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he Ayam Cemani is an Indonesian chicken breed that originated on the island of Java. Although its exact origins are unknown, it was most likely the product of a mix between the green and red jungle fowls. Even its name is ambiguous, with Ayam referring to chicken in Indonesian and Cemani referring to either a settlement or solid black’ in Sanskrit.

The Ayam Cemani possesses a unique condition called fibromelanonis, which causes hyperpigmentation in the chicken’s body, causing it to turn black. However, unlike albinism, it causes black flesh, bones, and even internal organs in addition to the skin and feathers. Its blood, however, remains red, albeit slightly darker than that of conventional chickens.

In Indonesia, these birds were considered status symbols and were cared for by wealthy households. They were supposed to have magical powers and could operate as a medium between the living and spirit realms because of their mysterious appearance.

The breed was found by Dutch immigrants after they watched the indigenous employing them in religious rituals, where they were sometimes sacrificed to satisfy the gods. Fascinated by their look, several of these immigrants desired to bring them back to Europe, but it wasn’t until 1998 that a Dutch breeder named Jan Steverink brought them in.

The Ayam Cemani has several distinct feather kinds, but the bottlebrush type is the most valuable, with a single bird fetching up to $5000. The smooth-feathered lidah hitam, often known as the black tongue, is another breed. There are fewer than a thousand Ayam Cemani in the United States with completely black tongues, and those with pink tongues most likely only have one of the two fibromelanistic features, excluding them from the competition.

Even top-tier fibromelanosis, however, does not persist forever, and as the Ayam Cemani age, their flesh might gradually turn grey. Aside from their appearance, one of the reasons they are so expensive is because, unlike other hens who lay eggs, the Ayam Cemani only lays one or two eggs per week, for a total of 60 to 100 eggs each year.

Skin of Black chicken (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Furthermore, after laying twenty to thirty eggs, they may rest for up to six months before laying again. When combined with the fact that not all chicks will reveal their stunning black hue, rearing purebred Ayam Cemani is challenging, which is why they’re so rare.

Contrary to popular perception, while the chicks’ black coloration develops throughout embryonic development, the eggs themselves are a pale cream with a faint pink hue.

Despite their expensive price and distinctive coloration, they’re not difficult to grow, and breeders describe them as hardy and resilient birds capable of surviving most ailments.

Even though there are only 3,500 Ayam Cemani in the world today, the breed is relatively unknown, even among chicken lovers. Perhaps it’s for the best because they’re one of the few birds that are still revered and adored. Disrupting that balance might have severe consequences, which no one wants.

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