Interested in keeping your own chickens? Or perhaps you just want to learn more about different breeds? You’ve come to the right place!
We’re focusing today on black chicken breeds. And there are more of them than you might think. Some of the chooks on our list are black all over, others have hints of other colors mixed in. But we think they’re all pretty special.
We’re going to look at their history and behavior. And we’ll find out more about that all-important attribute, their egg-laying skills!
Ready to find out more? Let’s get started.
Black Chicken Breeds
The Silkie gets its name from its unusual silky plumage. It actually appears fluffy – think the poodle equivalent of your average chicken! They’re striking birds, and often appear as the stars of poultry shows.
They’re believed to have originated in ancient China, or possibly elsewhere in Asia. They probably found their way to the West through trade, and the breed was officially recognised in the USA in 1874.
Silkies can come in a number of different colors, including black. And whatever the shade of their plumage, they all share an unusual feature – black skin and bones.
Today, there are a number of different strains of Silkie. Those in North American are mostly bantams (i.e. smaller). But even the original, larger strain is quite a small bird. An average male weighs around 4 pounds, while a typical female is about a pound lighter.
There are two distinct varieties: bearded and non-bearded. The bearded type have an extra ruffle of feathers beneath their beaks. Both types have a walnut-shaped comb, dark wattles and turquoise earlobes. They’re also have five toes on each foot, one more than most breeds.
They’re decent layers, producing eggs that are cream, white, or tan in color. In a good year, they can produce around 100 eggs.
They will, though, want to incubate those eggs from time to time, and they’re good at caring for their offspring. Many species bred for egg-laying don’t do this, so Silkies are also great for incubating eggs from other hens.
2. Ayam Cemani
The Ayam Cemani is a truly black chicken. Every part of its plumage, its comb, wattles and beak are all black. Even its internal organs are black!
That’s because of a genetic condition known as hyperpigmentation, or fibromelanosis. It’s when high levels of melanin cause the darkening of skin and other tissues.
This breed originated on the island of Java in Indonesia, sometime around the 12th century. Its name means “thoroughly black chicken” in Indonesian.
These birds have very muscular thighs, which mean they can run fast. And sadly, that makes them a popular choice on the island of Bali for the cruel sport of cockfighting. Their dramatic appearance also means they were historically used in mystical rituals.
It wasn’t until 1998 that the Ayam Cemani travelled outside Asia. It was introduced to the Netherlands that year by a Dutch breeder named Jan Steverink. Today, these chickens are found around the world, including in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Slovakia, Germany, and Ivory Coast.
Adult males weigh between 4.4 and 5.5 pounds, while females are between 3.3 and 4.4 pounds. The eggs are cream coloured, and weigh around 1.6 ounces.
But the hens tend not to incubate them well. So if you’re thinking of adding Ayam Cemanis to your flock, getting some Silkies in to babysit could be the answer!
3. Jersey Giant
The Jersey Giant is a home-grown American breed.
It’s the result of crossing three other chicken breeds: black Brahmas and Langshans, and dark Javas. Not surprisingly, given this heritage, the first Jersey Giants were all black. These days, though, white and blue versions can be found too.
As you might expect from the name, it’s a big bird! It was bred as a rival to turkeys. Standard males weigh around 13 pounds, while females are about 10 pounds. Bantam males are around 38 ounces and bantam females around 34 ounces.
The growth rate is relatively slow, however. That means that both time and plenty of food will be needed before the birds reach their full size.
They are good layers, producing around three eggs a week, and continue to lay well over winter. They do, though, have a tendency to become broody. That reduces egg production, but means they’re another breed that can incubate eggs successfully.
They’re also a good-natured breed, with both hens and roosters calm and docile.
There’s a clue to the origins of the Australorp in its name. Yes, it was first bred Down Under in Australia. It was the result of cross-breeding Black Orpingtons, Langshans, Minorcas and White Leghorns.
The resulting chickens quickly became very popular because of the impressive egg-laying capabilities of the hens. During the 1920s, the breed broke egg-laying records right, left and center. Australorps became famous for being able to produce more than 300 eggs a year.
In the USA, the only plumage color formally recognized by the American Standard of Perfection is black. But other national poultry registries also recognize white, buff, wheaten laced, blue and golden Australorps.
There are two sizes of bird: standard and bantam. A standard male weighs between 7 and 9 pounds, while a standard female is between 5 and just under 7 pounds. Bantams range from 2 to 3 pounds for roosters, and from 1.75 to 2.3 pounds for hens.
And as well as being prolific egg-layers, the hens are good at incubating their eggs and raising their young. All this makes the Australorp one of the most popular chicken breeds out there.
