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Family Poultry Production
Multiple Roles of Family Chickens

The rearing of family chickens is most prevalent in rural areas where the cash incomes of the people are generally lower than in urban areas. In such areas, unemployment is often high and female labour is relatively underutilised so poultry keeping can help to supplement incomes and the nutritional status of families. Rural families sell some birds when the need for cash arises. Birds are also slaughtered to honour a friend or relative who has been away for some time, or taken as provision while traveling. In Botswana, it is estimated that priorities for rearing are: family consumption (95%), sale/source of income (65%), greeting visitors (55%), hobby (14%) and others (including healing rituals) (12%). The fact that family consumption and source of income ranked highest clearly indicates that family poultry plays an important role in poverty alleviation.

Advantage of Family Poultry over Commercial Poultry

The advantages of rearing family chickens in the rural areas over the raising of industrial chickens include:

  • ease of rearing;
  • low input requirement;
  • no need for permanent and/or expensive housing;
  • possible low incidence of diseases;
  • very stable price of finished products;
  • market price is higher than that of broilers;
  • free choice of rearers in time of selling chickens;
  • scavenging and taking in natural feed, e.g., grass and insects, and;
  • chickens are kept to produce eggs and chicks for the next rearing.
Management Practices

Family poultry production involves womenfolk and children more than menfolk. This is perhaps because men often work away from the house, growing crops or  employed by someone else. The main characteristics of family poultry rearing include:

  • free ranging during the day and gathering at night into a basic shelter to avoid loss through predation;
  • feeding is mainly limited to insects, seeds and kitchen wastes (sometimes a supplement is provided but this depends on the availability of feedstuffs).
  • very low productivity (the eggs are rarely harvested but rather the hens are allowed to brood them);
  • flock numbers vary markedly, because of prevalence of diseases;
  • they are considered hardier, more attentive to dangers (predators and strange objects) than improved strains, and resistant to diseases, being better adapted to the local environment than improved commercial breeds.
  • However, disease resistance is a contentious claim that deserves empirical verification.

Generally, scavenging chickens are not housed except possibly at night, because they must be allowed to find their own food at minimal cost. As a result, birds sleep on trees, piles of bricks/blocks, old vehicles, bush fences, walls, under roof overhangs or on top of the huts, thus exposing themselves to the risks of predation, climatic hazards and theft.

Minimal housing is provided at night, for protection from predators, and an enclosure of some type for part of the day is used to facilitate egg collection. The risk of predation and theft is common with birds that are not confined at night than with those that are.

When shelters are provided, they are often made of materials that are easily available such as old tins, iron sheets, plastic bags and thatch grass. Shelters are usually built at the back of the owner’s houses/huts. The roof may be of grass thatch or galvanised iron sheets. Because of the nature of the housing system, predators, particularly cats, may cause losses in chicks. Both adult and young males are the major contributors in constructing shelters.
Feeds and Feeding

Family chickens usually have to find food for themselves. The opportunity to scavenge is a way of allowing the chickens to correct any nutritional deficiency in the feeds offered as supplements. The free range system makes it difficult to measure feed consumption, body weight and egg production. Although feeding is mainly limited to insects and kitchen wastes, bran (mainly sorghum) and whole grains are sometimes used as well.

Bran is widely fed, especially to chicks, and is obtained from milling plants found in villages or is generated from homes. Bran is may be given wet or dry in various containers or on bare ground. Broken cooking pots, old automobile tyres (cult in half) and tin cans are the vessels used for feeding and drinking. A few rearers (about 1%) in Botswana feed their chickens on compounded diets (broiler starter, finisher, growing or laying diets).
Health Control

The rearers seldom carry out disease control measures because of relative unavailability of reliable vaccines and the high cost of medications or vaccines. Vaccination coverage among family chickens was estimated at only 20% in Indonesia. Previous study showed that in Botswana, only 2% of family chicken rearers use conventional vaccines. The belief that family chickens are less susceptible to diseases could be contributing to lack of disease control. Family chickens are considered to be a major reservoir of infections for commercial chickens. Disease control involves modern and traditional remedies and the latter predominates. Several studies have shown diseases to be the major constraint to the development of family poultry, notably ND. Newcastle disease is the most serious endemic disease of poultry throughout the African continent and causes 70-100% mortality in family chickens, especially in young chickens. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rearers know ND as the “bomb” because it causes heavy mortality after its occurrence like a bombshell will do. Newcastle disease is endemic in Botswana with most of the outbreaks occurring in the warm months (August to December). The ND outbreak that occurred in 2005 resulted in over 6000 commercial broilers reported dead, while the number of family chickens that died is unknown.

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