Ayam Cemani Chicken: Complete Breed Guide

The rare and mystical Ayam Cemani. Hailing from Indonesia, the Ayam Cemani is a breed steeped in lore. It is a prized breed among the Javanese people. Even throughout the world, this stunning breed has gained a reputation — and even some misunderstandings. If you are looking to add this rare and expensive breed of chicken to your flock, there are a few things you need to know.

Ayam Cemani Breed Overview

ayam cemani chicken rooster

Take a look at some of the characteristics of this rare breed:

OriginIndonesia
PurposeOrnamental or Dual Purpose
Weight3.3-7.7 lbs
Lifespan6-8 years
ColorBlack
Egg Production60-100 per year
TemperamentCalm, occasionally nervous
Beginner FriendlinessLow
Cold ToleranceMust be given shelter
BroodinessLow
FlightinessHigh
Noise LevelLow in hens, high in roosters

History of the Ayam Cemani Chicken

ayam cemani rooster head

The history of the Ayam Cemani breed is full of speculation. What is known is that the word Ayam means “chicken” in Indonesian and that Cemani means either a place or “black” in Javanese. Secondly, the breed was discovered and documented by Dutch explorers who had found themselves in Indonesia during the 1920s .As soon as the Dutch arrived in the US with pitch black Ayam Cemani chicks, the breed became an overnight sensation.

Due to the rarity of all black chickens with even black meat and bones at the time, these chickens were going for $2,000 or more. These days, prices have dropped, but the Ayam Cemani is still considered one of the hardest breeds to acquire. Even if you do happen to find a breeder selling Ayam Cemani chicks, the chance of them being imperfect and not living up to the breed standard is high.

In Indonesia, the Ayam Cemani is used for eggs, meat, and sacrifice. The Javenese believe this chicken, with its all black feathers, eyes, skin, and meat, is magical. And so, to cure some illnesses, the Ayam Cemani has become a core ingredient in many ritual ceremonies throughout Java.

Ayam Cemani are also used for cockfighting in Bali, where the act is seen as neither sport nor entertainment. In Indonesia, cockfighting is more of a cultural and religious ritual.

Throughout Europe and the US, this breed is a prized ornamental breed and companion.

Ayam Cemani Breed Standard & Appearance

ayam cemani rooster on the sun

Fascinatingly, despite the popularity and rarity of the breed, the Ayam Cemani is not considered a heritage breed. It is also not recognized among the American Poultry Association (APA). Yet, with about only 3,500 chickens worldwide, it does deserve some conservation efforts. The Ayam Cemani Breeders Association has come up with a Standard of Perfection for the breed that includes the following qualities:

  • The fowl must stand upright and have a game-like stance.
  • Legs are long and the thighs are thick with muscle.
  • The body should be firm, muscular, and of medium size.
  • Wings are long and muscular.
  • Chest is broad and the back must slope down from the neck.
  • 4 toes on each foot.
  • Single combs with 3, 5, 7 points on roosters.
  • Roosters must have long tail feathers that are held high.
  • Black and close-laying feathers. Everything else must be black as well. No color should be visible unless in the sun, when the purple or green iridescence becomes more visible.

Ayam Cemani hens weigh between 3.3 to 5.5 pounds. Roosters may weigh between 4 and 8 pounds.

Where Does The All-Black Coloring Come From?

The most defining characteristic of the Ayam Cemani chicken breed would be their completely black coloring. This makes the Ayam Cemani stand apart from all other chickens, which come in a variety of colors. This all black coloring is the result of something called fibromelanosis, which is a form of hyperpigmentation that causes an excess of melanin in the body. This condition affects the Ayam Cemani breed so thoroughly that every bit of the bird is black, including their flesh and bones.

Interestingly, the Ayam Cemani is not the only breed of fowl with fibromelanosis. The Indian Kadaknath, Vietnamese Black H’Mong, and Swedish Svart Hona are each known for developing this condition as well. It has also been seen in Silkies.

This black coloring can make the Ayam Cemani chicken invisible at night. They are very hard to see when there is no light. Furthermore, they can fly well, giving them an edge against predators.

This time lapse video gives you a great idea of how Ayam Cemani chickens look as they get older:

A fun fact about fibromelanosis is that it matures. The darker the chick is when it hatches, the darker the mature chicken will be later In life. Some roosters peak within 1-3 years. After that, they may start to gray out with each season they molt.  In short, these black chickens do not stay pure black forever.

Is It True Ayam Cemani Chickens Have Black Tongues?

No, not all Ayam Cemani chickens have black tongues. As such, you cannot decide whether one of these black beauties is a purebred based on the color of their tongue alone. Most commonly, an Ayam Cemani chicken will have a gray or white tongue with black patches.

This is true for other sections of skin. That said, if an Ayam Cemani chicken has pink or red tones present, it means that there is something other than Ayam Cemani in the bloodline. The other option is that the breeder did not practice the proper methods for keeping the line pure. Because of that, the offspring gained traits closer to their ancestors.

Temperament and Personality of the Ayam Cemani Chicken

Owning an Ayam Cemani or two is known to be an enjoyable experience. The breed is typically quiet and gentle. Though, since the breed is still closely related to wild chicken breeds dwelling in the jungle, they also have an edge to them. Your Ayam Cemani may never sit on your lap, because they can never let their guard down long enough. Don’t let their nervousness fool you though. They do like people.

However, the Ayam Cemani is not recommended for children. These are birds who do not tolerate cuddling or even coddling. They are ideal for people who want an independent chicken that does not require a lot of work. While they are not recommended for beginners, they are not difficult to own.

