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The Ayam Cemani chicken is steeped in mysticism and prized in its native land of Java for its magic blood. It is rather unusual, having entirely black feathers, black comb, black skin, black meat, black internal organs, and even black bones.
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The Ayam Cemani is a rare chicken breed from Java in Indonesia. The word Ayam means chicken in Indonesian, while Cemani has two possible translations: it either means entirely black, or it comes from a place called Cemani in Java.
The chicken itself is steeped in mysticism and prized in its native land for its reputedly magical blood. The most unusual thing about the Ayam Cemani is its entirely black coloration, including its feathers, comb, skin, muscles, internal organs, and even bones.
Is the Ayam Cemani right for your flock?
- Every part of the Ayam Cemani chicken is black, even its meat and bones
- Rare breed that can be difficult to find, and very expensive
- Highly regarded for their mystical powers and magic blood
Background and History of the Breed
The Ayam Cemani chicken breed was first discovered and documented by a Dutch colonist living in Java during the 1920s. They then appeared in Europe and the United States in the 1990s and became an overnight sensation.
These exotic birds were selling for more than $2000 each due to their rarity, but today the prices have dropped significantly, and you can buy an Ayam Cemani chick for under $50. However, it is still challenging to find hatcheries that supply them, and the chicks are often flawed, not pure, or not entirely black.
North American breeders are working hard to refine the true Ayam Cemani breed and retain its desirable black coloration through a strict breeding program. Still, even when two completely black parents are used, it is common for their offspring to be tainted by a white wingtip, toes, or chest. Some are even born silver or have grey coloration around their mouths because the black coloration relies upon a recessive gene.
In Indonesia, the Ayam Cemani chicken is used for eggs and meat production. While in their native land of Java, many superstitious Javanese believe these chickens have magical properties. They are prized for use in folk medicine as they are believed to treat cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and are used for ritual ceremonies.
In Bali, the birds are used for cockfighting, an age-old cultural tradition regarded as an ancient religious ritual and not a sport for entertainment. In the United States and Europe, the Ayam Cemani is considered an ornamental chicken breed.
Many think the blood of the Ayam Cemani chicken is also black, just like the rest of the bird. This is a myth as the blood always runs red due to its hemoglobin content, just like all other chickens. Despite this, many people still mistakenly ask Ayam Cemani breeders to supply them with black-blooded chickens. Those believed to have this mythical black blood are sold for large sums of money.
The Ayam Cemani chicken breed is believed to have evolved from wild jungle fowl. There is some debate about the origins of the breed. Some say it is its own distinct breed, while others argue that it is just a color variant of the Ayam Kedu, another chicken originating from the Kedu region of Java.
The Ayam Cemani is not a heritage breed, and it isn’t recognized by the American Poultry Association. It is, however, still a very rare breed, and numbers are thought to be below 3500 worldwide, making it one of the rarest chicken breeds in the world.
Breed Specifics and Traits
Although Ayam Cemanis are principally kept in the United States and Europe for their rarity and exotic appearance, they can be used for meat and egg production.
The Ayam Cemani meat is black, just like the rest of the bird, making it appear quite different from other chickens. Some people say the Ayam Cemani has more of a “gamey” flavor than other chickens.
Ayam Cemani hens are somewhat unreliable layers and go on and off lay frequently, so they aren’t the best if you’re looking for a continuous egg supply.
An adult rooster can weigh between 4.4 lbs. to 7.7 lbs. while a hen ranges from 3.3 lbs. to 5.5 lbs. In shape, it is similar to the Jungle Fowl from which it is related, being sleek and long-tailed, with long legs and sharp spurs.
As stated previously, the Ayam Camani is entirely black. Every part including the feather, beak, comb, legs, toes, meat, and internal organs. The only part of it that isn’t black is its blood. The shimmering onyx-colored feathers have a beautiful deep iridescent blue/green/purple sheen.
