The Sumatra chicken is distinctive and beautiful, with long flowing curves, abundant feathering, and a rich green sheen. Originally from the Isles of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo in Indonesia, the breed developed through living wild and being shaped by its environment. Sumatra chickens tend to reproduce very seasonally, the males vying for territory and breeding rights a few months of the year and living together in relative harmony outside of breeding season. Historically, the island residents captured the males at the beginning of breeding season and used them to fight, releasing them after the season was over. The seasonal aspect of the Sumatra chicken is still very much a part of the breed today, and one can expect fertility and broodiness to arrive late in the spring. The breed is noted for behaving very pheasant like – moving in a stately manner and preferring to explore around bushes and other areas offering good cover. It is also rumored that Sumatra chickens sometimes flew between the islands of Sumatra and Java.
In the wild, Sumatra chickens were found in a few color varieties, including black breasted red, though black was predominant. It is the Black Sumatra that was embraced by the poultry fancy; with its long, flowing, low tail, beetle green sheen, gypsy-colored face (purple to black), black shanks with yellow soles, and its multiple spurs – often having three spurs on each leg. The breed appears “royal” in nature, belying its feral heritage. The Sumatra’s type, size, and flowing plumage is similar to both the Yokohama chicken and the Cubalaya chicken. One wonders if some of the rarer color varieties of Sumatra played a role in the creation or development of those other breeds.
The Sumatra chicken was first imported into the United States in April 1847 by J.A.C. Butters of Roxybury, MA. There were subsequent importations by other in 1850-52. The breed came to Germany in 1882 and, there, was at first called Black Yokohama. Nelson A. Wood of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., began with the breed in 1885 and is given much credit for refining the Sumatra chicken to enhance its flowing feathers and for increasing its productivity.
The Sumatra chicken was first promoted as a fighting breed – something for which the breed was not truly well-suited. Traditionally in the Orient they had been used for such, seasonally, when no other game breed was at hand. But Sumatra chickens were favored for use in crossbreeding to produce fighting offspring - crossing well with Hyderabad, Rampur Boalia Black, or Sinhalese Game.
Sumatra hens lay an abundant number of white, or lightly tinted, eggs and are considered excellent winter layers. They are also among the best of mothers and broodies. Both adults and chicks are very hardy and easy to raise. Sumatra chickens are active and alert and are especially good at launching themselves vertically to escape dangers. The Sumatra chicken was recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) and was admitted as a standard breed in 1883 in the Black variety. Today the breed also comes in Blue and in Dun varieties.
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