The tough, often colourful, local chicken is a hallmark of rural areas throughout the sub-Saharan region. Domesticated for an estimated 8 000 years, chickens are an important, but often underutilised, protein source for rural families.
Village chickens can make up a significant 75% to 90% of the total poultry population in some African countries. These chickens don’t cost their owners much. They’re free-range, foraging for food, returning before dusk to roost.
The hens make good mothers, often growing out their chicks in conditions that could be said to be less than ideal.
The dark side of this low-maintenance, low cost, poultry regime is that village chickens are vulnerable to disease and chick mortality is high. The dreaded Newcastle viral disease, in particular, can wipe out entire poultry populations.
It takes a bit of effort, some diligence and a small amount of capital to improve production in village flocks. As is the case with all animal-based farming, commitment pays. Or, what you put in, is what you get out.
Prevention is infinitely better than cure. Vaccinating poultry against Newcastle disease is cheap and easy. US$1.00 buys enough vaccine to treat 200 chickens says Lusaka-based vet, Dr Moosa Ameen.
“Because the village hens are laying continually, we advise our clients to vaccinate every three months. This is the only way to control Newcastle Disease,” says Dr Ameen.
The live vaccine is administered through the chickens’ drinking water and one drop of water is enough to protect a bird. At this price, it is neither sensible nor productive, not to vaccinate against Newcastle Disease.
MANAGE FOR MORE
Village chickens have the genetic potential to respond favourably to better management. Active management rather than passive collection or slaughter will unlock the value in rural flocks. The good news is that it’s entirely possible through the application of a few basic management techniques and some common sense.
Once the vaccination programme is part of your routine, look at controlling internal and external parasites and ensuring chick survival.
Losing poultry because it’s easier not to put simple management procedures in place, doesn’t cut it. If this is about African farmers transforming and growing to integrate into commercial agriculture, then farmers must drive ahead to improve production.
Failing this, we can all watch as the world loots our continent once again, this time with renewed vigour, better technologies and a greater demand.
GOOD FOOD IN FLOCKS
Improved productivity in village chickens can uplift nutritional levels and living standards, especially for women and children, often the flock custodians. Looking after chickens is also a good way to start teaching children about farming; how to look after animals and the basics of running a small business.
The importance of protein nutrients cannot be overestimated and chickens provide protein in the form of meat and eggs. Nutrient dense, and a source of omega-3 fatty acids, eggs are protein rich and contain beta-carotene and vitamin A. Good nutrition is important for brain development in young children, and who among us wants to neglect that aspect of our children’s lives?
Get cracking, start vaccinating, grow your flocks, feed your family and your community.