Status of Indigenous Village Chicken Production and poultry production in ethiopia

The Status of Indigenous Village Chicken Production and Marketing System in Ethiopia

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In Ethiopia, generally, the chicken rearing system is characterized by extensive scavenging management, no immunization programs, increased risk of exposure of birds to disease and predators, and reproduction entirely based on uncontrolled natural mating and hatching of eggs using broody hens, where there is no or minimum intervention to maximize their production and reproductive performance.  Indigenous chickens were rated to have superior merits with regard to traits such as disease resistance, tolerance to cold and heat, ability to escape from predators, scavenging and brooding behaviors and hatchability of eggs which are important in adaptation to the village environment; and those traits, such as taste of egg and meat, affecting consumption preference and consequently market value. Ethiopian indigenous chicken population is estimated to be 40.6 million and producing about 78million of eggs/year. In Ethiopia, the average flock size under rural chicken production system ranges from 7 – 10 birds in each house hold consisting of 2 – 4 adult hens, one cock and some growers of different age groups. The egg production is estimated to be 40 to 60 eggs / birds /year with an average egg weight of 40 grams. The village poultry production system is constrained by lack of technical information for producers, lack of hatcheries, poor egg transportation facilities, low quality feeds, poor performance of indigenous chicken, high mortality, socio-cultural taboos & inadequate emphases given to poultry production.  The poultry production and marketing systems in Ethiopia can only be improved through the adoption & application of new technologies in breeding, feeding, management, disease prevention & control and by assessing poultry market structure, identifying poultry price determinants and price association in spatially linked markets and generate information that helps to make decisions by producers, poultry traders and other stake holders concerned with poultry production and market development.                                                                             

Key words: village chicken production, Indigenous chicken ecotypes, Scavenging, Marketing Systems


The world poultry population has been estimated to be about 16.2 billion, with 71.6 % in developing countries, producing 67, 718,544 metric tons of chicken meat and 57,861,747 metric tons of hen eggs (Gueye, 2005).  In  Africa,  village  poultry  contributes  over  70%  of  poultry  products  and  20%  of  animal  protein intake (Kitalyi, 1998). In East Africa over 80% of human population live in rural  areas  and  over  75%  of  these  households  keep  indigenous  chickens  and  Ethiopia  is  not  exception to this situation (Kitalyi, 1998).

Ethiopiahas large population of chicken, estimated to be 42 million (CSA, 2009). Recent estimates put the poultry population in  Ethiopia   at   around   40.6   million   with   native   chicken   of   none   descriptive   breeds  representing 96.6%, hybrid chicken 0.55% and exotic breeds of chickens mainly kept in urban  and  peri-urban  areas  2.84%  (CSA,  2009).  From the total population of chicken in Ethiopia, 99 % are raised under the traditional back yard system of management, while 1 % is under intensive management system (Tadelle et al., 2003).

The village chicken production system in Ethiopiafollowed the primitive type with 5-20 birds per households, simple rearing in backyard with inadequate housing, feeding and health care. However, the number of chicken flocks per household in most Ethiopian rural communities is small; constituting an average of 7–10 mature chicken, 2–4 adult hens, a male bird (cock) and a number of growers of various ages (Tadelle and Ogle, 2001). Such production systems may result in slow growing, and poor layers of small sized eggs. Furthermore, about 98.5% and 99.2% of the national egg and poultry meat production, respectively, are derived/ contributed from traditional  indigenous chicken production systems, with an average total national  annual output of 72300 tons of meat and 78000 tons of eggs (Tadelle et al., 2003). However, the contribution of the indigenous chicken resource to human nutrition and export earnings is disproportionately small.

Ethiopiais representative of countries where village poultry plays a dominant role in total poultry production. The sector represents an important part of the national economy in general and the rural economy in particular. In developing countries, many rural households keep poultry in their farmyard.

InEthiopiathe village indigenous chickens are characterized by small size of unimproved indigenous flock per household, birds maintained under scavenging regimens in the backyards with little or no supplemental feeding, no separate shelters except for night enclosures in the family house and lack of health care. Despite their importance indigenous breeds are under threat due to various factors such as changing production systems and indiscriminate cross-breeding (Besbes, 2009).

