The Ayam Cemani chicken is the “Lamborghini” of the backyard poultry world. Like the car, the Ayam Cemani (“Ayam” translates into “chicken” in Indonesian. “Cemani” is both the name of the village it is from and “completely black” in Sanskrit) is sleek, shiny, and financially out of reach for most buyers. So, what is it about the Ayam Cemani that makes it such a rare and expensive commodity?
What Do Ayam Cemani Look Like?
These chickens are a black chicken breed. Black feathers, black beak, black legs, black tongue, black eyes, black comb. But it doesn’t stop there. This “hyperpigmentation” continues to their bones, organs, skin, and internal workings – they’re also black. Some people have incorrectly claimed that their blood is also black. It isn’t – it’s just as red as a normal chicken’s blood.
But rather than exist as a dull or matte black, their feathers have a greenish sheen that really sparkles in sunlight. As a result, these birds are remarkably beautiful because of their coloration. They stand tall and proud, like they are always alert. With the sheen of their feathering, they are a very regal-looking bird.
How did Ayam Cemani Become Black?
Ayam Cemani’s coloration comes from a pigment mutation called fibromelanosis. It is a mutation that is present in more than 25 avian breeds. It is touted as being a “complex rearrangement in the genome”, and is directly responsible for the totality of black pigmentation in the bird’s body. Essentially, fibromelanosis is the opposite of albinism; instead of the pure white resulting from a total lack of pigmentation that is albinism, Ayam Cemani become pitch black from an overabundance of pigmentation.
Where Do Ayam Cemani Come From?
Ayam Cemani are a breed of chicken that has been around for a relatively short amount of time. They are believed to be an offshoot of the Ayam Kedu breed where darker coloration was the focus. Ayam Cemani got their start on the Indonesian island of Java.
Their peculiar coloration marked them as targets of legend, lore, and mysticism. Seldom were they eaten, or their eggs used for the dining tables. Instead, they were used in ceremonies (and still are in some areas). Their blood was considered to possess healing qualities when rubbed over the face or arms, or in conjunction with mystical recitations. With the advent of Islam as the dominant religion in Indonesia, much of this practice has fallen to the wayside, yet there are still individuals and social minorities who use these birds for mystical means.
How Did Ayam Cemani Chickens Spread Around The World?
Were it not for Dutch chicken breeder Jan Steyerink, this remarkable bird might never have left its native Indonesia. He first imported these birds to the Netherlands in 1998. Since then, Ayam Cemani have found homes in Germany, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and the USA. They continue to be one of the rarest breeds of chicken on the planet, with a population counting only an estimated 3500. However, with more dedicated breeders devoting themselves to this unique bird, those numbers should increase in years to come.
How Big Are Ayam Cemani? How Long Do Ayam Cemani Live?
These are medium-sized chickens. Roosters weigh about 5 to 6 pounds. Hens usually weigh between 4 and 5 pounds. The average lifespan is 6 to 8 years.
What is the Ayam Cemani Temperament?
These are docile chickens that might start out skittish or untrusting of humans, but with enough interaction and attention, they can be very trusting. Roosters are also friendly and can even become more involved with the raising of chicks than many other roosters tend to be. Your Ayam Cemani might get bored easily, and could do with some distractions in the pen, or by making the pen large enough to give them room to explore. The hens tend to become broody, and are excellent mothers.
Are Ayam Cemani Weather Hardy?
Coming from Indonesia, which is a very hot archipelago in the South Pacific, Ayam Cemani might be expected to be poor in colder climes. Oddly, though, they are as excellent at adapting to colder weather as they are to scorching temperatures. Part of this is because they naturally absorb sunlight and heat because of their black feathers. Another possible reason is the tightness of their feathering, which acts as a natural barrier from cold temperatures.
Are Ayam Cemani Good Egg Layers?
They are alright with this job, and are capable of laying about two to three medium-sized eggs a week. They sometimes need breaks from laying, which can reduce the number of eggs you can expect from them. On average, you can expect about 80 eggs per year, though some sources claim that they might lay up to 140 eggs per year. Strangely, their pigmentation does not carry on into their eggshells, which are white, or white with a slight tint of coloring.
Are There Any Problems That Ayam Cemani Breeders Should Be Aware Of?
The black pigmentation is not absolute. It could be diluted through the appearance of other colors in their offspring, or through an appearance of two recessive genes (the black is dominant, and should breed true with careful attention). If, for example, one of the offspring should have a tongue that is not completely black, this bird should be removed from the breeding pool. Such potential abnormalities in a breed that mostly breeds true is a possible bother in keeping these birds. You should breed Ayam Cemani carefully so you produce the best possible – and blackest – versions.
Until now, the Ayam Cemani has not been approved by the American Poultry Association – probably in part because of the strong standard of perfection, and in part because of the relative difficulty in breeding these birds. The Ayam Cemani Breeders Association is an official breeding group founded in 2015 that is dedicated to the promotion of this bird. They are a good resource of Ayam Cemani enthusiasts that can help you raise and breed this unique chicken.
Where To Buy Ayam Cemani?
This is perhaps the biggest challenge with regard to these striking birds. Their rarity and coloring make this one of the most challenging birds to get ahold of (at least purebred chickens – you can find diluted genes anywhere). While this breed is advertised in the locations below, stock is incredibly limited. Even worse, they carry a hefty price tag outside Indonesia. On Java, they are comparatively expensive, with a rooster costing between $45 and $70. However, this is nothing compared to the $2500 price tag initially applied to the first Ayam Cemani in the USA. Since then, the rates have declined quite substantially (this will depend on where you get them and how much you can trust whether the chickens are purebred), but they are still considered a very expensive fowl.
When looking into these birds, you will find that availability is very limited. As a result, you might have to come back to the sites below at various times of the year. You should also check each website for its most current pricing.
- Greenfire Farms (one of the original importers, and a trustworthy source) in Florida offers unsexed Ayam Cemani for $199.00.
- Cackle Hatchery in Missouri offers unsexed Ayam Cemani for $99.00.
- Northwoods Poultry in Wisconsin offer day-olds for $45.00.
- Buchanan’s Barnyard in Tennessee offer one dozen Ayam Cemani eggs for $100.00
Why Buy Ayam Cemani?
This is a big question. Pound for pound, the Ayam Cemani is probably one of the most expensive chickens on Earth. This distinction alone could put off potential owners from owning one. They are not the biggest chickens on the planet, so they might not be ideal for dining purposes. They possess an average egg production, but this will not set any records.
On the positive side, they are very docile birds that can endure and thrive in nearly any weather. Without a doubt, they will be an excellent addition to your home flocks. The real reason to splurge on one lays in the aesthetic value of the Ayam Cemani chicken. These birds are striking to behold, and will add a tremendous prestige to your flock.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.