A rare modern breed of chicken, the Ayam Cemani is native to Indonesia. This chicken isn’t a great egg or meat producer – so why are people so obsessed with it?
And more importantly, is this luxury chicken breed even worth raising?
The short answer is…well, it depends.
Here’s everything you need to know about the elusive Ayam Cemani chicken breed.
What is the Ayam Cemani – and Is it Worth Raising?
The Ayam Cemani, a unique breed of chicken from the island of Java in Indonesia, has been prized for centuries for its mystical and religious purposes.
First described by Dutch settlers who colonized the region, it wasn’t imported to Europe until 1998. As a result, it is one of the most modern “Western” breeds.
It is very difficult to acquire an Ayam Cemani chicken in the United States, but in Europe, it can be found in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Slovakia.
Referred to as kadaknath in India, this chicken breed is totally black. We’re not just talking about the feathers, either. It has black meat, organs, wattles, combs, tongues, beaks, and even bones! The blood, though dark, is a normal color.
This black coloration occurs as a result of a unique genetic condition known as fibromelanosis that causes excess pigmentation of the chickens. Found in some other black fowl breeds, like Silkies, this pigmentation is exceedingly rare.
As a result, these chickens sell at anywhere from $50 to $2500 apiece. Compared to the normal $3 or $4 you might spend on a baby chick, this is a super high price.
So is it worth it? If you’re interested in collecting rare ornamental chickens, yes. If you want to raise a chicken for production or even for show purposes, probably not. Here’s why – and what to know if you do decide to raise one of these unique birds.
The Ayam Cemani is closely related to another family of chickens known as Kedu, native to the central plains of Java. A direct descendant of the Ayam Bekisar chicken, this bird has some unique behavioral quirks.
The word “Ayam” means “chicken” in the native Indonesia tongue. However, it’s unclear where the second half of the name, “Cemani,” comes from. Some people believe that it refers to the Cemani village, while others think it refers to the color of the chicken.
Ayam Bekisar chickens created as the result of breeding the green junglefowl with domesticated red jungle fowl. This happened over quite some time and took some effort, as some crosses resulted in infertile matches.
The Ayam Cemani, as with most Kedu chickens, has a unique crow that was often used by seafarers as foghorns on their boats. Sometimes considered a landrace bird, the Ayam Cemani is often thought of as a harbinger of good luck.
The blood and many other parts of this chicken are frequently used in traditional medicine and religious ceremonies.
In addition, since the bird is so rare, it is not seen as a chicken of the commoners. It is acquired and kept only by those of great wealth and social status. While it is often used for sacrificial purposes, it is rarely eaten.
Today, the Ayam Cemani is mostly extinct as an original breed in Sumatra. Nevertheless, it is ensconced in Javanese folklore since the 1100s.
Appearance of the Ayam Cemani
The Ayam Cemani has a unique appearance and is quite striking to behold. With all-black plumage that have a slightly iridescent sheen, this chicken isn’t terribly large. In fact, a rooster will only reach about 6.5 lbs when fully grown, with hens being about half that size.
As medium-sized birds, these chickens grow rather slowly. They have muscular bodies that are quite strong and equipped with close-fitting plumage. They have an erect posture and are always on the lookout.
The breast of this chicken is pretty broad, and the wings, too, are exceptionally alert. You will notice that the Ayam Cemani holds its tail high with muscular legs and four toes per foot. At this time, the Ayam Cemani has not yet been accepted by the American Poultry Association to be shown in its own class.
Behavior of the Ayam Cemani
Ayam Cemanis are not known for being overly friendly, but that’s not to say they are standoffish, either. These chickens, on the contrary, are quite gentle and docile.
They are smart, but they are also flighty. Since they are so lightweight and nimble, they can easily fly over any fence you have erected. It’s important that you have systems in place to keep them contained.
Otherwise, this breed of chickens is relatively low maintenance. Despite their small size, they do quite well with harsh winters. They also do well in the heat – which makes sense, given their native territory.
The Ayam Cemani is a simple, easy to handle bird. You will need to provide appropriate cold- and hot-weather shelter and ample shade, but otherwise, you will find that your Ayam Cemani is a tough breed that can stand up to just about anything.
Is the Ayam Cemani a Good Egg Producer?
Let’s get this right out of the way – it’s not worth raising the Ayam Cemani for egg production. If you’re lucky, you will get around one egg per week (perhaps up to 80 every year).