In Ethiopiachickens are the most widespread and almost every rural family owns chickens, which provide a valuable source of family protein and income (Tadelle et al., 2003). The most dominant chicken types reared in Ethiopia are local ecotypes, which show a large variation in body position, plumage color, comb type and productivity (Halima et al., 2007).

Therefore the objective of this paper is to compile information on the current status of indigenous village chicken production and marketing systems in Ethiopia. 


2.1. Population and distribution of indigenous village chicken

According to the CSA (2009/10), the total poultry population at country level is estimated to be about 42 million and with regard to breed, 40.63 million (96.61 percent), 231,478 (0.55) percent and (1.19 million) 2.84 percent of the total poultry were reported to be indigenous, hybrid and exotic, respectively.  Poultry includes cocks, cockerels, pullets, laying hens, non-laying hens and chicks. Most of the poultry are chicks (36.44 percent), followed by laying hens (33.5 percent). Pullets are estimated to be 4.1 million in the country. Cocks and cockerels are also estimated separately, and are 4.7 million and 2.2 million, respectively. The others are non-laying hens that make up about 3.4 percent (1.45 million) of the total poultry population in the country. Among these 4.6 million (10.94%) cocks, 2.2 million (5.28%) cockerels, 3.9 million (9.42%) pullets, 13.4million (32%) laying hens, 1.4 million (3.37%) non-laying hens and 14.9 million (35.59%) chicks are indigenous poultry. 

2.2. Village Chicken Breeds and their Characteristics

The local birds in Ethiopia are entirely nondescript breeds closely related to the jungle fowl (Gallus gallus); show a great variation in their body size, conformation, plumage colour comb type and feather cover (Alemu and Tadelle, 1997). These breed are diseases resistant. Their use is largely limited to home consumption and generation of small cash income to the household. However, they have a great value in the cultural and religious life of rural communities. Very little scientific work has been done to characterize the local stock under either traditional or improved management conditions (Alemu and Tadelle, 1997).There is no comprehensive list of the breeds and varieties of village chickens used by rural smallholders, but there is considerable information on some indigenous populations from various regions. Most of this is based on feather color and other easily measurable features like body weight (Sonaiya and Swan, 2004).

Reta (2006) and Halima (2007) reported that the names of the indigenous chicken groups were being called as chicken-ecotypes and native-chickens, respectively. The indigenous chickens are studied so far in two approaches as criteria for their differentiation and identification. (1) Based on their ecological or main habitat, thus the chickens are named after their area of geographical origin.  (2) Based on morphological characteristics for identification specially feather type and color.

Some of the characterized and designated chicken ecotypes (native chickens) of Ethiopia by the same authors were: Tilili, Horro, Jarso, Tepi, Gelila, Debre-Elias, Melo-Hamusit, Gassay/ Farta, Guangua and Mecha. On the other hand, other scholars reported also that the names of indigenous chicken designated based on their plumage colors like for instances: Tikur (black), Nech (white), Key (Red) and extra in the country.

There are large variations in morphological appearances, conformation and body weights (Qualitative traits) of indigenous chicken in Ethiopia. Morphological variations of indigenous chicken ecotypes (between and within) are described in terms of comb types, shank types, earlobe types, plumage colors and other qualitative traits. Plumage color of Ethiopian indigenous chicken is very much diversified. Commonly observed plumage colors of indigenous chickens are: red, white, black, multicolor, black with red strips, white with red strips and red-brownish.

The commonest comb-types of indigenous chicken are rose, pea, walnut/strawberry, single and V-shape. Most of the indigenous chickens have no shank feathers (Halima, 2007; Bogale, 2008; Faruque et al., 2010) and shanks are yellowish in color (Halima, 2007; Bogale, 2008; Nigussie et al., 2010). The commonest egg color of indigenous chicken is white (Faruque et al., 2010).          

