Chickens sport many colors! Some have colorful, bright plumage while others possess dull feathers with red wattles and skin-toned legs.
But have you ever come across chickens that are just one color, from top to bottom?
And did you know that there’s this one unique breed that’s totally black, including their face, legs, and caruncles?
They are known as Ayam Cemani chickens, and they are completely black!
If this is your first time hearing about this breed, we have laid out a complete breed profile of Ayam Cemani for you to check out. With that said, let’s get started!
The History of Ayam Cemani Chickens
Ayam Cemani chickens are native to Indonesia, specifically Java Island.
These cryptic yet majestic-looking chickens were once an adornment, a mystical creature used by ancient Indonesians during magic rituals.
The locals once held onto the belief that these jet-black chickens possessed magical powers and acted as an intermediary between the physical and spiritual worlds.
Due to the breed’s rarity, only well-off families owned this breed, which is why it was one of the society’s status symbols.
This chicken’s name comes from from two Indonesian words, “Ayam” and “Cemani”.
Whereas “Cemani” might be related to the place where these chickens came from or an ancient Sanskrit word that means “black.”
Dutch settlers recorded their first encounter with Ayam Cemanis in the 1920s. But none of these settlers tried to bring this breed outside of Indonesia.
Thus Ayam Cemanis were unknown to the outside world until Dutch breeder Jan Steverink brought these birds to Europe in 1998.
These birds now live in many countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the United States.
Where Did the Ayam Cemani Come From?
There are a few theories that revolve around the creation of Ayam Cemanis.
Meanwhile, some researchers believe that this breed is related to Ayam Kedu chickens, another species that are native to central Java. There are three variants of Ayam Kedus including Kedu Kedu, Kedu Cemani, and Kedu Hsian.
Out of these three varieties, only Kedu Cemani, with its all-black appearance, has the highest probability of having some relation to Ayam Cemani.
Another theory suggests that Ayam Cemanis were developed from another hybrid Indonesian breed known as “Ayam Bekisar.”
The Ayam Cemani Today
As of today, the population of Ayam Cemani chickens comprises 3,500 birds.
Although these chickens have gained some popularity in the United States, Ayam Cemanis aren’t considered a heritage breed.
So, they still don’t receive any recognition from the American Poultry Association (APA).
Appearance and Characteristics of Ayam Cemani
Ayam Cemani chickens possess iridescent black plumage from head to toe. They also have black eyes, wattles, beaks, legs, and toes.
The Ayam Cemani’s unique coloration results from a genetic mutation known as fibromelanosis.
According to Leif Andersson, a Swedish geneticist, this rare phenomenon results from the overproduction of melanoblasts, the cells that are responsible for color production in animals and birds.
Anderrson also stated that most animals, including chickens, have melanoblasts and a gene called endothelin 3 (EDN3). Both the cells and the gene work together to create and control skin pigmentation.
Proper skin pigmentation occurs only on the exact, right part of the animals.
However, in Ayam Cemanis, hyperpigmentation occurs, leading to overexpression and migration of endothelin 3 in most cells.
As a result, dark pigments exist where they wouldn’t normally. Fortunately, this mutation that occurs in Ayam Cemanis is completely harmless.
Both males and females possess the same all-black appearance. They also possess four toes on each foot.
However, the females are slightly smaller than the males. They weigh 3.3 to 4.4 pounds. Meanwhile, the males have muscular and upright postures and weigh 4.4 to 5.5 pounds.
Ayam Cemani Behavior and Temperament
Although Ayam Cemani chickens can appear intimidating to people who have never met them, this rare breed is friendly and docile.
Since they come from a tropical country, these chickens are highly resistant to hot climates.
Oftentimes, we encounter roosters from certain species that are territorial and aggressive. But for Ayam Cemanis, it’s the exact opposite.
The roosters can get along with humans and other animals. However, in the face of danger, they still can protect the hens and chicks.
The hens are also calm and don’t go broody frequently. Though, when they do have chicks, Ayam Cemani hens are considered nurturing mothers.
Diet and Feeding Habit
An Ayam Cemanis’ diet is similar to any other chicken. You can feed them with poultry pellets or let them roam freely and forage for their own food.
However, chicks and laying hens will need more protein in their diet. You can feed chicks with pellets that contain more than 20% protein, whereas laying hens need pellets that contain at least 16% protein.
Nutritious treats such as fruits, seeds, mealworms, and leafy vegetables also benefit an Ayam Cemanis’ health. These treats serve as supplemental food that provide vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that these chickens can’t get from protein pellets.
You should also change their water regularly. This can prevent the chickens from drinking contaminated water that may cause severe health issues down the road.
Health Issues and Lifespan
Ayam Cemani chickens are considered a hardy species. They are resistant to many diseases and capable of tolerating both hot and cold environments.
On average, it takes 20 to 24 months for the chicks to mature. Meanwhile, adult chickens can live up to 8 years.
Although this breed doesn’t fall sick easily, they are still susceptible to some contagious and serious illnesses. These include bird flu or avian influenza, botulism, and fowl typhoid
Out of these three illnesses, bird flu is the one you should be most wary of. This is because this disease is highly contagious and can quickly infect the whole flock.
Depending on its variant, humans and other animals may also contract this disease.
You should also watch for any signs of external parasites on Ayam Cemanis’ bodies. Scaly or bumpy skins, ruffled feathers, and bald patches are usually caused by parasitic insects such as mites and lice.
What Can You Raise Ayam Cemani For?
Due to their exotic appeal, Ayam Cemani chickens are raised mostly for show and ornamental purposes.
During a competition, juries will often look for breeders that own an Ayam Cemani chicken with a completely black tongue and mouth interior.
This is because the number of Ayam Cemanis with black tongues in the United States is estimated to be less than 1,000 birds.
And most Ayam Cemanis that you can find out there may have dark gray interiors in their mouth or pink tongue. Hence, rare Ayam Cemanis always stand a higher chance to win.
Apart from the competition, some breeders raised Ayam Cemanis for their meat and eggs. However, these chickens aren’t considered great layers.
Ayam Cemani hens usually lay 60 to 100 pinkish-cream eggs per year. They may lay 20 to 30 eggs at a time and stop producing any eggs for 3 to 6 months at a time.
How Much Do Ayam Cemani Chickens Cost?
Finding Ayam Cemanis in the United States is not easy as other heritage breeds.
However, this breed is still available in certain specialty farms and poultries.
Depending on age and sex, the price of an Ayam Cemani breeding pair can be as low as $45 or as high as $5,000.
Their eggs are quite expensive and sold at $160 per dozen.
However, different farms may have different price tags. For instance, with a minimum order of 3 unsexed chicks at Cackle Hatchery, a single chick will cost you $45.
Meanwhile, Hilltop Farms Poultry sells straight-run chicks for $50 per bird with a minimum order of 4 birds. Shipping is provided only for an order with a minimum of 5 chicks.
Although Ayam Cemanis aren’t officially known as a certified breed, a group known as the Ayam Cemani Breed Association (ACBA) formed in 2015 to preserve and cherish these chickens as an exotic species.
Aside from bringing awareness to the public, members of this group are always working together to bring Ayam Cemanis into the spotlight.