The all-black color of the Ayam Cemani, both externally and internally, is due to a fibromelanosis gene resulting in ultra-pigmentation to all of the tissues. This causes an abnormal accumulation of melanin, the dark pigment present in the skin’s dermis and connective tissues. The fibromelanosis gene is an autosomal dominant gene.
This fibromelanosis gene is found in several chicken breeds other than the Ayam Cemani, including the Kadakhnath in India, the Black H’Mong in Vietnam, and the Svart Höna from Sweden. The popular and well-known Silkie breed can also exhibit this type of hyperpigmentation.
Ayam Cemani chicks are quite long-legged and, to be a true Ayam Cemani, must also be black all over.
On average, the Ayam Cemani live for 6 to 8 years, although this can be longer under the right living conditions.
Hens are typically calm and gentle, while the rooster will defend his flock. Young roosters regularly fight for dominance. It is challenging to tell the sex of young birds before they have their adult feathers.
Originating from a hot climate, they are very heat tolerant and do well in hotter locations despite their dark color. They can also do well in relatively cold temperatures if provided with somewhere warm to retreat. Care should be taken to protect their comb from frostbite during harsh winters. To help with this, the chicken coop should strike the balance of being well insulated but with plenty of ventilation. It’s essential, however, to avoid drafts that can chill the birds. Placing ventilation high at roof level can prove effective, allowing hot air and ammonia to escape but avoiding drafts.
Being all black, the Ayam Cemani chicken is able to evade predators better than some other chickens during the hours of darkness, simply because they are so hard to see. They can also fly well, giving them some advantage during the daytime.
The Dutch Standard of Perfection for the Ayam Cemani:
- Alert, upright and game-like
- A firm, slim, muscular body of medium size
- The breast should be broad, the back of medium length sloping from the neck
- Wings must be strong and long coming from wide shoulders
- Thighs are large, muscular, and powerful
- Tail feathers should be long on the male bird and held moderately high
- Legs and toes are black, with four toes on each foot and spurs
- Feathers are all black, flat to the body, and may have an iridescent sheen in sunlight
- The comb and wattles should be all black. The combe is single with 3, 5 or 7 points.
- All black coloration. No other color must be showing on any part of the bird
The American Ayam Cemani Breed Association is working on their own breed standards, but as of yet they are still not recognized by the American Poultry Association.
Disease and Common Health Problems
The Ayam Cemani chicken doesn’t have any particular health problems associated with it.
It is best to watch your chickens regularly to ensure they are healthy. They should appear alert and active. If any are hunched up and lethargic, pay them closer attention to decern the problem.
The feathers should be sleek and lay flat to the body. If they are fluffed up, or there are any thinning or bald patches, treatment for lice and mites is the first line of treatment. The legs should appear smooth and clean with no raised scales, which is a sign of scaly leg mites.
Their eyes should be clear and bright with no discharge, and there should be no sign of labored breathing or wheezing, which can indicate respiratory disease. Gasping can also be an indication of worms.
Your chickens should appear plump. You can ensure the breast bones are well covered by feeling them. If they are protruding, then they are underweight.
Any birds that appear unwell should be separated from the rest and treated accordingly.
When introducing new birds to your backyard flock, it is advisable to quarantine them for three weeks to ensure they have no diseases they could pass on.
Temperament and Behavior
The personality of the Ayam Cemani chicken is normally friendly and gentle. Still being close to their jungle fowl ancestors, they are very alert and active. They enjoy foraging and having plenty of space. They are not typically good as lap chickens, being slightly inclined to nervousness.
Due to their high purchase price and less than cuddly disposition, they are not recommended for children. If, however, your older child is an experienced chicken keeper and wants to add something more exotic to their flock, they would be an OK choice. There are many breeds that would be more suitable for anyone new to keeping chickens, although the Ayam Cemani is not particularly difficult to keep.
The Ayam Cemani are not a broody breed of hen and don’t usually sit well on their eggs. If you want chicks, it is best to hatch them using an incubator or under another type of chicken such as a Silkie or Orpington.