They go off lay frequently, ceasing their lying for no apparent reason. This can last up to six months at a time and doesn’t necessarily coincide with daylight hours, molting, or broodiness, as it does with other chicken breeds.
That being said, any eggs that you do receive will be quite lovely. They are a gorgeous cream shade with a pink tinge, and they can also grow to be quite large.
These chickens are not known for going broody, but if they do, you can rest assured that they will make good mothers and care quite well for their chicks.
A typical laying cycle for an Ayam Cemani lasts about 20 to 30 days. Then the hen will stop laying for three to six months. It’s not clear why this happens.
There are some myths out there about the Ayam Cemani laying black-colored eggs. This is not the case. While just about everything else with this chicken is black, that is not true of the eggs – they are a normal color.
Is the Ayam Cemani a Good Meat Producer?
The Ayam Cemani is typically raised as a sacred animal, so, in most cultures, it’s seldom eaten for meat. That being said, some people believe that eating Ayam Cemanis will heal disease and bring good luck.
Interestingly, the blood of this chicken is prized more than the meat. A deep red color, it is often used in sacrificial ceremonies to bring good luck.
The meat of the Ayam Cemani is a deep jet black and doesn’t offer many benefits over traditional chicken meat. Unlike other black meats, like meat from the Silkie, it doesn’t have a distinct taste.
Ayam Cemani meat is not frequently sold commercially because it is so pricey. It’s not necessarily unpalatable, but with only a handful of these birds in the world, it’s not very plentiful.
Why is the Ayam Cemani Chicken Black?
The Ayam Cemani chicken is not known for having many health issues, which often surprises people because it is so startling to look at. Although this chicken does have a fibro melanistic gene, this is not a bad thing in any way.
The fibromelanistic gene simply causes all of the tissues of the Ayam Cemani to appear black. Melanization occurs in the embryo and affects every aspect of the bird, from its feathers to its feet. Even the baby chicks are completely black!
There are three other birds that have this gene. One is the Silkie chicken, and the two others are the Svart Hona from Sweden and the Kadaknath. The Kadaknath is native to the Madhya Pradesh area of India.
Even the bone marrow of this chicken is black, and the blood, too, is a darker color. Not to worry, though – the chicken is still just as healthy as any other breed.
It can always suffer to issues that affect other birds, like lice or coccidiosis- but it does not have an inclination to any particular health issues otherwise.
How to Find a True Ayam Cemani Chicken
There are very few Ayam Cmeanis in the world, and those that are around are, naturally, extremely expensive.
You can sometimes find cheaper birds for sale, but you need to be careful. You get what you pay for, and that’s especially true when you are shopping for rare chickens! Many people try to scam customers by selling knock-off Ayam Cemanis that are actually just black chickens of other breeds.
As a result, you might find that your Ayam Cemani loses some of its black coloring or does not have all the telltale characteristics of a true Ayam Cemani.
It can be tough to tell whether you are getting scammed or not. Unless you cut the chicken open, you aren’t going to know whether it is black through and through.
Purchase from a reputable breeder and expect to be put on a waiting list. It’s not uncommon to have to wait six months or more to receive one of these rare chickens.
So Why Would You Raise this Breed?
With only about 3500 Ayam Cemani chickens in existence, it’s not a stretch to say that not many people are raising these unique birds. Often referred to as the Lamborghini of the poultry world, this bird is not traditionally raised by backyard chicken keepers.
However, it’s sought after for a variety of reasons. The chicken has a highly unusual appearance, which attracts exotic breeders who are looking for a new chicken to show off in their flocks. It is occasionally used for show purposes as well.
In some places, the Ayam Cemani is still prized for its sacred mystical properties. Some people believe that eating the meat of the Ayam Cemani can cure diseases, while others believe that the chicken can bring good luck.
Is This Luxury Chicken Breed Worth Raising?
Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about what the Ayam Cemani actually is, you can decide whether it’s a breed worth raising. All in all, the Ayam Cemani chicken is a cool novelty breed to have in your coop – but beyond that, it doesn’t offer you a lot of benefits.
Plus, it’s extremely expensive. Even an unsexed chick can set you back more than $200. This chicken is definitely not suitable for the inexperienced chicken raiser – nor is it a good option for somebody with limited finances.
However, if you’re interested in having a cool example of unique ecology in your backyard – as well as a mystical historic specimen – then the Ayam Cemani is a luxury chicken breed you might want to consider raising.
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor.