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Supporting Farmers

Best poultry species to have in Kenya

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All species of poultry are used by rural smallholders throughout the world. The most important
species in the tropics are: chickens, guinea fowl, ducks (including Muscovy ducks), pigeons,
turkeys and geese. Local strains are used, but most species are not indigenous. The guinea fowl
(Numididae) originated in West Africa; the Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) in South
America; pigeons (Columba livea) in Europe; turkeys (Meleagrididae) in Latin America;
pheasants (Phasianidae) in Asia; the common duck (Anas) in Europe; and geese (Anser) in
Flock composition is determined by the objectives of the poultry enterprise (see Chapter 1).
In Nigeria for example, the preference is for the smooth-feathered, multicoloured native
chickens or Muscovy ducks. Multicoloured feathers serve as camouflage for scavenging birds
against predators, including birds of prey, which can more easily see solid colours (especially
white). Foundation stock is usually obtained from the market as grower pullets and young
cockerels. A hen to cock ratio of about 5:1 is common. Both sexes are retained for 150 to 300
days, for the purposes of culling, selling, home consumption and gifts, most of which require
adult birds.
In the last 50 years, there has been a great advance in the development of hybrid breeds for
intensive commercial poultry production. This trend is most noticeable in chickens, turkeys and
ducks. The new hybrids (those of chickens in particular) are widely distributed and are present
in every country in the tropics, even in the most remote villages. The hybrids have been
carefully selected and specialised solely for the production of either meat or eggs. These endproduct-specialised
hybrid strains are unsuitable for breeding purposes, especially for mixing
with local village scavenger stock, as they have very low mothering ability and broodiness.
For the smallholder, keeping hybrids means considerable changes are required in
management. These changes are expensive for the following reasons:
x All replacement day-old chicks must be purchased.
x Hatchery chicks require artificial brooding and special starting feed.
x Hybrids require higher quality balanced feed for optimum meat and egg production.
x Hybrids require more careful veterinary hygiene and disease management.
x Egg-laying hybrid hens require supplementary artificial light (a steadily increasing daylength
up to 17 hours of total light per day) for optimum (profitable) egg production.
The meat and eggs from intensively raised hybrid stock are considered by many traditional
consumers to have less flavour, and the meat to have too soft a texture. Consumers will thus
often pay a higher price for village-produced poultry meat and eggs. Thus for rural family
poultry keepers, it is more appropriate to maintain and improve local birds to meet this demand.
Chickens originated in Southeast Asia and were introduced to the rest of the world by sailors
and traders. Nowadays, indigenous village chickens are the result of centuries of cross-breeding
with exotic breeds and random breeding within the flock. As a result, it is not possible to
standardize the characteristics and productive performance of indigenous chickens.
There is no comprehensive list of the breeds and varieties of ch
8 Species and Breeds
chickens under extensive management have become available, which makes it possible to
compare performance under extensive and intensive systems (see Table 2.3).
Table 2.1 Performance of local breeds in South Asia (intensively housed)
Traits Desi Naked Neck Aseel Kadak-anath Black Bengal
12 wk live wt (g) 544 629 640 NA 433
Age at 1st egg (d) 208 NA 219 NA 200
Eggs/hen/year 116 104 100 80 NA
Egg wt (g) 46 45 51 39 49
Fertility (%) 81 80 55 90 86
Hatchability (%) 55 61 45 61 68
Source: Acharya and Kumar, 1984. Desi means “local” (as in Bangladeshi)
Characteristics such as adult body weight and egg weight vary considerably among indigenous
chicken populations, although reproductive traits, such as the number of laying seasons per
year, the number of eggs per clutch and hatchability are more consistent. Desi hens in
Bangladesh range from 190 to 200 days of age at first egg (an easy measure of age-at-sexualmaturity),
and they lay 10 to 15 eggs per season in 3 to 4 clutches (3 to 4 times) per year, with a
hatchability of 84 to 87 percent (percent of eggs set) (Haque , 1999).
Table 2.2 Local chicken breeds of Ethiopia
Traits Tukur Melata Kei Gebsima Netch
24 wk body wt (g) 960 1000 940 950 1180
Age at 1st egg (d) 173 204 166 230 217
Eggs/bird.yr 64 82 54 58 64
Egg wt (g) 44 49 45 44 47
Fertility (%) 56 60 57 53 56
Hatchability (%) 42 42 44 39 39
Source: Shanawany & Banerjee, 1991 as cited in Forssido, 1986; Australian Agricultural Consultancy
and Management Company, 1984; Beker and Banerjee, 1990.
Indigenous village birds in Ethiopia attain sexual maturity at an average age of seven months
(214 days). The hen lays about 36 eggs per year in three clutches of 12 to 13 eggs in about 16
days. If the hen incubates her eggs for three weeks and then rears the chicks for twelve weeks,
then each reproductive cycle lasts for 17 weeks. Three cycles then make one year. These are
very efficient, productive and essential traits for survival.
