Bubbles Feathered Beauties
Serama (Sir-Rom-Ah) chickens were first imported to North America in the fall of 2000. Jerry Schexnayder of Louisiana brought in a total of 135 adult birds, the flock consisting of 30 cocks and 105 hens. Three of the cocks died during quarantine and another seven, all “Class A,” proved to be infertile. Likewise, approximately 25 of the hens, mostly “Class A” were not viable in that they did not lay or they laid infertile eggs. Because of the concern over avian influenza and Asian bird flu madness, the Asian market is closed and no additional birds can be imported. Therefore, all Serama in North America and Europe, which is now estimated to number over 50,000, are descended of these 100 birds. It has been said that another individual imported a dozen birds at approximately the same time but this information, to this day, cannot be verified. The Serama are now found in most states, from Hawaii to Alaska, to Puerto Rico, from Mexico to several provinces of Canada and the European Union.
Serama is the smallest and lightest chicken in the world, and is highly prized as living works of art. The weight range for “Class A Cocks” is under 12 ounces and under 10 ounces for “Class A Hens.” These chickens originated in Kelantan, Malaysia as the result of selective cross breeding of several breeds of bantams. Their chesty, regal and confident bearing is a joy to behold and they have been described as the Arnold Schwartzen-eggers and Dolly Partons of the bantam kingdom.
Serama chickens are inexpensive to rear as they consume only about one pound of feed per month, eating regular chicken feed, a 50/50 mixture of game bird breeder feed and chicken crumbles. A little grain (red wheat) may be fed weekly as a treat. The hens make great moms, laying, hatching and caring for baby chicks. Incubation period for eggs is 19-20 days. These birds are not color bred, nor do they breed true to any one color. It is not uncommon to hatch as many different colored chicks as there are eggs that hatch.
Serama do not breed true to size. Out of a clutch of 10 chicks, one can expect one or two to be very small, two or three to be rather large and the remainder to be within the normal size range. They are year-round layers and have no particular laying season, although peak fertility and egg production occurs from November to February.
There is a wide range of different chicken egg colors from a Serama, ranging from the purest white to the deepest brown, with dozens of shades in between. They mature at 16-18 weeks, and are in a continuous molt, dropping a few feathers each day. It takes approximately five Serama eggs to equal the volume of one Grade “A” Large egg.
Serama chickens make beautiful pets and companions, both indoors and outdoors. Their small size requires very little space and a pair or trio can comfortably be caged in a 24″ by 18″ enclosure. Of course, the larger their area the happier they will be as well. They should only be let out of their cages when they are safe from predators such as dogs, cats and birds of prey. They usually raise a racket when an unfamiliar animal or object is sighted and are safe on their own as long as there are people within earshot who can recognize when they are under threat.
They make great companions while gardening and enjoying the mornings/evenings on the porch. Their regal appearance and natural beauty adds to the splendor of any garden or home.
To promote the further breeding, development and improvement of the Serama, Schexnayder started the Serama Council of North America, (SCNA), in 2003. This non-profit organization now has over 250 members from throughout North America. The SCNA is currently actively seeking standardization and acceptance by the American Bantam Association (ABA) and American Poultry Association (APA).
Serama chickens are from a tropical climate, so before importation to the United States, the breed had not been exposed to the colder climates that occur in much of the U.S. Naturally, the thought was that these chickens could not handle the cold climates, but they are a little hardier to the cold than what was originally expected. In the first years, they were said not to do well in temperatures much less than 40°F. They have since been exposed to areas such as Michigan, Canada, and Ohio, and areas known for their cold winters.
Each day allows for a new test for the Serama chickens in this country. Whether it is to disease, cold, stress, or whatever, they are passing these tests with flying colors. They are a magnificent breed, and the fact that they are acclimating to this new environment excites me and others, especially those promoting the breed at the SCNA. All of this bodes well for the integration of this breed into American flocks.
In Malaysia, these bantams are called Ayam Serama. Under this name, there are several different types or styles which Malaysians also use in reference to their birds. Some of these styles include, but are not limited to, Slim, Apple, Ball, and Dragon. Each of these styles has a distinctly different look to them. Note that there is no reference to Malaysian Serama or American Serama as styles or types within Malaysia itself.
For those unfamiliar with Malaysian Ayam Serama types, the following is a brief description of each of the types mentioned:
• Slim is a relatively tall, slender bird with a very small breast. This type looks as though it could fit into a cylinder without problem.
• Ball are quite round in appearance. The legs are short and the wings are not held at vertical, but closer to 45 degrees or less, due to wing and leg length. The breast is as large as it can be given the anatomy of the bird.
• Apple isn’t as intuitive. The breast on the Apple Serama is a bit lower and larger and the legs on this type are medium in length.
