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Feed resources for smallholder poultry in Nigeria

Current feed situation
Roots and tubers
Animal by-products

E.B. Sonaiya

The author can be contacted at the Department of Animal Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

The two main poultry management systems in Nigeria are extensive and intensive. The extensive, or scavenging, system has two subsystems: the free-range system, also called the traditional or village system, in which birds are free to roam around the homestead, and the backyard system, also called the family or subsistence system, in which birds are partly confined within a fenced yard.

The intensive system also includes two subsystems: the semi-intensive system, in which a small number of birds are produced in complete confinement, and the industrial system, which used to be more prominent but now only contributes a small portion of the poultry supply, particularly to urban markets. The industrial system will not be described in this paper.

Flock sizes of 5 to 10, 5 to 15 and 20 to 100 birds with 10 to 40,30 to 60 and 80 to 150 eggs produced per hen per year are common for free-range, backyard and semi-intensive systems, respectively (Sonaiya, 1990).

In order to improve productivity in all three subsystems employed in smallholder poultry production, a steady supply of low cost feed is essential. This article attempts to summarize available research and development work being carried out on feed resources for small poultry producers and to evaluate their limitations and possibilities.

Current feed situation

Extensive systems

On the range and in the backyard, feed supply is usually not optimal because not all the nutrients a bird needs can be found all year round. During the dry season, poultry can quickly develop vitamin deficiencies as a result of the scarcity of succulent vegetables on the range. It is therefore advisable to provide scavenging poultry with sources of minerals and vitamins during this period. Most of the materials available for scavenging have a relatively low concentration of energy since they contain high levels of crude fibre. For this reason poultry are fed grains in the traditional village system. About 35 g of grain supplement per hen per day is necessary for local chickens in the free-range system. A group of ten chickens will require about 150 kg of maize (or 0.02 ha planted twice a year), which is more than most farmers can afford. Instead, they prefer to plant cassava, which can yield 560 kg of fresh tubers, not counting the leaves, on the same plot.

1 - Available feed resources for poultry in Nigeria - Ressources alimentaires disponibles pour la volaille au Nigéria - Recursos alimenticios disponibles para las aves en Nigeria

Geographical zones

Feed resource






Cassava by-products








Irish potato


Jack bean


Oil-palm by-products



Sweet potato






Fish offal



Shea butter waste





Shrimp head



Energy and protein

Brewer's grain

















Grain by-products















Pigeon pea


Rubber seed


Sesame seed









Sunflower seed











Oyster shell



Periwinkle shell




Rice by-products



Wheat offal



Source: Presidential Task Force, 1992.
* = available;
** = reasonable quantity;
*** = good quantity;
**** = abundant.

In the free-range system, various approaches have been followed to ensure adequate use of available feed resources. One such approach is the use of poultry species other than chicken. Waterfowl, especially ducks, are evenly spread throughout rural areas where they make use of feed resources such as snails and water hyacinth on ponds and lagoons. Another approach is the integration of poultry with the production of fish, rice, vegetables or other livestock. A very good example is combining chickens with cattle, as is done by the Fulani (Atteh, 1990), where the chickens feed on the maggots growing on the cattle dung and the ticks on the cattle. Chickens raised in a cattle kraal weighed an average of 500 g more than those raised in the same neighbourhood but outside the kraal.

Insects and their larvae have been identified as protein sources for scavenging chicken by all respondents in every survey conducted throughout Africa. Atteh and Ologbenla (1993) reported a variation in the chemical composition of the housefly larvae (Musca domestica) or maggot meal from 39 to 54 percent crude protein and 20.7 to 25.3 percent fat depending on the time of harvest. The nearer the larvae are to pupal stage, the lower the protein content and the higher the fat content. They concluded that maggots could make up 3 percent of chicken diets without compromising performance and nutrient retention.

Semi-intensive system

The semi-intensive system must provide all the nutrients birds require through feed. Complete poultry feeds are usually purchased from feed mills when they are available and can be afforded. When feed is scarce, smallholders may use unconventional feedstuffs alone or extend purchased complete feeds. These feed extenders, usually grain by-products, mainly supply energy and protein. Grains and plant protein sources, the by-products of a few oilseeds, are becoming increasingly scarce for livestock use. Although calcium can be obtained from ground or pounded snail shell or school chalk, phosphorus from burnt and ground bones and salt from the kitchen, these products are hardly ever used. As smallholders usually cannot afford trace minerals and vitamins supplied by pre-mixes, making well-balanced feed is uncommon if not impossible. The current feed situation for birds in this subsystem is therefore much poorer than that in either the extensive or a fully intensive system.

2 - Availability of crop by-products - Disponibilités de sous-produits d'origine végétale - Disponibilidad de subproductos de las cosechas

By products


('000 tonnes)

('000 tonnes)

Cassava peels






Cottonseed cake



Full-fat soybean



Maize offal



Rice bran






Sweet potato



Sweet potato peels



Wheat offal



Yam peels



Source: Presidential Task Force, 1992.

3 - Mineral content of cowpea and testa - Teneur en sels minéraux du niébé et du testa de niébé - Contenido de minerales del caupí entero y la testa


Whole cowpea

Cowpea testa

(mg/100 g dry weight)




Potassium (K)

1 515


Calcium (Ca)



Magnesium (Mg)



Sodium (Na)



Manganese (Mn)

1 7


Iron (Fe)



Boron (B)



Copper (Cu)

1 0


Zinc (Zn)



Aluminium (AI)



Source: Akpapunam & Markakis, 1981.