Guinea fowl
Guinea fowl are native to West Africa but are now found in many parts of the tropics, and are
kept in large numbers under intensive systems in France, Italy, the former Soviet Union and
Hungary. In India, guinea fowl are raised in parts of the Punjab (Shingari et al., 1994), Uttar
Pradesh, Assam and Madhya Pradesh, usually in flocks of a few hundred birds. Guinea fowl are
seasonal breeders, laying eggs only during the rainy season, under free-range conditions. They
are very timid, roosting in trees at night, and although great walkers, they fly very little.
Guinea fowl thrive in both cool and hot conditions, and their potential to increase meat and
particularly egg production in developing countries deserves better recognition. The first egg is
normally laid at about 18 weeks of age, and unlike many indigenous birds (which produce a
single clutch a year), guinea hens lay continuously until adverse weather sets in. In West Africa,
laying is largely confined to the rainy season. Guinea hens under free-range conditions can lay
Small-scale poultry production 9
up to 60 eggs per season, while well-managed birds under intensive management can lay up to
200 eggs per year. The guinea hen “goes broody” (sits on eggs in the nest) after laying, but this
can be overcome by removing most of the eggs. A clutch of 15 to 20 eggs is common, and the
incubation period for guinea fowl is 27 days. Domesticated guinea fowl under extensive or
semi-intensive management in Nigeria were reported to lay 60 to 100 eggs with a fertility rate of
40 to 60 percent.
Table 2.3 Performance of local chicken breeds under scavenging and intensive management
System Country Breed Body
Wt (g)

Wt (g)
Africa Burundi Local 1 500 75 40
Mali Local 1 170 35 34
United Rep.Tanzania Local 1 200 70 41
Asia Indonesia Kampung 2 000 35 –
Malaysia Kampung 1 430 55 39
Bangladesh Local 1 140 40 37
Thailand Thai 1 400 40 48
Thailand Betong 1 900 18 45
Thailand Samae 2 300 70 –
Latin America Dom. Rep. Local 1 500 100 38
Bolivia Local 1 500 100 –
Africa Egypt Fayoumi 1 354 150 43
Egypt Dandarawi – 140 45
Egypt Baladi 1 330 151 40
Nigeria Local 1 500 125 36
United Rep. Tanzania Local 1 652 109 46
Uganda Local 1 500 40 50
Zambia Local 1 500 35 52
Asia Bangladesh Desi 1 300 45 35
India Kadakanath 1 125 80 40
Indonesia Ayam Nunukan 2 000 150 48
Indonesia Ayam Kampung 1 350 104 45
Sources: Compiled from Horst, 1989; Katule, 1991; Horst et al., 1996; Haque, 1999.
Domesticated guinea fowl are of three principal varieties: Pearl, White and Lavender. The Pearl
is by far the most common. It has purplish-grey feathers regularly dotted or “pearled” with
white. The White guinea fowl has pure white feathers while the Lavender has light grey feathers
dotted with white. The male and female guinea fowl differ so little in appearance (feather colour
and body weight [1.4 to 1.6 kg]) that the inexperienced farmer may unknowingly keep all males
or all females as “breeding” stock. Sex can be distinguished at eight weeks or more by a
difference in their voice cry.
Domesticated guinea hens lay more eggs under intensive management. French Galor guinea
hens can produce 170 eggs in a 36-week laying period. For example, from a setting of 155 eggs,
a fertility rate of 88 percent and hatchability of 70 to 75 percent, it is possible to obtain 115
guinea keets (chicks) per hen. In deep litter or confined range conditions, a 24-week laying
period can produce 50 to 75 guinea keets per hen.
Table 2.4 Reproduction and egg characteristics of guinea fowl varieties
10 Species and Breeds
Traits Variety
Pearl Lavender White
Age at 1st egg (d) 196 217 294
Eggs/hen/year 51 38 43
Egg wt (g) 38 37 36
Laying (d/yr) 155 114 92
Fertility (%) 53 50 0.0
Hatchability (%) 87 81 0.0
Source: Ayorinde, 1987 and Ayorinde et al., 1984.
Ducks have several advantages over other poultry species, in particular their disease tolerance.
They are hardy, excellent foragers and easy to herd, particularly
Small-scale poultry production 11
The Muscovy
This is not genetically a duck or a goose, but is more similar to the goose (Anseridae). It eats
grass, as do geese, and has a similarly long egg incubation period of 36 days (compared with
that of ducks – 28 days). It is popular in areas where there is little wetland rice production, since
it does not require swimming water. The female Muscovy is an excellent brooding mother. It is
often used as a foster brooder-mother for other species such as ducks, chickens and guinea
fowls. It is a poor layer, producing only 30 to 40 eggs per year under extensive management.