The Ayam Cemani is not an aggressive breed, despite their game-like appearance. Hens can be introduced to mixed flocks easily. Just make sure that the flock is made up of non-aggressive breeds. The roosters may get a bit testy, but they are otherwise low-key and calm. Male Ayam Cemani do crow — and it can be unusual. Otherwise, they are about as loud as a Buff Orpington rooster.

Check out this video to hear what an Ayam Cemani sounds like:

As such, people who wish to raise chickens in a backyard with neighbors close by may want to reconsider raising Ayam Cemani.

Ayam Cemani Egg Laying and Broodiness

In Indonesia, the Ayam Cemani is often used for both meat and eggs. You would think that the breed is productive, but it is not. On average, you can expect a hen to provide 60-100 eggs per year. That averages around 1 egg per week. Even then, hens lay sporadically and tend to stop their egg-laying during the winter months. As such, you will need other hens to keep you supplied.

The Ayam Cemani is also known for strange pauses in their egg-laying. Often, they lay about 20-30 eggs then just stop. Sometimes the egg laying restarts in a few weeks, but there are records of this extended production for about 6 months.

Now, you may have seen photographs of Ayam Cemani hens with black eggs. This is a false advertisement. Despite the hyperpigmentation, these chickens lay whitish or pinkish colored medium eggs. They cannot produce black eggs. Do not trust anyone who claims that their Ayam Cemani chickens lay black eggs — it’s a scam.

Yet, even if the Ayam Cemani hen does not do a great job of lining your baskets, they do make decent mothers. Ayam Cemani birds can act aloof and rarely go broody, but their mothering skills are phenomenal. Therefore, if you have other eggs that you need to incubate, they will work with  you.

Health Concerns of the Breed

black ayam cemani hen

Although the breed is known for having fibromelanosis, that does not impact their health in any way. In fact, you could argue that their hyperpigmentation makes them harder to hunt and kill. The Ayam Cemani breed is generally healthy. They are alert and vigilant. Should you notice that your chickens are no longer behaving energetically, that would be the time to be concerned about their health.

Your chicken’s black feathers should feel sleek to the touch and lay over the body smoothly. Any signs of ruffling, thinning, or balding is a sign that your chickens may have lice, mites, or something else troubling their skin. Scales on their bare, black legs could mean that your Ayam Cemani chickens have scaly leg mites.

Signs of discharge from the eyes, as well as labored breathing, may point to either respiratory disease or a worm infestation.

All in all, so long as you keep your birds well fed and watered, they should remain healthy. Any illness that pops up should be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible. Quarantine your sick Ayam Cemani chicken for about 3 weeks to ensure there are no other diseases for the bird to pass onto the rest of the flock.

Temperature

Since this breed comes from a more tropical area, the Ayam Cemani tends to do better in hotter climates than cold ones. You will not have to worry about this breed during the summer, even if they are dressed in black. The time to worry is during the winter, when these birds do not have anywhere to get warm. Ayam Cemani chickens are prone to frostbite.

You will need to insulate the chicken coop during the winter to keep your Ayam Cemani chickens from freezing.

Feeding Ayam Cemani

After your chicks are old enough to eat solid food, you can start giving full grown Ayam Cemani chickens a 16% layer feed. That is perfectly fine. For hens that are laying eggs, it is recommended that you boost their protein intake to about 18.8%. As these chickens begin molting, you will need to switch that feed to about 20% protein. After that, you can let your Ayam Cemani chickens roam freely. They tend to enjoy hunting for their own food.

Be sure to provide your chickens with plenty of water. They also like fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Ideal Coop Setup

ayam cemani pullet head

The Ayam Cemani may look like a small chicken, but they still love their space. In the coop, you will need to provide each Ayam Cemani chicken with about 4 square feet of space. Each chicken also needs around 8-10 inches on the roosting perches. The more space your Ayam Cemani chickens have, the better. This is especially true during the warmer months. As the weather turns cool, these chickens love to huddle together with the others.

Remember, that single comb makes the Ayam Cemani rooster especially prone to frostbite!

Roaming and Running Around

Do you plan on keeping your chickens in a run or pen? Then you are going to provide your Ayam Cemani with about 8 square feet of space. More would be even better. Ayam Cemani chickens need plenty of space to move around. If they do not get to expend some energy, they may develop some antisocial behavior.

Make sure you also have perches available. Ayam Cemani chickens sometimes want to get away from the rest of the flock and will use the perches to separate themselves. They tend to thrive more when they can roam more freely. Consider giving your Ayam Cemani chickens some freedom — they will appreciate it.

Where To Buy Ayam Cemani Chickens

Considering the rarity of this breed in the US, it may take you some time before finding a reputable breeder. After that, you will need to consider the investment you are about to make. The other reason the breed is hard to come by recently is the banning of fowl imports due to diseases like the avian flu.

Furthermore, the breed is currently being standardized. The black coloration is not natural — it’s a mutation. Attempting to cement that coloring into the breed standard is difficult when so many are born with imperfections.

One of the most trustworthy breeders — Cackle Hatchery — is selling Ayam Cemani chicks. You will need to purchase 3 per order. You can also buy eggs. Again, finding a breeder you can trust is important. There are many unscrupulous people out there who would try to sell you a similarly colored chicken that is not a purebred Ayam Cemani.

Final Thoughts on Ayam Cemani Chickens

The Ayam Cemani chicken breed is old, but it has recently gained popularity since the 1990s. The gorgeous plumage has captured the hearts and imagination of many chicken lovers. Though the Ayam Cemani is quite rare and difficult to find, it is definitely a breed to aspire to raising one day. However, they are not recommended for dedicated homesteaders, because the hens have poor egg laying capabilities.

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