>KOTA BARU, MALAYSIA: The small but beautiful ayam serama (bantam chicken), which at one time cost more than a Perodua Kancil, is making a comeback.
Thanks to the efforts of people like Shafii Ismail and his Ayam Serama Karisma Club, various competitions are being held to showcase the new prize-winners.
Shafii was the subject of ridicule in the 1980s with friends and neighbours laughing at his "foolishness" when he bought a young ayam serama for RM560.
They said the 50-year-old was wasting his hard-earned money on the chicken.
Shafii, however, chose to ignore their taunts and bought even more ayam serama in the hope of breeding his own prize-winning flock.
That effort has paid off handsomely for the former Pos Malaysia Bhd employee as his chickens have gained nationwide fame for their beauty and pedigree. Each of his ayam serama now carries a hefty price tag of up to RM40,000 (about S$17,400).
Shafii, or better known locally as Abang Soh Tanjung Mas, has received numerous offers for his ayam serama.
Yet, Shafii, who opted for early retirement two years ago to become a full-time breeder, is reluctant to part with any of his 30 mature fowl.
In the past 20 years, he had only sold one of them for RM15,000 to a friend from Penang.
He earns money from selling 2-month-old chicks for RM200 each and from the cash prizes he has won at competitions.
"It is not easy to part with any of the adult fowl. I love them for their beauty and colours. From just one chicken, I started buying more and cross-breeding them and they are just so beautiful," he said.
Shafii's prized flock is a pampered lot. He gives them quality feed, makes sure they exercise and their nights are spent inside a specially constructed room in his house in Kampung Cempaka, near Panji here, to prevent anyone from stealing them.
His two best fowl, 6-month-old Atu and 5-month-old Sri Rampai, have won so many prizes that he had received offers of up to RM30,000 for each of them.
"When I bought the first ayam serama from a friend in Kampung Kijang, many people, including my close friends, thought I had gone mad to spend that much money on a chicken.
"They would have understood if I had bought a cow but not a chicken. However, my two wives (aged 48 and 35) were very understanding," said Shafii, who has 12 children aged between 32 and 7.
Shafii, who is the president of the Karisma Club, said the ayam serama was regaining its popularity, especially with youngsters.
"These chickens are colourful and pretty. Plus they are cheap to maintain and can be a good pet," he said.
Ayam serama originates from Kelantan and the name comes from the popular hero of Kelantan's wayang kulit, Sri Rama. The present ayam serama is a mix of many varieties of small exotic birds, including the local Katik, the Bantam chicken and others.