PHOTO: Wanny/Wikimedia Commons
Use: e ornamental Sumatra chicken breed was originally used for fighting. Indonesian Island residents would catch Sumatra cocks during breeding season, use them in combat and release them once their seasonal aggression declined. Today, hens lay an abundant number of white or lightly tinted eggs and are considered excellent winter layers. They are also wonderful mothers and will become broody in late spring.
History: The Sumatra chicken breed originated in the Indonesian Isles of Sumatra, Java and Borneo. It’s the possible result of a cross between feral Kampong chickens and a now extinct variety of wild fowl. J.A.C. Butters of Roxbury, Mass., is responsible for bringing the Sumatra to the United States in April 1847 as a fighting breed. In 1885, Nelson A. Wood of the Smithsonian Institution worked to increase the Sumatra’s productivity and flowing tail feathers, traits we now associate with the modern breed. The Sumatra was admitted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1883.
Conformation: Sumatra plumage is black with a greenish sheen, particularly evident in sunlight. Its face, small pea comb and wattles, and earlobes are gypsy-colored (purple to black). Its long, flowing tail sits low and trails horizontally behind the body. Shanks and toes are black with yellow soles. Sumatra cocks can have several clustered spurs on each leg, a trait unique to the breed. Standard Sumatra cocks weigh 5 pounds and hens weigh 4 pounds; bantam cocks weigh 24 ounces and bantam hens weigh 22 ounces.
Special Considerations/Notes: Sumatra chickens are noted as good fliers. They will also jump—even with clipped wings—so large, enclosed pens are a good choice for keeping. Sumatra cocks exhibit aggressive behavior only toward members of their own breed during breeding season. Breeders should place an older rooster among male chicks in order to avoid any battles over rank and should separate the cock once chicks are old and strong enough to overtake it. In general, the Sumatra chicken breed is active, alert, hardy and easy to raise. It’s listed in the Critical category of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List.