The most important characteristic of indigenous chicken is their broodiness (maternal instinct), which is pronounced for indigenous chickens in Ethiopia. Broody hens were the sole means of egg incubation and brooding young chicks.  It is identified that the average number of eggs incubated per broody hens was 13 eggs (ranged 7-22 eggs) and reasonably high (11) (ranged 0-19) numbers of chicks were hatched. Accordingly, the average hatchability percentage of local hens was calculated and found to be 82.6 %.

According to Kitalyi (1998), the reasons for the differences in hatchability performance of local broody hens might be attributed to the time or season of the year, since hatchability of eggs using broody hens was highly affected by season of incubation. The April (78.9%) and July (63.2%) were the first and second most non-preferred months of the year for eggs incubation and brooding of young chicks using broody hen because of poor hatchability of eggs, due to high solar temperature in April and poor survivability performance of young chicks due to mud, rain (cold stress) and predators in July were some of the main reasons for refusal of egg incubation and brooding of young chicks.

Though broodiness is an important trait and sole means of egg incubation and brooding of young chicks, it is believed to be one of the major reasons for the low egg productivity of local hens. In this regard, various indigenous practices used to reduce broody nature of local hens/ reduce broodiness, especially when they used the eggs for different purposes other than incubation.

 Different Authors indicated the importance of breaking broodiness to increase egg production as follows.  According to Tadelle et al., (2003) and Fisseha (2009) reports traditionally all households attempt to increase egg production by stimulating broody birds to resume laying.

 These are:

(1) Piercing the nostril with a feather to prevent sitting

(2) Changing the hen’s house /physically moving the bird to nearby house for a couple of days was found the most preferred practice implemented.

(3) Hanging the bird upside down for a limited period of time each day for about 3-4 days

(4) Spraying water on hen’s body and its place and also dipping broody hen in water. The basis of these practices is to disturb the broody bird and to cause a hormonal shift so that it starts to lay eggs again within 8-10 days.

The broody hen without chicks is then subjected to any of the above-indicated four treatments to stimulate egg production. It is recognized that all the above practices were implemented with the aim of creating stress on the hen, to let it forget broodiness and bring in to production with relatively short period time. However, it is documented that some of the practices like, hanging hen upside down were dangerous and might result in death of the hen.

Regular stimulation of birds to resume egg lying is reported to increase egg production by about 80%. Clay pots, bamboo baskets, cartons or even simply a shallow depression in the ground are common materials and locations used for egg setting. Crop residues, usually tef, wheat and barley straws were used as bedding materials (Tadelle et al., 2003).  According to farm households, the number of eggs set per bird depends, in their orders of importance, on season, experience and size of the bird (Tadelle et al., 2003). Related selection of broody hens, indigenous practice were practice a culture of selecting broody hens used for breeding/ egg incubation purposes by looking hen’s past egg incubation performance (73.9%), presence of big body size (7.9%), presence of thick feather (2.1%), size of eggs laid (2.5%), respectively.

Good broodiness is defined as:

  •  The ability to sit and remain sitting for longer period/usually not less than3-days
  • Aggressiveness and alertness in defending her younger from manageable enemies and ability rescue them from invisible once by signaling the young to hide.

Concerning frequency of egg lying, the majority of local hens (99.3%) and cross breed hens (90%) lay eggs every day (daily) during feed surplus season. However, during feed shortage season the majority of local breed hens (76.4%) and cross breed hens (61.1) reported to lay eggs every other day and every three days, respectively.  Local hens were more preferred, resistant and productive than cross breed hen during stress seasons. 

2.3. Village Chicken Production Systems

Poultry keeping practiced by rural households using family labor is referred as village poultry keeping. This practice is also called rural poultry or rural family poultry (Aklilu, 2007).