Despite its exotic name, the Java chicken originated in the USA. It’s one of the oldest American breeds, first recorded in 1835. And while it’s likely it has Asian heritage, its exact lineage is unknown.
Over time, it has been used in cross-breeding programmes that have developed a whole host of other breeds. The Jersey Giant we looked at earlier has Java ancestors, as does the Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red.
They’re large birds, with roosters weighing in at around 9.5 pounds, while hens range between 6.5 and 7.5 pounds. The hens are good layers. And the breed is good at foraging too, reducing feed costs if they’re allowed to roam free.
They also have a docile temperament, and are hardy enough to handle bad weather.
The Barnavelder is a Dutch breed. Their name comes from the region of the Netherlands where they were first bred in around 1865.
Standard male adults weigh between about 6.5 and 7.5 pounds, while bantams are between 2.2 and 2.6 pounds. Standard females range between 5.5 and 6 pounds, or between 2 and 2.2 pounds for bantams.
Both bantams and standard chickens can be black, white, double laced or double-laced blue. Some other colors can be found in only one of the varieties.
The Kadaknath is an Indian breed, and you may also hear it referred to by its alternative name of Kali Masi. That means “fowl with black flesh”, a moniker that reflects the black meat from these chickens.
They’re striking birds, and they at first appear entirely black. Even their combs, wattles and legs are black. But look closer, and you’ll see touches of gold and green iridescence in their feathers.
They’re smaller than many of the other breeds on our list. Roosters weigh around 4 pounds, while hens are between 2 and 3 pounds.
Their attractive eggs have creamy shells with a pink tint. They’re small though, as you’d expect of a bird this size. Each one weighs between 1.1 and 1.2 ounces.
In India, the birds’ gray-black meat is believed to imbue those who eat it with great energy. It’s perhaps due to its popularity as food that the numbers of these chickens have sadly declined over time.
Today, the breed is nearly extinct. The Indian government have responded with a breeding program involving 500 families previously living in poverty. They are given financial and other support to breed the chickens. Let’s hope this is good news for both the Kadaknath and the breeders.
8. Croad Langshan
The Langshan is one of the forebears of many modern chicken breeds. Today, there are four different varieties: Croad, Australian, German and Modern. All of them are black.
The Croad Langshan is named after Major F. T. Croad. He was the first person to import them to England from China in the late 19th century. The birds were sent to the USA some six years later. And today, Croad Langshans are plentiful in both the UK and US.
The hens are decent egg layers, producing between 140 and 170 eggs a year. That might not be the biggest number by modern standards. But they do continue to lay well throughout the winter months. They’re also good at incubating their eggs and raising the chicks.
The breed is calm, adaptable and good tempered. They like drier ground, and need good shelter from harsh weather. Give them the right conditions, and they’ll thrive.
The Orpington is a British breed which takes its name from the Kent town where it originated. It was developed by a breeder named William Cook, and was originally intended to be used for both meat and eggs.
Its black plumage meant that it always looked well turned out, even in sooty London showgrounds. But while there are still plenty of black Orpingtons today, the breed now comes in a range of different colors.
There are both standard and bantam chickens, with roosters weighing between 8 and 10 pounds, and hens between 6 and 8 pounds. Both varieties have a friendly disposition.
At one time, Oripingtons were reputedly prolific layers, capable of producing 340 medium to large eggs in a year. But as the breed was refined with a focus on its looks, that number declined. Today’s Orpington hens lay between 175 and 200 eggs annually.
The Svarthöna is also known as the Swedish Black. Its roots are thought to trace back to Kadaknath or Ayam Cemani chickens brought to Norway from Mozambique in the 17th century.
Once in Scandinavia, those chickens adapted well to the tougher climate, becoming hardier birds. But they retained the black plumage, skin and tissue of their Asian and African ancestors.
It was from Norway that the modern Svarthöna travelled to Sweden. That happened early in the 19th century. Today, all Swedish Svarthöna can trace their lineage back to that group of travellers. They hold a special status as a “landrace” species, specific to Sweden.
The Svarthöna is quite a small chicken. Males weigh up to 4.5 pounds, while hens are rarely heavier than 3 pounds.
Their smaller, lighter frame means that they are better able to fly than many other breeds. Their eggs are smaller too, usually between 1.3 and 1.7 ounces, and have large yolks.
Any Color as Long as It’s Black
That brings us to the end of our look at just some of the many black chicken breeds from around the world. These beautiful birds vary in their heritage, egg laying and incubating skills, and even in their ability to fly. Some breeds are flourishing, while others are sadly in danger of passing into history.
If you’re thinking of keeping chickens, consider both the environment you can offer and the attributes you’re looking for. That will help you choose the perfect black chicken breed for you – and ensure your chooks stay happy and healthy!