The Ayam Cemani chicken is the “Lamborghini” of the backyard poultry world. Like the car, the Ayam Cemani is sleek, shiny, and expensive. What is it about the Ayam Cemani that makes it such a rare and pricey commodity?
What Does the Name Mean?
The word Ayam translates into chicken in Indonesian. Cemani is both the name of the village it is from and “completely black” in Sanskrit (an Indian language). The name is fitting.
What Do Ayam Cemani Chickens 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 throughout – they have black bones, black organs, black skin, black tissues, black ears, black wattles, and black internal workings. They even have black meat! They are truly solid black, it’s a sight to see.
But rather than exist as a dull or matte black, their feathers have a greenish sheen that really sparkle in the sunlight. As a result, these birds are remarkably beautiful because of their coloration. They stand tall and proud and they are always alert. With the sheen of their feathering, they are a very regal-looking bird.
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.
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 becomes pitch black from an overabundance of pigmentation.
Ultimately, the result of the black color is due to a recessive gene.
History of the Ayam Cemani Chicken Breed?
Ayam Cemani are a breed of chicken that has been around for a relatively short amount of time. They are a true rare chicken breed. 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 and mystical powers 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?
These are medium-sized chickens. Roosters weigh about 5 to 6 pounds. Hens usually weigh between 4 and 5 pounds.
What is the Ayam Cemani Temperament?
They are certainly NOT Silkie chickens 😆, but they aren’t angry birds either. Their history is connected to jungle fowl, so they are a little more alert AND nervous than your average backyard buddy. Overall they have a pretty good temperament, especially for such a unique breed.
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 have a pretty good disposition as well 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 Chickens Weather Hardy?
Coming from Indonesia, which is a very hot group of islands 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 to 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 for black eggs. They lay cream-colored eggs or white eggs.
The black pigmentation is not absolute in the Ayam Cemani breed. 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.
As of 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.
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 (not to mention that most folks don’t want to eat black meat).
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 is in the aesthetic value of the Ayam Cemani chicken. These birds are striking to behold and will add tremendous prestige to your flock.
Whether you want them as pets or as a conversation piece at family gatherings, the Ayam Cemani breed is a fine choice. Sometimes it’s just fun to have something out of the ordinary, and this rare breed accomplishes that! But where can you get one of these exceptional birds? Keep reading.
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, the stock is incredibly limited. Even worse, they carry a hefty price tag outside Indonesia. On Java, they are comparatively inexpensive, with a rooster costing between $45 and $100. However, this is nothing compared to the $2500 price tag initially applied to the first Ayam Cemani in the USA (high prices like this still exist, especially if you want a perfect adult breeding pair).
Don’t panic, you can now find prices as low as in Java, which is admittedly still expensive in chicken dollars. The price will depend on where you get them and how much you can trust whether the chickens are purebred), but they are still considered very expensive fowl.
You can get baby chicks and/or hatching eggs. Remember to check prices before you decide that they are out of your budget range, there are some affordable options. Also, remember that you might have to check in with hatcheries a few times before finding availability (a bird that teaches patience)!
5 Best Hatcheries to Buy Rare Ayam Cemani Chicks
Location: Lebanon, MO
Find information and prices here: Cackle Hatchery
Cackle Hatchery, located in Lebanon, MO, is a hatchery that specializes in chicks and hatching eggs of all kinds. You can find bantam and standard-size chickens available in all breeds, in addition to other poultry species like pheasants, ducks, quail, goslings, guineas, and more.
You can buy Ayam Cemani chicks as straight-run birds from Cackle Hatchery for a great price. These rare chickens can be purchased in quantities as little as three birds, or you can order a larger batch to fill your entire chicken coop. Vaccinations are available, as are fertile-hatching eggs.
- Minimum order of just three chicks
- Good price for straight-run chicks
- Sold as both day-old chicks and fertile hatching eggs
- Inexpensive shipping
- No discounts available for larger orders
Location: Berlin, VT
Find information and prices here: Sugar Feather Farms
Sugar Feather Farms is a hatchery in Vermont that specializes in rare, unique breeds as well as heritage lines of chickens. The company sells chickens in addition to geese, guinea, turkeys, and ducks.
This hatchery offers buyers one of the most affordable resources to buy Ayam Cemani chicks. You can buy straight-run chicks, or you can choose to buy fertile-hatching eggs or fully-feathered adult birds (around six to eight weeks old).
Although chicks cannot be sexed, adult birds can be sexed for an additional fee. This is worth it if you are interested in filling your flock primarily with hens. You can have these chicks shipped right to your door, or you can pick up your order right on the farm, located in Vermont.
- Shipping and local pick-up available
- Affordable chick prices
- Hens can be sexed for an additional fee
- Limited availability
Location: Loomis, CA
Find information and prices here: Feather Lover Farms
Feather Lover Farms is a small hatchery located in Loomis, California. This hatchery specializes in rare and unique chicken breeds and is both family-owned and operated. It ships to all 50 states.
Here, you can buy straight-run Ayam Cemani chicks (unsexed) for a reasonable price. You’ll have to order at least three chicks to qualify for the hatchery’s Live Arrival Guarantee. Ordering is easy since you’ll get a hatch and ship date on one of the Tuesdays of your estimated ship month. This makes it easy to plan in advance.
You’ll pay a bit more for shipping, but that extra will provide you with heat packs and professional packaging so you don’t have to worry about your chicks not making it to you in good condition. You can add a Marke’s vaccination if you choose, too.
- Good availability
- 3 chick minimum
- Shipping dates provided in advance
- Shipping is expensive
Location: Centre, AL
Find information and prices here: Gypsy Shoals Farm
Gypsy Shoals Farm is one of the best places to buy Ayam Cemani chicks if you plan on starting a small backyard flock. You can’t buy Ayam Cemani chicks separately, nor can you mix and match with other breeds – you will have to purchase at least six chicks in your order.
However, the investment is well worth it, as you’ll receive six unsexed chicks that are healthy and ready and raring to go once they arrive at your doorstep. You don’t have to limit yourself to six chicks, either. You can add additional Ayam Cemani chicks to your order. The cost of shipping is included in your total price.
With Gypsy Shoals Farm, all chicks are “made to order,” meaning the eggs are collected and incubated when you place your order. The chicks ship 21 days after you place your order.
- One of the few hatcheries in the South
- Chicks are “made to order”
- Shipping is included
- Can’t mix and match with other chick breeds
Location: Walnut Creek, CA
Find information and prices here: California Hatchery
California Hatchery is one of the few chick hatchers on the west coast – and one of the only hatcheries in the country that specializes in Ayam Cemani chicks. This hatchery ships day-old chicks just about anywhere in the contiguous United States, with a minimum order quantity of just three birds.
Order with California Hatchery, and you’ll be blown away by the customer service. You will receive an email notification with your exact shipping and hatch dates so you don’t have to second guess yourself. You can also set desired dates at checkout if you have certain plans in mind, too.
The cost of Ayam Cemani chicks at California Hatchery is steep – but you pay for quality. You will be required to purchase at least three birds but your order will ship within two weeks. Shipping costs are included in your total purchase, too. Birds are unsexed and shipped as day-old chicks.
- Shipping costs are included
- Can receive chicks anywhere in the United States
- You can set desired shipping dates at checkout
- Have to buy at least three Ayam Cemani chicks, with no mix-and-match available
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.