The village chicken productions system of  Ethiopia is  mostly an indigenous integral part of the farming system comprises  the indigenous ecotypes chickens  characterized by short life cycle, quick turn over, small flock size, needs no or less inputs and relatively good outputs levels and accessible at both inter and intra household levels and periodic devastation of the flock by disease and  reared in the extensive (scavenging) production systems(Nigussie  et al., 2010; Fisseha, 2009; Mammo, 2006). There is no separate poultry house and the chickens live in family dwellings together with human beings. There is no purposeful feeding of chickens and scavenging is almost the only source of diet. There is no designed selection and controlled breeding. It is by natural incubation and brooding that chicks are hatched and raised all over the rural Ethiopia.

A broody hen hatching, rearing and protecting few number of chicks (6-8) ceases egg laying during the entire incubation and brooding periods of 77 days. Yet the successes of the hatching and brooding process depends on the maternal instinct of the broody hen and prevalence of predators in the area, such as birds of prey, pets and some wild animals, all of which are listed as the major causes of premature death of chicks in Ethiopia (Solomon, 2007).

Most of the caretaking practices of local chicken husbandry, including off take decision was being undertaken by women, followed by children of the households in Ethiopia.

A shelter used by the majority of the farmers for indigenous chicken productions is sharing the house with the family (penning birds at night with a family). Except some supplementation, there is no planned feeding of chickens and scavenging is almost the only source of diets. Moreover, there is no planned breeding. Perpetuation of the indigenous chicken species is by natural incubation process. Using this natural phenomenon of broody hen, chicks are hatched and raised all over rural Ethiopia.

A broody hen that engaged in hatching, rearing and protecting few chicks, ceases egg lying which needs around 81 days of brooding periods. Most of producers rear their indigenous chickens to generate incomes by selling eggs and marketable chickens(Nigussie  et al., 2010; Fisseha, 2009; Mammo, 2006). 

2.4. Merits of the scavenging indigenous chickens of Ethiopia

Gueye (1998) indicated some advantages of village chicken production such as the special meat and egg quality/flavour, hard egg shells, high dressing percentages and especially low cost with little special care required for production. The indigenous chicken always fetches better price than exotics because of its taste and flavor.

 Ethiopia has a wealth of indigenous chicken genetic resources with unique meat and/or egg qualities, a low susceptibility to stress and other useful characteristics.

Considerable variation in genetic and morphology of indigenous chickens in Ethiopia is potential resource (Mammo and Tsega, 2011) for improvements.

Chicken production in Ethiopia has been contributing a lot to improving nutrition, gender participation and income for rural communities of a country (Mammo and Tsega, 2011). Moreover, social cultures and believes of most of the rural community have been highly attached and attracted by these morphological variations of the birds in a country.

Although the indigenous chickens are relatively low producers than the commercial breeds, they are more adapted to the environmental challenges and prevailing management levels practised by smallholder farmers. Indigenous chicken production plays an important role in income generation, household nutrition and food security, with special benefits to women and children, who significantly contribute to village chicken production and marketing.

The importance of village poultry production in the national economy of developing countries and its role in improving the nutritional status and incomes of many small farmers and landless communities has been recognized by various scholars and rural development agencies for the last few decades (Abera and Tegene, 2011; Fisseha et al., 2010). For instance, there are about 42 million chickens in Ethiopia of which 96.6% are local chickens (CSA, 2009/10), indicating the significance of indigenous chickens as potential Farm Animal Genetic Resources of the country. The impact of village chicken in the national economy of developing countries and its role in improving the nutritional status, income, food security and livelihood of many smallholders is significant owing to its low cost of production (Abubakar et al., 2007).

Village based chicken production requires less space and investment and can therefore play an important role in improving the livelihood of the poor village family (Samson and Endalew, 2010). However, the production level of scavenging hens is generally low, with only 40-60 small sized eggs produced per bird per year under smallholder management conditions (Abera and Tegene, 2011;Nigussie et al., 2010). 

2.5. Performance of production and reproduction traits of Ethiopian indigenous chickens

The production performance of indigenous or local scavenging chickens of Ethiopia is low because of their low egg production potential, high chick mortality and longer reproductive cycle or the low genetic potential (slow growth rate, late sexual maturity and broodiness for an extended period). About 40-60% of the chicks hatched die during the first 8 weeks of age mainly due to disease and predators attack. About half of the eggs produced have to be hatched to replace chicken that have died, and the brooding time of the laying hens is longer, with many brooding cycles required to compensate for its unsuccessful brooding (Besbes, 2009). It is estimated that, under scavenging conditions, the reproductive cycle of indigenous hens consists of 20-days of lying phase, 21-days of incubation phase and 56-days of brooding phase (Alemu and Tadelle, 1997).

