Do count your chickens …

by Jeremy Cherfas on September 20, 2011

… and feed them, and tuck them up at night

Kunming 18Regarding those kuroiler chickens, one of the things I’m pretty sure we discussed eruditely and at length was my firm recollection that a little bit of tender loving care would do more for chicken productivity than shiny new breeds, at least for poor village households. Turns out I wasn’t misremembering. A quick search turned up quite a few extra instances of research that makes that very point.

An FAO paper from 1997 points out:

In view of lessons from the past rural poultry improvement programmes, a new approach should aim at increasing flock productivity instead of individual animal productivity. The potential of the village chicken as a provider of food and income should be exploited. A combined approach is suggested, which must be accompanied by improved extension services and farmer training on good husbandry practices, namely: housing, hygiene, feeding and health control. Improvement techniques should be based on indigenous technologies and available local resources.

There’s more sound advice in a factsheet from FAO, which stresses the benefits to be gained by taking better care of young chicks and improving housing for the whole flock. Makes sense; if something else has eaten your birds, you’re not going to be able to.

An entire PhD thesis looks at Improvement of village chicken production in a mixed (chicken-ram) farming system in Burkina Faso. Of course I haven’t read it, but I did filch this from the abstract:

System analyses showed that both village chicken and sheep fattening could be used for improvement of livestock production and subsequent income generation at rural farm level. Furthermore, an integrated village chicken and ram-fattening farming system appeared to be a promising possibility for village chicken improvement. It allows to control village chicken scavenging and to reduce the high risks related to the free-range system. The studies demonstrated that regular supplementation with locally available feedstuffs as sorghum or local beer by-product can be used as feeding strategies to improve village chicken production.

The Poultry Hub links to a few other studies.

The point is that while new breeds are fine and dandy, especially for the intensive, commercial sector, villagers who keep chickens need information, knowledge and training, not shiny new breeds. And that requires extension services, and even if those don’t always work too effectively, we do know how to improve them.

Chickens represent one of the best options to improve the livelihoods of poor rural families, but bringing that promise home to roost requires plodding, unglamorous extension work, and that’s just not a priority any more.

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