Ayam Cemani: A Mysterious All Black Chicken
Written by Roneel Narayan on September 14, 2023
The Ayam Cemani chicken is steeped in mysticism and prized in its native land of Java for its magic blood. It is rather unusual, having entirely black feathers, black comb, black skin, black meat, black internal organs, and even black bones.
The Ayam Cemani is a rare chicken breed from Java in Indonesia. The word Ayam means chicken in Indonesian, while Cemani has two possible translations: it either means entirely black, or it comes from a place called Cemani in Java.
The chicken itself is steeped in mysticism and prized in its native land for its reputedly magical blood. The most unusual thing about the Ayam Cemani is its entirely black colouration, including its feathers, comb, skin, muscles, internal organs, and even bones.
Background and History of the Breed
The Ayam Cemani chicken breed was first discovered and documented by a Dutch colonist living in Java during the 1920s. They then appeared in Europe and the United States in the 1990s and became an overnight sensation.
These exotic birds were selling for more than $2000 each due to their rarity, but today the prices have dropped significantly, and you can buy an Ayam Cemani chick for under $50. However, it is still challenging to find hatcheries that supply them, and the chicks are often flawed, not pure, or not entirely black.
North American breeders are working hard to refine the true Ayam Cemani breed and retain its desirable black colouration through a strict breeding program. Still, even when two completely black parents are used, it is common for their offspring to be tainted by a white wingtip, toes, or chest. Some are even born silver or have grey colouration around their mouths because the black colouration relies upon a recessive gene.
In Indonesia, the Ayam Cemani chicken is used for eggs and meat production. While in their native land of Java, many superstitious Javanese believe these chickens have magical properties. They are prized for use in folk medicine as they are believed to treat cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and are used for ritual ceremonies.
In Bali, the birds are used for cockfighting, an age-old cultural tradition regarded as an ancient religious ritual and not a sport for entertainment. In the United States and Europe, the Ayam Cemani is considered an ornamental chicken breed.
Many think the blood of the Ayam Cemani chicken is also black, just like the rest of the bird. This is a myth as the blood always runs red due to its haemoglobin content, just like all other chickens. Despite this, many people still mistakenly ask Ayam Cemani breeders to supply them with black-blooded chickens. Those believed to have this mythical black blood are sold for large sums of money.
The Ayam Cemani chicken breed is believed to have evolved from wild jungle fowl. There is some debate about the origins of the breed. Some say it is its own distinct breed, while others argue that it is just a colour variant of the Ayam Kedu, another chicken originating from the Kedu region of Java.
The Ayam Cemani is not a heritage breed, and it isn’t recognized by the American Poultry Association. It is, however, still a very rare breed, and numbers are thought to be below 3500 worldwide, making it one of the rarest chicken breeds in the world.
Breed Specifics and Traits
Although Ayam Cemanis are principally kept in the United States and Europe for their rarity and exotic appearance, they can be used for meat and egg production.
The Ayam Cemani meat is black, just like the rest of the bird, making it appear quite different from other chickens. Some people say the Ayam Cemani has more of a “gamey” flavour than other chickens.
Ayam Cemani hens are somewhat unreliable layers and go on and off frequently, so they aren’t the best if you’re looking for a continuous egg supply.
An adult rooster can weigh between 4.4 lbs. to 7.7 lbs. while a hen ranges from 3.3 lbs. to 5.5 lbs. In shape, it is similar to the Jungle Fowl from which it is related, being sleek and long-tailed, with long legs and sharp spurs.
As stated previously, the Ayam Camani is entirely black. Every part includes the feather, beak, comb, legs, toes, meat, and internal organs. The only part of it that isn’t black is its blood. The shimmering onyx-colored feathers have a beautiful deep iridescent blue/green/purple sheen.