Even though Village chickens do have low productivity they are well   known to possess desirable characters/special features such as ideal mothers, good sitters, hatch their own eggs, thermo tolerant, excellent foragers and   ability to utilize the limited and poor quality feed resources, immunities to resist common poultry diseases and the special meat and egg quality/flavor, hard eggshells high fertility and hatchability as well as high dressing percentage provide them an important place. These traits are of great importance as the farmers cannot purchase expensive concentrate feeds and incubators, which at the movement considered as necessary for raising exotic breeds (Abera, 2000 and Amsalu, 2003). However, In spite of the above important desirable characters, the indigenous chickens have been neglected in areas of scientific research on its characterization, performance potential, and development efforts. In addition, rearing them has been considering as a sideline agriculture activity. 

Average performance of production and reproduction traits of village chicken as reported by different workers under scavenging / semi-scavenging rearing systems has been summarized in table 1.

Table 1: Mean performance of various traits of indigenous chickens under scavenging and semi-scavenging rearing systems.

Sonaiya and Swan (2004) reported that indigenous village chicken, in Ethiopia attains sexual maturity at an average of 7 months. The hen lays about 36 eggs per year in 3 clutches of 12 to 13 eggs in about 16 days. Each reproductive cycle lasts for 17 weeks. Three cycles then make one year. These are very efficient, productive and essential traits for survival. By using brooding coop or other means of controlling broody character of village chicken it is possible to shorten the period to switch the clutch to every 27 days and to increase the egg produce by bird in 81 days time to 30 eggs (Amsalu, 2003). Domesticated chickens bred for high production have different molting pattern. A natural molt doesn’t normally occur until the end of an extended, intensively laying period.

According to CSA (2009/10) the average number egg laying periods per hen per annum, length of a single egg-laying period per hen, and average number of eggs laid per hen per egg-laying period are the parameters required to estimate egg production. The estimate of total number of eggs produced during the year is about 78 million. Average egg-laying period per hen and average number of eggs laid per hen during the reference period are also estimated for local, hybrid and exotic breeds. Consequently, the average number egg-laying period per hen per year is about 4 and 5 for the local, and hybrid breeds, respectively. The average length of a single egg-laying period per hen is estimated to be about 21, 38 and 159 days for local, hybrid and exotic breeds, respectively. The average number of eggs laid per hen per egg- laying period in the country is about 12, 33 and 135 eggs for local, hybrid and  exotic breeds respectively.

Solomon (2007) has cited the reports of CACC (2003) on the comparative performance of indigenous chicken under traditional, breed multiplication center and commercial farm conditions are presented in table 2.

Table 2: Comparative performances of the indigenous chickens in traditional system, breeding multiplication centers and commercial production systems in Ethiopia.


2.6. Marketing systems of village chicken and eggs

In Ethiopia marketing chicken and eggs is one of the functions of keeping free range chickens by smallholder farmers. Village chicken and eggs are sold in local and urban markets to traders (collectors) or directly to consumers depending on the location of the farm dwelling.

According to the study conducted in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia by Tadelle et al., (2003), about 50, 27 and 23% of the egg produced are used for hatching, sale and home consumption, respectively. In another study conducted in southern parts of Ethiopia, about 71.4% of chickens raised by the rural community were used for egg production while the rest 28.6% were used for meat production purposes (Abera and Tegene, 2007)

According to Halima (2007), smallholder village chicken owners found in different parts of the country sell chicken and eggs to purchase food items, to cover school fees, to get cash for grain milling services, to purchase improved seeds and to adjust flock size. The price of chicken is highly related to holy days, non-fasting season for the Orthodox Christians, plumage colour, comb type, size, age, sex, and market site and health status of chicken. The chicken and egg marketing channels in the country are informal and poorly developed. Tadelle (2001) also reported that few farmers in central highlands of Ethiopia exchanged their free range chicken for food and household items.

