The definition of black chicken breeds depends on who’s talking. The term might refer to a breed that’s truly all black — feathers, comb and wattles, beak, shanks and feet, skin, and even bones.
But some chicken breeds with black skin and other body parts have varieties with alternative plumage colors besides black. Many chickens with black plumage do not have black skin. And some breeds have only one color variety — black.
Why Chickens Are Black
Black plumage is the result of the black pigment melanin. Hyperpigmentation, caused by the genetic mutation fibromelanosis, results in an excessive amount of melanin throughout a chicken’s body.
A few breeds worldwide express hyperpigmentation. Best known in the United States is the Ayam Cemani from Indonesia, the name of which means “thoroughly black chicken.”
Sweden has the Svarthöna, or “black chicken.” India has the Kadaknath, or “chicken with black flesh.” This mutation is so unusual that geneticists believe all hyperpigmented breeds have a single common ancestor that developed the mutation some 6,000 years ago.
Many people worldwide value the meat of fibromelanistic chickens for its health benefits. The meat has a higher than usual amount of the antioxidant carnosine, a protein building block that’s important for many normal body functions. It also has potential to delay the aging process.
All-Black Chicken Breeds
Among the few truly melanistic chicken breeds worldwide, these three are available in the United States:
Black Silkie — Originating in Asia, bantam Silkies come in many color varieties besides black. In addition to having the fibromelanistic mutation, they also have a silky-feather mutation, which causes feathers to lack barbicels and thus look more fur-like. For more information on this breed, visit our blog about Silkies
Black Sumatra — Like the Silkie, the Black Sumatra is also from Asia and has a few other color varieties in addition to black. Besides being handsome, the Sumatra is the best flyer of all chicken breeds.
Some breeds were originally only black, but later other color varieties appeared from sports or from crossbreeding. Black remains the only variety for this breed:
Spanish — From Spain, the Spanish chicken has oversize pure white earlobes, resulting in names such as White Faced Black Spanish or clown faced chicken. This breed has a black beak and dark slate shanks and feet, but skin and bones of normal color.
Breeds with Black Varieties
In chicken breeds that have more than one color variety, black is often the most common one. Not only do these chickens look elegant, but their black plumage makes them especially predator resistant.
With the exceptions indicated below, these breeds have black or dark beaks, shanks, and feet. Their skin and bones are of normal color.
Ameraucana — Developed in the United States, this chicken lays eggs with blue shells. In general, the darker the plumage, the deeper blue the shells will be.
Australorp — This dual-purpose breed comes from Australia and is in fact the country’s national chicken. The black variety is best known in the United States, although Australia recognizes both a white and a blue variety.
Cochin — Originating in Asia, the Cochin comes in many color varieties. But even the black variety has a yellow beak, shanks, and feet.
Crèvecoeur — This ancient chicken from France was originally a dual-purpose breed, though is now treated as an ornamental. Black is the common variety in the United States, although the breed also may be white or blue.
Japanese — The Japanese bantam, probably originally from China, comes in numerous color varieties. But even the black Japanese has dusky yellow beak, shanks, and feet.
Jersey Giant — From the state of New Jersey, the Jersey Giant is the largest of the black chicken breeds. It is also the heaviest of all breeds, originally meant for meat as an alternative to turkey. Black is the original variety; white, blue, and splash Jersey Giants come from sports.
Old English — The Old English Game chicken has been known in England for at least 2,000 years. It is an extremely self-sufficient breed, and comes in a huge number of color varieties.
Rosecomb — The Rosecomb bantam is another old breed from England with an enormous number of color varieties. Although Rosecombs mature slowly, requiring a bit of extra care in the brooder, they are hardy as adults.
Do Black Chickens Lay Black Eggs?
Oddly enough, most black chicken breeds lay white or tinted eggs. A few breeds lay brown eggs. Notable for their eggshell colors are Ameraucanas, which lay blue eggs, and Marans, which lays eggs with dark chocolate shells. No chicken breed, black or otherwise, lays black eggs.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow has written numerous books about poultry, including The Chicken Encyclopedia.