Dr. M. D. Sanchez
This is a comment on Dr. Gunaratne's paper.
The proposal for defining and determining the Scavenging Feed Resource Base (SFRB), made several years ago, was a great contribution to the better understanding of feeding aspects in family poultry. I have personally adopted the term when referring to feed resources in these systems. A good proportion of the SFRB are constituted by unconventional feeds (i.e. worms, insects, etc.) that can be consumed only by poultry and also by wild birds.
Unfortunately, the review of the literature shows that up to now no other researchers, apart from the original authors, have taken up this term or used the methodology. Whether this is due to the simplicity or the complexity of the proposed approach is unknown.
We need to add that there are several ways of substantially increasing the SFRB, which in many situations might be the only effective way to increase poultry performance and outputs. I have seen family poultry production in areas with plenty of land, where the SFRB is not the limiting factor and the losses are mainly due to diseases, poor management and inadequate night shelters. However, there are many instances where rearing worms and termites, or attracting insects, etc. could significantly increase the survival rate of chicks. This, in turn, could greatly contribute to spare eggs for home consumption, trade or gift.
Once feed resources are increased, the question remains to which birds preference should be given if one has some control over them. The theoretical analysis of the system has led me to conclude that the chicks should be the priority followed by laying hens. Thus, it is important to adopt functional creep feeding devices.
In the light of above considerations, one question which I would like to pose to the participants of this conference is the following: Is there any evidence that chick's scavenging behaviour gets permanently affected if they are prevented from learning directly from the mother hen when they are reared in isolation during the first weeks after hatching? If this learning experience is critical, should the chick rearing enclosures be large enough to facilitate some scavenging activities? The fact that some crossbred individuals, reared without their mother, seem to have lost partially the ability of finding their own feed, suggests that lack of maternal teaching might be responsible.
If the SFRB cannot be increased and is definitely the limiting factor for production, meaning that all feed resources are consumed by the flock, then the only option to increase outputs is to identify and eliminate unproductive animals. This implies culling supported by some sort of record keeping. How can this be done in practice? Are there any examples of farmers practising this selection?