Most consumers in Ethiopia prefer to buy local chicken from village producers, since they are considered to be tasty and better suited for preparation of the traditional chicken sauce (locally called ‘Doro wot’). Eggs from local chicken are often favored because of their deep yellow colored yolks. As a result, free ranging local chicken are in higher demand and fetch higher market prices in urban markets. Chicken and eggs are sold to consumers within the villages, on roadsides and in local and urban markets (ILRI 1995). 

2.7. Major constraints/challenges and opportunities of village chicken production

Indigenous chickens provide major opportunities for increased protein production and income for smallholders (Sonaiya, 1997). Chickens have a short generation interval and a high rate of productivity. They can also be transported with ease to different areas and are relatively affordable and consumed by the rural people as compared with other farm animals such as cattle and small ruminants. Chickens also play a complementary role in relation to other crop livestock activities.

Indigenous chickens are good scavengers as well as foragers and have high levels of disease tolerance, possess good maternal qualities and are adapted to harsh conditions and poor quality feeds as compared to the exotic breeds. In Ethiopia, however, lack of knowledge about poultry production, limitation of feed resources, prevalence of diseases (Newcastle, Coccidiosis, etc) as well as institutional and socio-economic constraints (Ashenafi et al., 2004) remains to be the major challenges in village based chicken productions.

According to Tadelle and Ogle (2001), the primary problem cited by the village poultry farmers was high mortality of chicks. The major causes of this problem as perceived by the community and in their order of importance were disease (63.8 %), predation (21.8 %), lack of feed (9.5 %) and lack of information (4.9%), as per the reports of Tadelle (2003). Insufficient water was also one of the causes of mortality in chicks and older birds and a contributing factor to low productivity. The major constraints of village indigenous chicken production were partly due to poor management of the chicken (prevailing diseases and predators, lack of proper health care, poor feeding and poor marketing information). On the other hand attempt of replacing indigenous chickens by exotic chicken breeds was identified as a major threat in eroding and dilution of the indigenous chicken genetic resources (Hunduma et al., 2010). 

2.7.1. Diseases and Predators

The major causes of death for village poultry production were commonly disease (mainly New Castle Diseases locally known as “Sombe/Fengil”), followed by predation. High incidence of chicken diseases, mainly Newcastle Disease (NCD), is the major and economically important constraint for village chicken production system (Fisseha et al., 2010).

Mortality of village chicken due to disease outbreak is higher during the short rainy season, mainly in April (66.8%) and May (31.4%).  Serkalem et al., (2005) also reported that NCD is one of the major infectious diseases affecting productivity and survival of village chicken in the central highlands of Ethiopia.

Predators were listed alongside diseases as major cause of premature death. The predation is strongly associated with the rainy season. The predators include primarily birds of prey such as vultures, which prey only on chicken and wild mammals such as cats and foxes, which prey on mature birds as well as chicks (Tadelle and Ogle, 2001). Predators such as birds of prey (locally known as “Culullee”) (34%), cats and dogs (16.3%) and wild animals (15%) were identified as the major causes of village poultry in rift valley of Oromia, Ethiopia (Hunduma et al., 2010).

The major routes of contamination and spread of NCD from village to village are contact between chicken during scavenging and exchange of chicken from a flock where the disease is incubating and during marketing.  Halima (2007) also reported that predation is one of the major constraints in village chicken production in northwest Ethiopia.

2.7.2. Feed Resource

In Ethiopia, village chicken production systems are usually kept under free range system and the major proportion of the feed is obtained through scavenging. The major components of Scavenging Feed Resource Base (SFRB) are believed to be insects, worms, seeds and plant materials, with very small amounts of grain and table leftover supplements from the household.

