|Black Maria (Ayam serama)|
A male Serama in its native country of Malaysia
The Serama (Malay Ayam Serama), also called the Malaysian Serama is a bantam breed of chicken originating in Malaysia within the last 50 years.
The Malaysian Serama is a relatively new breed. It's exact origins and history are unclear. There are legends of it being descent from a chance cross between a pigeon and chicken. Other stories of the birds derived from a gift of some small chickens by the King of Thailand to a local sultan in ancient times. It was almost certainly developed in Kelantan Province in Malaysia (near Thai border). Small chickens have always been popular pets in this area and are often referred to as "ayam katik" (pygmy chickens) and "ayam cantik" (pretty chickens).
The modern breed is attributed to the efforts of Wee Yean Een from Kelantan, who named the breed "Serama" after Raja Sri Rama, a character in the Wayang Kulit (or shadow puppet plays). The breed was first exhibited in 1990 and became an instant hit. The year 2000 was the peak in popularity in Malaysia. The breed was hit hard by the Asian bird flu epidemic in 2004 when over 50,000 birds were culled amid government concerns. However, the breed has bounced back and is regaining popularity again in Malaysia.
There are no written standards for the breed in Malaysia, nor is there any tradition of poultry clubs. Much information is understood by breeders and disseminated by word of mouth. Many breeders have a style or type that they breed to, but often breeders keep several styles. These styles are often names given by breeders to describe a blood line of a champion (e.g. Husin, Mat Awang), but may also be more general shape, characteristics or behaviour (e.g. slim shape, ball shape, dragon shape, head shaking behaviour, robot style). Hence there is quite a lot of diversity in Malaysia. All the different styles compete against each other in open table top competitions (often described as "beauty contests") and scored by several judges.
The Malaysian Serama is not constrained by a single set standard in it's homeland, this is why the Malaysian Serama has evolved so much in such a short timespan and still continues to evolve there today. There have been calls for an official body to step in and set standards for the various styles. However, some Malaysians have argued that a standard should not be set because it would limit the breed. One influential Serama breeder making the analogy with the automobile: "The designs for the perfect automobile is not set out by government, so why should they specify one for Serama chickens. Technology moves forward and we learn and design new things. So why should it be any different with chickens."
In 2001, the Serama was first imported to the United States by KJ Theodore of Illinois. Jerry Schexnayder of Louisiana imported the second group. The Theodore import was of better quality, containing a gene for extreme smallness. The Schexnayder import was larger, but lacked such a gene. All Seramas in the United States are direct descendants of these original imports. The Serama was then promoted by an organization founded by Jerry Schexnayder, the main profiteer in serama, known as The Serama Council of North America (SCNA). This council first introduced the Serama to North America in various National Poultry shows. In the spring of 2004 the Serama had reached a milestone in which it had its own Serama only-show known as the Cajun Classic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At this point the Serama is still in a critical point of establishment. Now with the Serama population slowly rising, it is just starting to make a reputation for itself.
Seramas are in the process of acceptation by the American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association, with the first qualifying meets being held this year. Seramas in the U.S. have been the subject of controversy with regard to what ideal type or standard should be pursued. Two schools of thought have been pursued in breeding of the Serama in whether it should remain completely Malaysian in style or whether it should be adapted to American taste. The second ideology has become the leader in Serama breeding in America, eclipsing the "race for acceptation" in the year 2010 with the first qualifying meets.
Seramas were initially imported into the UK around 2003-2004. Birds were imported from both America and directly from Malaysia. The foundation Serama flock in the UK consisted of only a few dozen birds. In 2005, a small group of Serama owners and enthusiast decided to form the Serama Club of Great Britain, the first Serama club in the UK. They established the standard for the Serama breed for the UK. Eventually in 2008, the club was officially recognised as the affiliated breed club of the Poultry Club of Great Britain.
Seramas are still relatively rare and expensive in much of mainland Europe. The Netherlands probably has the largest number of Seramas outside the UK. Most of the stock in the Netherlands are descendent from birds/eggs imported from America and from the UK.
They are the lightest weight chicken in the world. Typically under 500g, but with even smaller birds that are under 250g being bred in it's native Malaysia. The Serama are characterized by their upright posture, full breast, vertical tail feathers held upright and tight up to the body and vertical wings held down nearly touching the ground. In Malaysia they are described as brave warriors and archangel chickens, because of their very human like appearance.
Overall Seramas are a fairly easy bird to breed. After laying an egg it takes approximately 19–21 days for the chicks to develop and hatch. Chicks are more susceptible to cold temperatures compared to other breeds because of their relative small size. After hatching it takes about 16–18 weeks for the chicks to mature and reach the point at which they themselves can begin laying eggs. Serama eggs are not an easy breed to hatch from eggs and there are several hypothesis for this; inbreeding is one possible reason, another being that the eggs can be quite small (perhaps approaching the lower limit for viable chicken eggs). Good hygiene, incubation parameters and husbandry of parent stock are critical for success. The general size of the eggs is not very large, size can be typically somewhere between 2 to 3 common quail eggs or about 4 to 6 Serama eggs to equal the size and density of one standard-size chicken egg. Smaller hens are quite likely to lay very small eggs that may be fertile, but too small to be viable.