Vanity project – or genuine admiration: whatever the reason more South Africans are keeping Ayam Cemani chickens.

What makes them so remarkable is that they mostly black, including feathers, beak and even internal organs. This is because they have a dominant gene that causes hyperpigmentation (fibromelanosis).


Originating in Indonesia, the Ayam Cemani is a medium sized bird. The cock weighs around 2.0–2.5kg, while the hen is 1.5–2.0kg. The body is slim, firm and muscular. The bird should stand upright and alert, like a game bird.

Ayam Cemani chickens
The rooster has beautiful turquise irredesence on his black feathers.

The breast is fairly broad. The medium back slopes from the neck. The wings are long and strong, arising from wide shoulders.

They hold the tail moderately high. The thighs are powerful and muscular. The bird should have 4 toes to each foot.

Their beaks, tongues, combs and wattles appear black. The feathers are black, with a turquoise iridescence on the rooster’s neck, side and tail. Their meat, bones, bone marrow and organs are black or gray. Their blood is dark red.

They seem to be quite hardy, coping well with a wide range of temperatures.

Generally the both cock and hen are intelligent, gentle and docile. Breeders say that they are low maintenance and easy to handle.

Egg laying of Ayam Cemani chickens

Compared to the size of the hen, the eggs are quite large. They are cream-coloured with a very slight pink tint. The eggs are almost the only thing about them that is not black.

Ayam Cemani chickens
This breed is still relatively rare in South Africa.

Some breeders say they are broody, while others say they aren’t. There is more than one strain of the breed, which might explain the different experiences. They do seem to agree that they make good mothers and care well for their chicks.

The Ayam Cemani is a fairly poor egg layer. On average, they will lay around 80 eggs per year, which is around one  egg per week.

This makes breeding them quite challenging. Maggy Bango, of Bango Poultry South Africa, told SA Smallholder, “We bought eggs from abroad and incubated. We raised them as chicks until maturity.” They also sell fertile eggs at R70 per egg.

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