The male Muscovy can become very large (4.5 to 5.5 kg) while the female is smaller (2.3 to 2.8
kg). The feather colouring is usually a combination of black and white, ranging from mostly
black to mostly white. The male has characteristic red fleshy outcrops around the eyes called
caruncles. The Muscovy is the predominant waterfowl in Africa and Latin America, as it thrives
well under free-range conditions. Numbers are increasing in parts of Asia where lean, red meat
is popular (Hahn et al., 1995). When mated with breeds of domestic ducks, they produce
infertile hybrid offspring (“mule” ducks). These mule ducks are a major source of duck meat in
Taiwan Province of China. A three-way cross-system is used for white mule duck production.
Firstly, Pekin drakes are crossed with white Tsaiya ducks to produce a cross-bred female line
called the Kaiya duck. These are then crossed with large white Muscovy drakes, usually by
artificial insemination. The resulting progeny is a mule duck, which is sterile but grows rapidly.
It has good carcass composition with more meat and less fat than the Pekin. These three-way
crosses have the added advantages of the high egg production of the Tsaiya, the high growth
rate of the Pekin and the good carcass quality and meat texture of the Muscovy. Their white
feathers are more valuable as down than those of darker-feathered ducks.
Table 2.5 Duck breeds and their traits
Breed Feather Colour Body weight (kg)
Drake Duck
Egg colour
Pekin White 4.1 3.6 White / Blue green
Muscovy Black/White 4.5 3.0 White / Green cream
Indian Runner White 2.0 1.8 White / Creamy white
Khaki Campbell Brown/Khaki 2.0 1.8 White
Mallard “ 1.4 1.1 Blue green / Mottled
Source: Hahn, 1995
In most tropical countries, there are local duck breeds that have been selected to suit local
conditions. They may not perform as well as improved breeds, but they do have the ability to
survive and produce well under local extensive and semi-intensive systems. Setioko (1997)
described three Indonesian ducks: Tegal, Alabio and Bali. Improved genotypes have been
introduced and have either been crossed with local ducks or remained reasonably pure. There
was some concern about the ability of the improved genotypes to survive under traditional
farming systems. Trials conducted in the Mekong River Delta by The Bin (1996) found that
hybrid ducks raised for meat in rice fields were more profitable than the local ducks, even
though they consumed more feed and cost more to buy initially. However, when raised for egg
production in rice fields and on canals, the hybrids did not perform as well as the local ducks.
Geese are less important in family poultry production, except in China, where mainly local
breeds are kept, except for a few European breeds such as the Toulouse and White Roman,
imported for cross-breeding purposes. The great variety in breed size of geese permits their use
under various management conditions. At the less intensive levels of production preferred by
most family producers, smaller-sized birds (weighing approximately 4 kg, such as the Lingxhian
or Zie breeds in China) are easier to manage. Geese are high in the broodiness trait, and have a
consequent low egg production of 30 to 40 hatching eggs (in three to five laying cycles) per
12 Species and Breeds
year. At the other extreme are breeds of high fertility (and egg number), which are smaller and
are selected specifically for use in breeding flocks for their lack of broodiness. Breeds such as
the Zie may lay 70 to 100 eggs annually. The importance of the wide gene pool variety in China
is significant for the Asian region in particular and for the world in general.
Pigeons are scavengers (not fed any supplementary feed) in most countries, living on the roofs
of houses and treated as “pets” that do not need to be fed. They appear to prefer homestead
compounds to fields. In some countries, they are eaten only for ritual purposes. They normally
lay two eggs in a clutch, and the young birds (squabs) hatch after 16 to 17 days. The growing
squabs are fed by their mothers on crop milk, produced in the mother’s crop (first stomach).
This enables young squabs to grow very rapidly. They reach maturity in three to five months at
a body weight of 200 to 300 g for males, and 150 g for females. Adult pigeons are monogamous
for life.
Local pigeons are specific to different regions in the tropics. Africa has five breeds, within
which Chad has three local breeds. Asia and the Pacific have five breeds, with local breeds
found specific even to the Cook Islands. Latin America and the Caribbean islands have only one
breed. Europe has six breeds, two of which come from Belgium.
These birds are native to Latin America. The breeds kept by rural producers in the tropics
usually have black feathers, as distinct from the white-feathered breeds that are raised
intensively. Where there are no geese and ostriches, they are the largest birds in the farming
system. Body weight ranges from 7 to 8 kg in males and from 4 to 5 kg in hens. They have good
meat conformation, produce about 90 eggs per year and have medium to good hatchability.
They are more susceptible to disease than either chicken or ducks.

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