Improving the diet of scavenging birds is difficult because it is not known what food they are eating (Smith, 1990). The amount and availability per bird of this SFRB is significantly dependant on season, grain availability in the household, time of the grain sowing and harvest, and the biomass of the village flock. The limited capacity of the SFRB coupled with other factors; restricts the potential productivity of local birds to about 40 to 60 eggs per hen per year (Tadelle and Ogle, 1996). However, unlike intensively kept poultry the scavenging birds are not in competition with humans for the same food and every egg or quantity of meat produced represents a net food increment.  Any attempt at supplementation should take into consideration what the birds are actually eating (Smith, 1990) and the proportion of the total diet scavenged by birds.

In village chicken production systems, it is difficult to estimate the economic and/or physical value of feed resource input because there are no direct methods of estimating the scavenged feed input. According to Hunduma et al., (2010) feed shortage mostly occurs from June to August time of the year for village poultry as it is not harvesting season of cereal crops. 

2.7.3. Replacement of indigenous chickens by exotic chicken breeds

The local chicken genetic resources in the Amhara region of Northwest Ethiopia were seriously endangered owing to the high rate of genetic erosion due to the extensive and random distribution of exotic breeds, by both governmental and non-governmental organizations, since they are believed to dilute the take different kind of indigenous genetic stock. This threat is also in line with the FAO report Replacement of indigenous chickens by exotic chicken, which states that animal genetic resources in developing countries in general, are being eroded through the rapid transformation of the agricultural system, in which the main cause of the loss of indigenous animal genetic resources is the indiscriminate introduction of exotic genetic resources, before proper characterization utilization and conservation of indigenous genetic resources. Replacement of indigenous chickens by exotic chicken breeds is also a major threat in eroding and dilution of the indigenous genetic resources (Hunduma et al., 2010).

Establishing a constructive breeding program to address constraints related to poultry production is essential. However, the chicken genetic resources in the Amhara region of Northwest Ethiopia are becoming very sensitive due to the high rate of genetic erosion as a result of a high incidence of Newcastle disease.

Furthermore, the massive distribution of exotic chicken breeds especially the Rhode Island Red (RIR) by both governmental and non-governmental organizations has resulted in the dilution of indigenous genetic stock. If this trend continues at the current rate, the gene pool of the indigenous chickens could be lost in the near future before they are properly described and studied under different management conditions (Halima et al., 2006).

Marketing and the movement of poultry is the main cause of genetic mixing of chicken populations. This is why chickens from different regions or agro-ecologies or geographical barriers and markets tend to be more heterogeneous than chickens kept in a particular geographical location with a similar type of production system. Usually chicken ecotypes are named after the name of the region (agro-ecology) or local market (e.g. ecotypes of Horro and Tepi in Ethiopia) (Tadelle, 2003). 

2.7.4. Lack of proper housing

Although no data are available about housing at national level, the local birds are set free on free range whereby they move freely during the day and spend the night in the main house. Overnight housing, perched in trees or on roofs and overnight housing within the main house are the common patterns of housing prevailing in the country.

Lack of housing is one of the constraints of the village poultry production systems. In some African countries, a large proportion of village poultry mortality accounted due to nocturnal predators because of lack of proper housing (Dwinger et al., 2003). Some research works also indicated that the mortality of scavenging birds reduced by improved housing. For instance, in the Gambia livestock improvement program, which included improved poultry housing resulted in lower chick mortality (19%) relative to that observed in Ethiopia (66%) and Tanzania (33%), where no housing improvements were made (Kitalyi, 1998). 

2.8. Improvement strategies of existing constraints

Before starting any rural poultry development program, the first critical step is the encouragement of farmers to change their attitude towards poultry keeping that includes introduction of regular watering and feeding, supplementation with quality feeds, cleaning the bird’s night shelter and taking care of the young chicks. Such changes in the management of village chicken production system could discourage getting broody and bring about significant improvements in the productivity of local birds.

In the village chickens, it is clear that one of the major problems to be solved will be the feeding as the system is mainly based on scavenging. Scavenging feed resources do not lead to an efficient village chicken production. If complete diets are available there is improvement of production, but rural farmers may not be able to invest or village chicken production may not be sufficiently high to earn back such investments. For resource poor farmers, there is a need to identify strategies that minimize the input, allow the chickens to roam freely and assure the use of other improved techniques such as improved housing, health care and management against low costs.

