The Ayam Cemani has certainly had people talking excitedly about it over the last few years.
It is a total blackbird – inside and out, so as you can imagine, it has been associated with the Dark Arts, especially in its’ own country of Indonesia.
At the current time, they remain a pretty rare bird and are very hard to obtain (reputable US breeders are sold out until 2019!).
In this article, we will take a close look at these interesting and unusual birds and help you figure out if you need them in your flock!
Background and History of the Ayam Cemani
The beginnings of the Ayam Cemani are vague, to say the least. It possibly originated in Sumatra, where the original breed is now extinct.
The Ayam Cemani is often associated with a group of breeds known as Kedu from the central plains of Java.
It is believed to be an offshoot of the Ayam Bekisar chicken, which lives on a small island in Indonesia.
The Ayam Bekisar originated from matching the green jungle fowl with some domesticated red jungle fowl.
This was a tricky process as certain crosses will be infertile.
Interestingly, this group of fowl has a very distinct crow and was used by seafarers as foghorns on the boats – a practice still used today.
Even the name has confused meanings: Ayam means chicken in the Indonesian language, but Cemani can either mean the ‘village of Cemani’ in local dialect or ‘solid black’ in Sanskrit. You can take your pick.
It is said by some folks to be a landrace bird, but there is evidence that it was a developed breed at some point. It is not a chicken of the ‘common people.
People of wealth and community standing have these birds as status symbols and take great care of them.
They are thought of as good luck charms, with the blood and other parts of the bird being used in traditional medicine preparations.
The Ayam Cemani is said to have magical powers and facilitate communication between the living and the spirit world.
As such, it is used as a sacrificial bird to please the gods. Its’ flesh is rarely eaten in Indonesia.
They were first imported to Europe in 1998 by a Dutchman named Jan Steverink.
Ayam Cemani Appearance and Breed Standard
Ayam Cemanis is a striking sight. Their all-black feathers have a beetle-green iridescence in sunlight that is stunning.
They are not an overly large fowl; the boys weigh in around 4.5-6.5lb, with the girls coming in at 3.5-4.5lb, respectively, so more of a medium-sized bird.
In appearance, they are strong and muscular with close-fitting feathers, not unlike a game bird. They strike a confident pose and are always alert.
As of now, the Ayam Cemani is not recognized by the American Poultry Association. The US Ayam Cemani club is currently working on a standard of perfection for this breed.
The standard description below is from the Dutch standard of perfection.
- The bird should stand upright, alert – almost ‘game-like.
- The body is of medium size, slim, firm, and muscular.
- It will have a fairly broad breast and a medium back, which slopes from the neck. The wings are long and strong, arising from wide shoulders.
- The tail is held moderately high. Thighs are powerful and muscular. The bird should have 4 toes to each foot.
- Feathers are all black and are close-fitting to the body. Skin, eyes, wattles, and comb should all be black. You should see no other color.
- The feathers may show a beetle-green to purple iridescence in sunlight.
Temperament and Disposition of the Ayam Cemani Breed
Cemani’s in general, seems to be a friendly and likable bird. They are intelligent, gentle, and docile – including the roosters.
Ayam Cemani breed has been described as flighty, but most people who have them or raise them to say this is not so. They are easy to handle and low maintenance fowl.
Since they originated in Indonesia, it will go without saying that they can tolerate heat pretty well also.
Ayam Cemani Egg Laying
The Ayam Cemani is a fairly poor egg layer. On average, they will lay around 80 eggs per year, which is around 1 egg per week.
They do seem to go ‘off lay’ for an extended period of time. Apparently, they will lay 20-30 eggs and then stop laying.
This can be up to 6 months, and then they will start all over again!
Compared to the size of the hen, the eggs are quite large, and they are cream-colored with a very slight pink tint (not black).
I have seen several photos that show black eggs – rest assured, these are fake eggs.
Some folks state they aren’t broody, and yet others say they can be broody. This may be due to differences in the bloodlines obtained.
They tend to make good mothers and care well for their chicks.
Common Health Issues of the Ayam Cemani Chicken
There aren’t any health issues that I could discover, but this is a good place to describe the fibromatosis of the Ayam Cemani.
The bird has a mutant fibromelanistic gene – a gene that deposits excessive black pigment.
This abnormal accumulation of melanin makes the skin and tissues appear black.
The blood is red but said to be darker than normal, although the bone marrow is black.
In all other aspects, the Ayam Cemani is a healthy and robust bird.
It does not seem to be prone to any particular chicken ailment.
Is the Ayam Cemani Right for You?
If you would like to add a couple of these black beauties to your flock, you had better save your pennies.
An unsexed chick from them will set you back $199.00, or a sexed juvenile is a cool $400.00 – not for the faint of heart or anyone short of funds!
Of course, you can get cheaper birds, but they will usually be of inferior quality – as always, buyer-beware.
Described as friendly but not particularly ‘cuddly,’ so it is not really a lap chicken. They will take feed from your hand, so they certainly are not stand-offish with people.
Many people buy them as pets or eye candy – they certainly are unusual and noteworthy.
The Ayam Cemani has probably been around for a hundred years or so, at best guess, but has only come to the attention of chicken lovers fairly recently in the 1990s.
Since that time, they have captured the imagination and hearts of many folks.
Contributing to the rareness of the bird is the ongoing threat of Avian Influenza.
As much of the breeding stock comes from Indonesia, the US importation restrictions are severe to prevent further outbreaks of the disease.
Do you have any of these black jewels? Let us know what you love about them in the comments section below…