Cemani has different purposes depending on where they are located. There are some societies that use them in religious ceremonies. Others use them for ritualistic medicine. Some cultures, where they are more common, insist the black skin and meat is better than other chicken meat.
They do not necessarily qualify as a dual purpose chicken since they are not particularly big or very reliable egg layers. In the US, they are raised for poultry shows and breeding programs.
Like the Polish chicken, in the United States, the Ayam Cemani is primarily an ornamental, or show breed. Since they are not recognized by the APA, you won’t see them at any of their sanctioned shows. But you can find them through various poultry clubs.
This breed is notoriously unreliable when it comes to laying eggs. You can expect to get anywhere from 60 to 80 eggs per year. That’s only an egg or two a week. They also will just stop laying for months at a time.
If you are wanting a breed for farm fresh eggs, this is not the breed for you. You will likely want a breed like the The Buckeye Chicken, Sussex, or the Leghorn.
Some cultures say the meat of the Ayam Cemani is second to none. Allegedly, the darkness of the meat and skin is juicier and more flavorful. With a $2500 price tag and a couple years long waiting list, we’re just going to have to take their word for it.
One thing that is agreed upon by nearly all Ayam Cemani breeders is that they are super docile and gentle. They are great around children, even so patient as to let small kids play with them without a single peck.
If you are able to find some, they integrate well into existing flocks and are tolerant of other animals like livestock and pets.
What Care Do They Need?
Fortunately, Ayam Cemani chickens do not require any different care than other chickens in your flock. The two main areas of health are diet and shelter.
As we mentioned, these chickens are great foragers and love to free-range. Hunting bugs and pests can help to supplement their diet quite a bit. However, foraging for food is not always 100% consistent.
You want to make sure that your chickens are getting a complete and balanced diet. You can easily do this with a good layer feed from your local farm store. This will ensure that your feathered friends will get all of the nutrients they need.
In addition to a full chicken feeder, they will also need to have regular access to a clean water source. You do not want your chickens to dehydrate. Make sure you have a good chicken waterer and it is kept clean and unfrozen when it’s cold.
This probably goes without saying but, chickens are not at the top of the food chain. In fact, most predators see them as an easy lunch. They need a solid and safe shelter to roost at night. If they don’t have this they are sitting ducks (or chickens, as the case may be).
A good shelter or coop is one that is kept clean and well ventilated. If you live in an area that gets really cold, you may want to take steps to keep their coop warm enough for them.
Chickens need about 2 to 3 square feet of coop space each. We have fond that our chickens do better with 4 square feet. If you are giving them an enclosed run instead of free-ranging, they will need about 12 square feet of run space each.
Ayam Cemani Health Issues
Fortunately, Ayam Cemani chickens are pretty hardy and do not suffer from any breed specific health issues. As long as they have access to plenty of food, fresh water, and a clean living space/shelter, they will live long and happy lives.
While the Ayam Cemani is unique in the respect that every physical feature of them is completely black, other than their blood, there are some other breeds that are similar. Each of these breeds have a varying degree of black skin and feathers.
- South American Black Quechua Olmec
- Black Sumatra
- Swedish Svart Höna
Obviously, such a unique breed of chicken spurs many questions. Here are some of the more common questions we found during our research.
How do you pronounce Ayam Cemani?
The way you pronounce Ayam Cemani is eye-yem suh-mah-nee.
Why are they so popular/Why are they so expensive?
Ayam Cemani are so popular because they are so rare. This is also why they come with such a hefty price tag. Do not be shocked to pay up to $5,000 or more for a breeding pair!
Where can you find one?
Currently, Ayam Cemani are available in the United States, various parts of Europe, and Indonesia. There are around 3,500 Ayam Cemani in the world today. If you want one, you will have to put in serioues time in research to find one that meets breed standards.
What kind of personality do they have?
Ayam Cemani have a reputation of being a very gentle and docile breed. Even the roosters are more calm than most other breeds.
Why are they black?
Ayam Cemani possess a dominant gene that causes fibromelanosis, or hyperpigmentation. This gene causes them to be completely black; beak, feathers, skin, bones, even internal organs!
Do they lay black eggs?
No, Ayam Cemani do not lay black eggs. They lay a medium sized, cream colored egg.
Are they good for a backyard flock?
Ayam Cemani are known to be a gentle and docile breed. Their personality would make them a good backyard breed. However, their shockingly large price tag makes that a bit impractical.
Are they cold hardy?
Yes, Ayam Cemani chickens are very cold hardy. They do very well in most climates.
Can you eat them?
Yes, you can eat Ayam Cemani. However, they are way too expensive to just cook up as a regular meal. It is said, though, that the black skin and meat flavor is superior to any other chicken.
As you can see, the Ayam Cemani is truly one of the most unique breeds of, not only chickens, but any kind of animal. They are genuinely one of the sweetest breeds anyone could add to their flock.
If you are wanting to add some to your breeding program, be prepared to pay a lot of money, and exercise much patience while cultivating your own specific line. It is difficult and frustrating, but in the end, it is truly satisfying!
If you need more help with taking care of your chickens, check out The Organized Chicken Keeper for a complete system for managing their health through keeping their supplies stocked and coop clean.