Generally, Ayam Cemani are calm and relatively passive with flock mates, making them suitable for keeping with other active but non-aggressive breeds. Introducing any new chickens to an established flock must always be done with great care to avoid fighting, which may cause injury and, in some cases, even death to the birds.
The roosters have an unusual and noisy crow which they voice throughout the day, while the hens are comparatively quiet. Because of this, roosters are not suitable for keeping anywhere where you have close neighbors who might take exception to their frequent crowing.
Raising Ayam Cemani Chickens
It is recommended, as a minimum, that a chicken coop have 3 square feet of floor space per bird and 12 inches of roosting space per bird. You will also need to have one nest box for every four hens. These should be situated at a lower height than perches but not on the ground.
Remember to check if you live in an urban area that you are permitted to keep chickens. There are laws against keeping livestock in built-up areas in many states.
Like all animals, chickens need the right balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, combined with vitamins and minerals. Ready-made, complete feeds are correctly balanced for their needs and can be easily picked up from feed stores.
Ensure you give the right food for the age of your chickens. Hens providing eggs require a feed with 18.8% protein. The addition of grit to aid digestion and crushed oyster shell to strengthen the eggshell is also necessary for good health and egg production.
Clean, fresh water should be provided freely at all times. Chicken nipple waterers make this task much easier.
Ayam Cemani Eggs
There is a common misconception that Ayam Cemani hens lay black eggs, however this is not correct. The Ayam Cemani egg is a cream colored egg with a pinkish tinge. It is noted that Ayam Cemani eggs are quite large when compared to the size of the bird.
The Ayam Cemani starts laying eggs between 5 and 6 months of age. Typically an Ayam Cemani hen will produce between 60 to 100 eggs per year. They do this in cycles and will often stop laying for several months between each cycle.
Ayam Cemani Overview
|Type||Ornamental, some eggs and meat – used for its blood in native Java|
|Average Weight||Rooster 4.4 to 7.7 lbs, hen 3.3 to 5.5 lbs|
|Weeks To Maturity||20 to 24 months|
|Average Life Span||6 to 8 years|
|Egg Color||Cream with pinkish tinge|
|Egg Production||60 to 100 per year (sporadic)|
|Dual Purpose||Not a true dual purpose bird|
|Temperament||Calm and friendly, can be nervous|
|Beginner Friendly||Not ideal|
|Kid Friendly||Not ideal|
|Cold Tolerant||Fairly, if given shelter|
|Flightiness||Can fly well|
|Noise Level||Low in hens high in roosters|
|Unique Traits||Completely black inside and out, including feathers, comb, legs, feet, meat, organs and bones|
Where To Buy Ayam Cemani
The Ayam Cemani is still very rare in the United States, which tends to make them quite expensive. This is partly due to the ban on chicken imports from other parts of the world due to the Avian Flu virus.
The Ayam Cemani breed standard is continually being perfected. Because of the relatively high incidence of color leakage, which is due to the black coloration gene being recessive, perfect birds are very hard to come by and are highly prized.
Be wary as there are many unscrupulous sellers who make false claims about what they are selling, trying to pass off other black chickens as Ayam Cemani.
Cackle Hatchery is our preferred and recommended hatchery. While most hatcheries require orders of at least 25 chicks, you can buy as few as 3 chicks from Cackle. They are also highly rated on Google and have been in business since 1936.
You may also be able to find Ayam Cemanis on eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon, but be aware that there are many fakes on the market due to the high value of these birds. It is best to purchase from a local or reputable Ayam Cemani breeder.
The Ayam Cemani has captured the imagination and hearts of many chicken fanciers over recent years. Due in part to the gossip about black blood and black eggs, both of which are false rumors. The Ayam Cemani remains quite rare, especially here in the United States, and finding good quality birds at a reasonable price can be difficult.
It seems the fascination for unusual chicken breeds is set to continue and the Ayam Cemani certainly fits into this category. Whether or not you feel the cost of such birds is worthwhile will be a choice that needs careful consideration.