The day has finally arrived: you’ve collected enough eggs from your Ayam Cemani hen to start incubating after waiting, and waiting, and waiting. You are just 21 long days away from seeing those beautiful chicks and FINALLY, your Ayam Cemani breeding program is getting started.
Well, not quite – unless you want to spend a lot of time spinning your wheels and hoping for a little luck!
Unlike other breeds, fibromelanosis makes breeding Ayam Cemani challenging. It’s not as simple as choosing a couple of black hens and a cock to breed!
What a lot of Ayam Cemani breeders do not realize is that the extreme pigmentation of fibromelanosis is controlled through gene duplication, not the presence of a singular gene. In order to breed quality birds, you must first understand fibro expression and this principle.
At the base level, all of your breeders should have two copies of Fm, but they might currently have only one (even if they look all black.) If you breed birds with less than two copies of the gene, you hold yourself back by creating inconsistent results and inferior stock.
In the diagram below, this is illustrated as chance breeding (which is how most breeders set up their programs): breeding together “good looking birds” in hopes of getting more of them.
On the left: We’re breeding together a two copy Ayam Cemani and a single copy Ayam Cemani. This will result in offspring “looking” black, but only half of them will have the proper genetics (two copies of Fm) for the breed.
The remaining half will only carry one copy of the gene but might pass for a good quality Ayam Cemani for quite some time. When these offspring are used in future pairings, you may end up breeding a single copy to a single copy.
On the right: We’re breeding together a single copy Ayam Cemani with a single copy Ayam Cemani. This will result in a mess of offspring! Only 25% from this pairing will be double copy carriers of Fm, while 50% will be single copy and the remaining 25% will not carry it all.
After a couple generations, a flock left to chance breeding will never advance and may even deteriorate in quality. And this is often why many breeders give up on their Ayam Cemani! No one wants to spend years trying to improve a flock and not see results or constantly have to cull more and more birds.
Instead, we recommend breeders employ a strategic method of starting their breeding program to ensure they maximize their success called test breeding.
Test breeding is the practice of breeding each and every Ayam Cemani in your program to a chicken without fibromelanosis to verify the genetics in your program.
In the diagram below, this is illustrated to show the potential offspring and what that tells you before you move forward.
On the left: We’re breeding a two copy Ayam Cemani and a non-fibro bird. The resulting offspring all have a single copy of Fm and look black similar to Ayam Cemani offspring. These chicks are still mixed birds and should be culled, but they verify that the Ayam Cemani is a two copy carrier of Fm.
On the right: We’re breeding a single copy Ayam Cemani and a non-fibro bird. The resulting offspring might have one copy of Fm or none. If all the offspring do not exhibit fibromelanosis, the Ayam Cemani from the pairing is a single copy bird and should be culled from the program.
What non-fibro bird you use for the pairings is completely up to you. It is best not to use a similar looking bird or a bird with black plumage, as it will make identifying the offspring more difficult.
In choosing your pairings, you obviously should consider what birds you have available and if you would like to use the offspring for anything else. For instance, pairing a blue egg layer with your Ayam Cemani may result in Easter Eggers that could be added to a layer flock or sold locally.
Be careful not to make the mistake of hatching too little of a data group to make a decision with. We recommend hatching at least ten chicks from each pairing to verify complete results.
You should test breed every Ayam Cemani you have: both hens and cocks, before moving forward with your breeding program.
Once you have test bred all of your Ayam Cemani, it’s time to move forward with your development breeding. As all of your Ayam Cemani has two copies of Fm now, all of their offspring will as well. Finally, you can start pairing your birds together for specific traits and making selections based on the Standard of Perfection!
Once you have your copies of fibro locked down, you might be dealing with some of the common breed issues like floppy combs, comb sprigs, short legs, and wide bodies.
Like other breeds, you can now start to work on specific traits in your program as well as your pigmentation. For instance, you could pair a large floppy combed cock to a small combed hen to work on the combs in your program.
With the right selections, every generation should continue to be an improvement rather than a random roll of the dice seen with chance breeding. But if you do not see consistent improvements, test breed your flock again.
The test breeding process feels like a big bump in the road, but ultimately, it will save you a lot of time, energy, and frustration!
This article was written by Kendra Cote and Vikki Papesh.