Many solutions for these constraints are available as for example, the immunization against the Newcastle disease and the use of improved cocks. However, these solutions cannot be effective if the main feed resource for the village chicken remains scavenging. Scavenging provides low cost feeding, but hampers the improvement of village chicken production. The utilisation of commercial chicken diet as supplement to scavenging is a possible solution but may not prove profitable, if losses e.g. due to predation remain important. Thus, there is a need to identify strategies that minimize inputs, while still allowing the chicken to roam freely in somewhat controlled conditions.

Another option to improve productivity is to “up grade” native birds usually by introduction of cocks, pullets and /or fertile eggs of high egg producing strains. . A great number of husbandry problems have been encountered in implementing these upgrading schemes, mainly the problem of ensuring that all village male birds are removed and more importantly, the fact that the introduced high grade birds cannot cope with the harsh environment of the village.

Improvements of the genetic potential of the local chicken have done through selection within and/or up grading with exotic breeds (exchange of cockerels from selected strain or breed could improve the performance of local chickens). The intention of this scheme was to enable farmers to handle pure breeds as well as crossbreed chicken.

Generally, the productivity of scavenging village chicken could be enhanced by relatively simple changes in management techniques (feeding, housing and health care) that promote improvement in productivity and reduction in mortality. A little technical support to farmers’ experience or knowledge of supplementary feeding and watering would substantially improve productivity of local chicken. 


Indigenous village chickens are raised mainly under minimum management conditions with little attention paid to housing condition, feeding or disease control. This condition ultimately results in small growth and poor egg production, late sexual maturity and high rearing mortality. However, the production of these birds is characterized by many advantages such as good egg and meat flavor, hard shells, high dressing percentages and especially low cost with little special care required for production. They are therefore well suited to the very limited input that the mainly poor producers can provide. Although, it is an appropriate system, a periodic disease outbreaks and inadequacy of Scavenging Feed Source (SFS) are common limiting factors that affect performances of village chickens in Ethiopia. Replacement of indigenous chickens by exotic chicken breeds is also a major threat in eroding and dilution of the indigenous genetic resources. Consequently, there has been a gradual decline in a country’s poultry populations.

Based on the above conclusion, the following recommendations are forwarded:

  • There is a strong need for appropriate intervention in disease and predator control activities so as to reduce chicken mortality and improve productivity. Control of diseases, mainly NCD, could be achieved through vaccination and improvement in veterinary and advisory services.
  • Efforts to increase productivity through improvements in health, feeding, housing, and daily management should be encouraged as they will result in increased economic returns
  •  There is a need to design proper breed improvement programs in order to enhance the genetics potential through selective breeding and conservation of the huge genetic diversity of the indigenous chicken populations.
  • Training for both farmers and extension staff focusing on disease control, improved housing, and feeding, marketing systems could help to improve productivity of local chicken. 


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Sikholiwe Dube Sikholiwe Dube
February 19, 2013

The topic is well discussed. Thank you so much for providing me with the viable information which really helped me in my compilation of my Literature Review (chapter two of my dissertation). I am looking forward for more detailed information on the role of Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Indigenous chicken production.

Thank you for your cooperation!

Mohamed Elkhatim Mohamed Elkhatim
Agricultural Engineer
June 10, 2013
Thanks for good and important work which we need in or local universites to improve our indigenous chicken production by colecting information and solveing proplems .
Isaac Freestyl Isaac Freestyl
September 20, 2013
I appreciate all the authors of this article. God bless you so much. is it ok to post any other article of such relationship from another country?
zemedkun diffe zemedkun diffe
August 21, 2014
thanks very much for more u give the information shared that helps me for my writing of poultry reference book for my students but still i need detail information on characterization of local breeds of Ethiopian chicken
wario duba wario duba
May 8, 2017

Thank you very much for your good work. Please bushra, could you help me on proposal writing?

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