Updated: Sep 15, 2021
Horns up for the most rock and roll bird known to man - The Ayam Cemani. If you chicken tend to the tune of “Enter Sandman”, or simply appreciate genetic anomalies - this is the perfect bird for you. All black inside and out, this one is sure to hit you right in the teenage angst. Hailing from Indonesia - Ayam directly translates to chicken, and Cemani to the village where the bird was originally discovered. Greenfire Farms is accredited with the original importation to the United States.
Believe it or not, this is not a spray painted chicken - a set of genes (leading to traits known as fibromelanosis) causes the unique all black physical appearance. The pigment altering genetics effect the feathers, comb, wattles, eyes, bones, toes, organs, muscle-tissue, and to some degree the blood as well. Similar traits are also found in both Silkies and the Cemani's distant cousin the Svart Horna.
A "Standard of Perfection" has not yet been accepted by the The American Poultry Association (APA), however members of the Ayam Cemani Breeder's Association (ACBA) in North America are working diligently to define one. Not having an accepted standard makes it a little tougher to nail down what a "show quality" Ayam Cemani should look like across the board - but amongst breeders you will often hear the words - "check the mouth". A potential champion show bird would possess a completely solid BLACK tongue in addition to an all black exterior, no pink whatsoever should be found inside the mouth. Finding a black tongue is not only extremely rare, there are said to be less than one thousand Ayam Cemani in the United States with entirely black tongues. Cemani will more commonly be found with a dark grey mouth even if the bird is pure-bred. Pink tongues are often found in birds that only carry one of the two fibromelanistic traits required to produce an all black color. Unfortunately, a pink tongue would probably disqualify a bird from competition, and should most certainly be excluded from a breeding program.
The ACBA website is one of the most up to date resources for information about this breed and continues to be the main reference for breeders working towards a standard. Below, we've summarized some interesting facts and highlighted some common misconceptions regarding this one of a kind bird.
Fact or Fiction?
1. Ayam Cemani lay BLACK eggs... FICTION!
FACTS: Cemani egg color is a light cream, with an occasional faint pink bloom in some
hens. The eggs are often smaller than standard breeds, and can be slightly more difficult to candle as veins are not visible during the early days of development like other breeds.
2. Ayam Cemani hens lay once per week... FACT!...Well Kind of...
FACTS: Ayam Cemani, on average, lay 80 eggs in a calendar year. Compared to the average production hen at 300 eggs per year - these are not a first choice for those looking for a hearty breakfast every day. Often times hens may still lay up to 5 eggs per week, but will then take multiple week long breaks throughout the year.
3. There is no accepted show standard for Ayam Cemani in the APA.... FACT!
FACTS: At the time of this articles creation, there is no standard of perfection for Ayam Cemani, thus no such thing as an official "Show Quality" bird for this breed. That being said - Breeders in the ACBA are perfecting lines using THIS standard. The first national show for Ayam Cemani will be held in Norman, Oklahoma on November 7th - which means an accepted standard for the APA is just that much closer.
4. Every purebred Ayam Cemani has a BLACK tongue.... FICTION!
FACTS: To have an all black tongue, two fibromelanistic genes must be present in the adult bird, and even in that case a dark grey tongue can be present. Every breeding program produces a percentage of imperfect birds which are not desirable for breeding in the future. In some cases purebred birds may only possess one of these fibromelanistic genes and will generally display imperfections in the comb, toes, skin, vent, or mouth - these chicks are culled from the program and may be sold as pet quality chicks provided they are NOT mislabeled as breeding quality. Undesirable features occur as white toes, any color but black in the feathers, red or mulberry combs and wattles, as well as pink mouth. Occasionally young chicks will display white toes or beaks that eventually turn to black, but buyer beware as the bird will never "grow out" all imperfections. In short - while a black mouth is the standard of perfection, Ayam Cemani chickens can still possess a pink or grey mouth while being purebred.
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For a complete explanation of fibromelanistic traits or how to tell whether you have a pure Ayam Cemani chicken, head on over to the Ayam Cemani Breeder Association. There are great articles regarding selective breeding, test breeding, and the standard of perfection that every Ayam Cemani breeder should adopt to their program.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next week's article discussing the importance of proper poultry nutrition and how to feed your flock - "Feeding your Flock: Nutrition 101".