The Ayam Cemani is a striking and unique breed that is becoming increasingly popular among U.S. breeders and backyard poultry owners. Because of their rarity, they are expensive birds and you need to carefully vet sellers to make sure that you are getting what you pay for. If you want an all black bird, with no color anomalies, start by looking at breeders with the Ayam Cemani Breeders Association.
Ayam Cemani Appearance
The Ayam Cemani is an all black chicken, inside and out. You may have seen pictures of it online and not believed what you were seeing.
The breed has deep, all-black feathers, skin, beaks, toenails and even dark organs.
The striking appearance of the breed is caused by excess pigmentation, called fibromelanosis or dermal hyperpigmentation. In other chicken breeds, the cells that produce melanin (color regulating cells) are limited to certain areas of skin. But in the Ayam Cemani, these cells travel throughout the body and multiple more than in other breeds.
Origins of the Ayam Cemani
There are several modern breeds of all black chickens found throughout southeast Asia. The Ayam Cemani is found in Indonesia. was developed in Indonesia, near the village of Cemani. Ayam means ‘chicken’ in Malay and simply refers to free-ranging or village chickens. Other breeds of “Ayam” chickens include the Ayam Kampung.
Ayam Cemani Genetics
The fibromelanosis that is responsible for the all-black pigmentation is caused by a genetic mutation.
It was thought until recently that the fibromelanosis gene was the only genetic factor responsible for creating the all-black chicken. The increase of genetic testing capabilities has led to a better understanding of what actually causes the fibromelanosis.
There is a semi-dominant gene that is directly linked to fibromelanosis. This gene is often called the Fm gene. A chicken must have two copies of the Fm gene to have the true, deep black color of the Ayam Cemani. Only one copy of the Fm gene will create a chicken that may be dark in appearance, but is not the complete deep black chicken.
Breeders now know that there are some other genes that can affect the expression of fibromelanosis in their chickens. Sex-linked genes could inhibit the expression of the Fm gene, even if there are two copies of the gene present. The presence of the barred gene, the gene responsible for the grey and white patterns seen in barred rocks, can also prevent the Fm gene from being expressed fully.
There are other gene-modifiers, both inhibitors and intensifiers, that could affect the expression of the fibromelanosis gene to the full extent.
As breeders of the Ayam Cemani are well aware, breeding a true fibromelanistic chicken can be difficult with all of the genetic factors that come into play.
Final Thoughts on Fibromelanosis and Chickens
The uniqueness of the Ayam Cemani’s appearance keeps the breed going, despite the difficulty of breeding an all black chicken. People are fascinated by the beauty and mystical appearance of the breed.
There are a few other breeds that can have true fibromelanosis, including the Swedish Bohuslän-Dals svarthöna, the Vietnamese Black H’Mong, and the Silkie.
If you want to have something that is truly unique and has a rich history, then the Ayam Cemani just may be the right breed for you.
Shelby DeVore is a livestock expert with experience teaching high school agriculture and multiple poultry science teams. Shelby has over 20 years of experience raising poultry for show, meat and eggs. She lives on a farm in west Tennessee with her husband and two children along with too many chickens to count. You can catch up with her on her homesteading blog, Farminence.