Malaysia's mini-chickens big it up after flu scare

KUALA LUMPUR Mon Mar 30, 2009 3:59am EDT

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - They strut around like supermodels, oozing glamour and with their chests held high, but despite the attitude, the world's smallest chickens are lucky to have survived.

Standing at around 6 inches tall, the Malaysian Serama faced extinction during Asia's bird flu outbreak of 2004, when over 50,000 were culled as part of government safety measures.

But the miniature breed has since fought its way back into the hearts and homes of people around the world, as well as onto the catwalk of a poultry beauty pageant.

"Seramas are very beautiful birds," said Nesa Subramamiam, a veterinary student who attended the recent Malaysian Serama Competition, the first to be held since the avian flu outbreak.

"It's a chicken but it is very egotistical, I like its color and how it stands."

Breeders from all over Malaysia brought their best Seramas to the competition, which had cash prizes totaling 8,000 Malaysian ringgit ($2,215) at the central market in Kuala Lumpur.

A cock bird can weigh less than 350 grams (12 oz) and females are a third of their size, while the eggs of this bantam can be half the size of a human thumb.

But these tiny birds are held in high esteem, with birds kept as pets in Malaysia fetching more than 20,000 ringgit.

"Some of the owners really love their chickens, in Kelantan state, they sleep next to their chickens. The husband and wife quarrel over their chickens," said Ahmad Mohammed, head of the Malaysian Serama Corporation.

At the competition, the Seramas played up to their fame, strutting around the stage as judges marked them on feather quality, posture and color.

"When we have had a hectic day, we come home and spend some time with the chicken, we feel relaxed, especially with the downturn in the economy," said Serama breeder Eric Lee.

The popularity of the breed is spreading internationally with Serama clubs in Britain, the United States and the Netherlands. There are an estimated 25,000 of these small chickens being bred all over the world.

The Serama has its origins in Malay Hindu culture and its name is derived from Sri Rama, the mythological Hindu king. In Malaysian villages the chickens are also eaten as an aphrodisiac or as a treatment for asthma.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

($1=3.612 Malaysian Ringgit)

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