Due to poor management given to local chicken, they have become adapted to free range methods of survival. The birds are able to gather enough nutrients for growth, production and reproduction but under these circumstances their yield potential is low.
The average household has about 10 chickens mainly for home consumption, and however much they try the number remains almost the same. The reason being that birds are do not get enough drinking water regularly. Another key production problem relates to the occurrence of diseases such as New Castle Disease (NCD) and coccidiosis as many farmers do not bother about controlling diseases. As a result many birds die while others are lost through predators. An equally important problem is shelter for the birds where farmers live with the chicken in their houses and release them to scavenge during the day. On average a farmer loses between 15 – 40% of the stock annually due to these problems which they can easily control.
Local hens lay a batch of 10 – 12 eggs then they become broody and sit on the eggs. This is repeated 3 to 4 times a year. Egg hatchability varies from 80 – 90%. The chicks hatched are not cared for and only about 2 – 3% reaches maturity. Under these conditions the annual output of a flock of 10 chickens can be estimated roughly at 200 eggs and about 17kg of meat. This performance can be tremendously improved by applying just simple management practices.
The local chicken can produce more eggs and young chicks if the farmer takes better care of them. The extra effort and some little spending have always proved to be profitable.
A few hand ful of maize or other available grains and a place to drink are essential for extra production of eggs and meat. Eggs and meat do not come from thin air, they come from the edible feed materials the birds are scavenging. So when they eat more and better feed, the number of eggs increases. A kilogram of maize is cheaper than a kilogram of eggs or meat and so a few handfuls a day is clearly profitable.
Chickens are like children who need to be protected, to be sheltered and to be fed. They need a clean well ventilated place to roost with laying nests and clean litter. The shelter should be closed at night to protect the birds from wild animals. If a hen has a protected place to go to, eggs and day old chicks are not lost in the bush. There must be laying nests, one for every 5 birds. Carton boxes will do provided they are always clean with litter on the bottom.
The next step to increase egg production is to suppress broodiness. Broodiness is in fact the main cause of low egg production and is a feature which has been eliminated in hybrid birds by breeding and selection. Broodiness is of course essential for the farmer to increase his flock but there is usually too much of it. Nearly half the lifetime of a good laying hen is spent sitting on the eggs and brooding her chicks.
To get rid of broodiness a hen should be isolated by putting it in a small cage without litter; the cage is fixed somewhere above the rest of the flock. Feed and water should be provided. After 3 to 4 days, the broodiness will normally have disappeared. Note that this is the best way. Most local measures are much too harsh and often counterproductive. For example immersion in water or the pulling out of the vent feathers causes stress such that egg production stop completely.
The hatchability of local chicken is good because for every 10 – 12 eggs, 8 – 10 day old chicks appear. But what happens is that gradually in 2 – 3 weeks nearly all of them disappear. The chicks can be kept alive by protecting and feeding them. This means constructing or adding a day-old-chick shelter and a small fenced-off run for chicks only and the mother hen. The chicks should be fed on mashed maize put in a feeder where grown birds including the mother hen have no access. In addition they should be able to scavenge in their small run as they cannot stay alive and well on maize only.
A good number of local chicken keepers believe that the local chicken is not affected by some diseases such as fowl pox and fowl typhoid. But these diseases affect the local chicken just as they do the exotic birds. It is important not take chances with the birds because any disease often result in losses for the poultry keeper. Even more devastating are the diseases that go unnoticed by the farmer while they reduce vigour of the birds, the growth rates, feed efficiency, egg production and profits.
In prevention, a good knowledge of poultry keeping and hygiene is very important. One of the first rules of hygiene is recognizing a sick bird and establishing an accurate diagnosis. Healthy birds are constantly active, bright and alert whereas sick birds will stand half-asleep at the corners of the house, with their feathers ruffled up, their heads drawn into their wings and the tail drooping.
In poultry the main effort should be in prevention through hygiene and management and vaccination as the damage is already done when the birds are infected. Coccidiostats are very effective in controlling coccidiosis and should always be available especially in rainy weather. Regular disinfection of chicken housing is recommended to rid the pests and parasites and other disease causing organisms.
Vaccination against the following diseases is recommended
Type of vaccination
New castle disease
Intra nasal (drop)
At 2 or 3 weeks
In the eye (drop)
At 18 weeks and at 6 months intervals
In drinking water
At 8 weeks and at 6 months
Wing web method
At 18 weeks
Not to mention that predators should always be kept at bay by constructing a safe structure for the birds. External pests such as lice, fleas, ticks and mites suck the blood of the birds and cause weaknesses and a drop in egg production. Disinfect the poultry house and treat the affected birds with sprays or powders. Soft ticks (kitungu) are a special problem for poultry keepers in Machakos and Kitui Counties. The best control is to build poultry house with smooth walls and apply acaricides and insecticides.
Worms causes a wide range of problems to the birds and can best be controlled by regular deworming. Drugs against worms are available and are very effective.
All the above requires the attention of the farmer because no good results can be achieved without some effort. The farmer will be rewarded for every effort put into caring for the birds. Chicken do not care for expensive material so the cost can be very low. However they care for a good, safe and clean environment and many farmers who have put their effort on only a few of these aspects have reported very good results.
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