Maintaining a good breeding stock during drought
Breeding of start-up stock of village chickens is one of the interventions that we (the National Agriculture Research Institute) are implementing under the European Union funded Drought Resilience Project (EU DR). Village chickens are free-range birds kept in rural communities for both household consumption and sale. Though this is widely practiced among women folks and youths around the country; we have identified through need assessment surveys at target sites in that farmers still lack sound knowledge and skills needed to undertake proper breeding of start-up stock during times of extreme stress such as droughts. We are addressing that through EU DR’s trainer of trainers’ (ToT) workshops to impart this technology so that farmers can be able to maintain small numbers of selected birds to start new flocks at the end of drought periods. This is very important to building sustainable village poultry for food and income security.
The process of selecting a good breeding flock involves identifying desired traits which farmers should base their selection. The most important traits to consider relate to the health and physical condition of both the cockerels and hens. This is generally to ensure that selected birds do not carry any disease or disabilities and have good body size and weight. Qualities that are especially important for the selection of hens concern their mothering ability (broodiness). These concern the ability to lay 10 to 15 eggs on a weekly basis; to sit on, hatch and raise a good number of young.
To do a good selection, it is important that farmers must know their chickens. This means that chickens must not be just ‘kept’ but be ‘looked after’. By looking after their flock of chickens, farmers would allow themselves to have close relationships with their birds on a daily basis. This would enable them to understand the habits of their flocks and assess their state and conditions regularly.
This means farmers will need to provide things that support the welfare of the chickens. These include providing shelter to house the birds at night or during bad weather; providing indoor feed rations; providing nest boxes to lay and hatch new chicks. Doing these, farmers would be able to develop a deeper understanding about their flocks and thereby be able to easily select birds to make up their ideal star-up breeding flock.
It is important to understand and apply the breeding ratio during the selection process. The recommended distribution of chickens during normal times is one cockerel to 10 hens and one drake to five ducks. However, since it would be difficult to maintain such numbers during periods of extreme drought, it is more advisable for farmers to reduce numbers. The ratio could be adjusted as low as one male to five or less female birds.
After selection, the start-up breeding flock should be reared together in a pen separately from the other birds. This is benefits as it prevents competition for feed and allows the birds to be well nourished. It also helps to stop them from being infected by other birds. Furthermore, the arrangement enables the famers to avoid uncontrolled breeding. This ultimately contributes to food and economic security for farming families as the eggs could be sold for income or to supplement their diet during drought. In extreme scenarios where it is impossible to continue maintaining the selected start-up flock, all the birds should be either sold or consumed.
Farmers should pay close attention to the welfare of the chickens when maintaining the selected birds. While stress from overcrowding would not be a problem, particular care must be taken when preparing and serving their feed. It is critical to ensure proper budgeting of food and water and observation of safe storage and handling to avoid contamination. Farmers must also keep the place properly ventilated, dry and fresh by doing regular deep litter changes. If the welfare of selected birds is managed well, farmers should be able to have at least one cockerel and a couple of hens left to start-up a new flock of village chickens at the end of a drought period,.
So far we have conducted two EU DR trainer of trainers’ (ToT) workshops to impart this and other new farming ideas and skills to rural development officers, model farmers and extension officers. The first training was conducted in December 2018 and the second was completed in May this year. More than forty trainers of trainers from Momase, New Guinea Islands and Southern regions have already been trained and resourced with manuals and farmer hand books. There are plans to also develop short videos that capture practical tips and key messages around how to best ‘look after’ village chickens to maintain their health, performance and quality of products during extreme climatic and environmental stresses, such as droughts.