• Dragons are the “extreme” Serama. Their head is held so far back that, on some individuals, the breast is actually held higher than the head. Wings are held vertically, and legs tend to be medium to short in length.
Upon its inception in 2002, the SCNA created a standard to which breeders within the organization would breed their birds. This is where the terminology American Serama came in. American Serama does not refer to Serama from America, but Serama of American type. The founders of SCNA wrote the standard to be a combination of two types, those being the Apple and the Slim.
Since references like Slim Apple Serama would invoke further confusion, the team at SCNA felt it appropriate to refer to this type as the American Serama, as it was a type developed here in the U.S. They felt it necessary to choose one type and stay with it as Serama in Malaysia have evolved greatly, which you can see from the reference to the various types found there.
Since the term American Serama came into being, there is now reference to Malaysian Serama as well within the United States. This has led to a certain amount of confusion because some breeders refer to Malaysian Serama as Serama of Malaysian type rather then Serama from Malaysia. Malaysian Serama referring to type consists of a breed that is similar to the American Serama, but differs as a shorter-legged, longer-winged bird, which is more a combination of the Ball and Slim type.
At this time, the Serama in the U.S. are in their infancy in the development of type and there is some difficulty in distinguishing between the American and Malaysian types. In five years, that will change and the types will be notably discernable.
The SCNA currently recognizes three class sizes (class A, B and C) because they do not want to limit themselves at this time to possible non-viable weights, such as may be occurring within the Micro-A’s. In turn, breeding larger Serama outside of the C class is not promoted and is strongly discouraged. As stated before, the American Serama is in its infancy and all genetic potential must be considered in order to build the birds that best fit our standard. The current classes as defined by that standard make the best use of that genetic potential at this time. SCNA will ultimately lower their size classes to one class in order to prepare for eventual acceptance into the APA and ABA, but presently feels that it is more important to perfect the American Serama type first.
The joy of showing a Serama is one that is unique to the poultry community as known in the U.S. American Serama shown under SCNA sanctioned shows are exhibited in the traditional table top style as are their ancestors in Malaysia. Each Serama receives its individual time on the judge’s table and is allowed to show itself to its fullest potential. This is where the unique characteristics of the Serama shine through. They relish the spotlight, and are quite showy little performers given the chance. Serama shown under SCNA sanctioned shows are judged on the following categories: type, character, tail carriage, wing carriage, feather quality and condition. Eventually, if acceptance to the American Bantam Association is completed, they will also be shown in the American tradition of in-cage exhibition as is done in ABA and/or APA shows.
The SCNA hopes the future of the Serama will allow these fantastic little chickens to be shown in both the traditional Malaysian style and the in-cage style of American poultry shows. In the meantime, the SCNA has a very active schedule of traditional style shows each year, including a National Finals. That number is growing substantially as more people become interested in this breed and ownership spreads to adjoining states and provinces.
The first Serama Show was held with approximately 25 Seramas a few years ago. In recent months, entrant numbers have neared 200 birds per show, second only to the Old English breed. Those are very impressive statistics for this new breed, and the judging process always attracts an audience as onlookers watch these little birds display their regal character on the judge’s table.
The Malaysian Serama bantam is the smallest breed of chicken in the world, weighing less than 500g. They are only 15-25 centimetres tall and are the result of crossing Japanese bantams with Malaysian bantams. The modern version of this breed was created in the early 1970s by WeeYean Een from Malaysia but the origins of the breed are reputed to date back to the 1600s. They are supposedly named after the Thai king, Raja Sri Rama, who, like these little birds, was renowned for his majestic appearance and proud carriage. There are 3 categories for this breed and they are graded according to their weight with the smallest and most desirable weighing just 350g. They are very upright little birds with a small neat comb. The breast is high and pushed upwards with the wings almost touching the ground, giving the impression that they are standing to attention and the tail is held at 90° so that it almost touches the back of the head.
Serama bantams make excellent house pets and are one of the most popular pets in America as they are friendly, confident little birds and love to be with people. The cockerel’s crow is very much quieter than that of a larger breed which makes them an ideal house pet but cockerels shouldn’t be kept together to avoid fighting. They are difficult to breed because they carry the Japanese Bantam “lethal gene” which means that around 2% of embryos fail to hatch or that some chicks will die shortly after hatching. The incubation period for their eggs is shorter than most other breeds with the eggs hatching after 19-20 days. They come in all colors and don’t breed true to any color or even size with some chicks being very tiny and others being larger than the parent. They mature at 16-18 weeks and are all year round egg layers. Unusually, they molt continuously and lose a few feathers each day. They come from tropical areas and although they are pretty hardy, they may need to be protected from very cold temperatures. Due to their size, they also cope better with layers mash than pellets. Their eggs range in color from pure white to dark brown and it takes 5 Serama eggs to equal one large graded egg!