Complete feeds versus cafeteria feeding

Smallholders using extensive systems unwittingly adopt cafeteria choice feeding of nutrients. Energy supplements such as maize, sorghum and millet are offered early in the morning and late in the evening. During the day birds scavenge mostly for protein (insects, worms, larvae), minerals (stones, grits, shells) and vitamins (leafy greens, pepper, oil-palm nuts). There is evidence to show that such a cafeteria system is not inferior to offering complete feeds. The real need, therefore, is to determine the nutrient content of the available feed resources and to give such nutrients to birds at the right time, which does not necessarily mean at the same time.

Available feed resources for smallholders

A list of feed resources available to smallholders in Nigeria has been compiled from surveys (Table 1). These feedstuffs are mostly by-products of home food processing and preparation, although some are by-products from agro-industries. Virtually all have been or can be used for supplementing the diets of scavenging birds or in cafeteria choice feeding and in simple rations for semi-intensively reared birds.


Cereal grains

Millet, sorghum and maize, in that order, are the grains of choice for supplementing the diets of scavenging poultry in Nigeria, but their supply is seriously inadequate. Using the estimate of 35 g of grain supplement per bird per day for the 110 million birds in the small producer systems, the annual requirement would amount to 1 400 000 tonnes, while only 412 000 tonnes of the three grains were available to livestock in 1993. This has led to much attention being paid to crop by-products (Table 2).

Grain-processing by-products

The basal feed for scavenging poultry in Nigeria, after cereal grains, is grain-processing by-products obtained after wet-milled fermented grains have been sieved. Maize starch residue (MSR), a by-product of the extraction of starch from fermented, wet-milled maize during its household processing into a wet, starchy, breakfast gruel, usually has a crude protein content of above 16 percent. Proximate compositions vary with the maize variety, however, as well as with the efficiency of the starch extraction process.

Cowpea testa

Approximately 1.5 million tonnes of cowpea grain is produced annually in Nigeria, although none is available for feeding livestock as it is one of the most expensive foodgrains. The testa, however, is discarded during the processing of the cotyledons into a purée for making popular fried cake and steamed pudding. The testa represents about 6 percent of the weight of the whole cowpea. The crude protein content of 17 percent and an apparent metabolizable energy (AME) value of 1 005 kcal/kg, taken with the mineral profile (Table 3), identify cowpea testa as a good feed resource, although the presence of tannin (53 mg/g) and trypsin inhibitor (12.4 units/mg) limits its utilization.

Brewer's grain

This has become a common but costly ingredient of rations for layers. The higher cost is partly related to the cost of drying the wet grain and of transporting it from breweries to the drying establishment. Wet brewer's grain is an ideal feed for ducks, however, and is used by smallholders who are located close to breweries in peri-urban and urban areas.

New legumes

Boiled jack bean (Canavalia ensiformis) and sword bean (Canavalia gladiata) have proved to be acceptable to layers at levels of up to 10 percent of the ration, although sword bean is of inferior nutritive value (Udedibie, 1991). Winged bean (Phosphocarpus tetragonolobus L.) contains 39 percent crude protein and 14 percent oil, and its overall nutritive value is very similar to those of soybean and groundnut cake for broilers (Smith. Ilori and Onesirasan, 1984). Its foliage is also acceptable to layers. Without a plant support (stake or trellis) the seed yield is very low, making its cultivation for grain on a larger scale uneconomic. It is suitable, however, as a feed and fodder crop for smallholder poultry.

Roots and tubers


All cassava products and by-products - small tubers, pulp, peels, chaff, gari (fermented slided tubers), gari sievings, whole fermented roots and ensiled cassava meal - have been evaluated for livestock feeding. Peels are the most economical and practical cassava feed for smallholder livestock. Levels of 20 to 45 percent cassava peel meal (CPM) have been fed to chickens, but its high content of hydrogen cyanide, high crude fibre, low protein content and the dustiness of the dry ground meal limit its use. Detoxification methods include ensilage, sun-drying, air-drying, roasting, boiling and soaking. For smallholders, the most practical method is sun-drying for seven days (Sonaiya and Omole, 1977). Palm oil is effective in moderating the effects of cyanide on poultry. The high fibre, low protein and dustiness can be compensated for by adding oilseeds such as full-fat soybean to the diet. When whole cassava tuber is sliced and sun-dried, it can be pounded in a mortar or ground by a hammer mill to form a meal that chickens can take either directly or in a composite diet as a source of energy. Fresh cassava tuber is pounded, cooked or fermented in the process of human food preparation. Smallholders often give such processed cassava to poultry, particularly ducks.

Water yam (Dioscorea alata)

Research at two Nigerian institutes showed that water yam flour can make up 33 percent of broiler starter and finisher diets with no adverse effects on performance. Yam peels and yam flour sievings are also suitable for poultry supplementation.

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)

Dried sweet potatoes have been fed successfully in rations for broilers and layers at a level of up to 35 percent. Dustiness and fungal growth during sun-drying are problems, but these can be overcome by boiling the tubers, which is actually the form in which they are fed by smallholders. The peels are also available for scavenging.


The main oilseeds used in farming systems in Nigeria include oil-palm nuts and kernels, cottonseeds, sesame seeds, bambara groundnuts, melon seeds, coconuts, peanuts, rubber seeds and, increasingly so, soybeans and sunflower seeds. These can be served in their full-fat or partly expressed form as both energy and protein sources for extensive and intensive poultry systems. It is feasible to include 5 percent full-fat palm kernels and up to 10 percent solvent- or expeller-extracted palm kernel meal (PKM) in broiler starter diets and 15 percent of any of the three forms in broiler finisher diets (Nwokolo, Bragg and Saben, 1977).


Although glanded cottonseed cake (CSC) is essentially a ruminant supplement, it can be incorporated up to a level of 25 percent in layer and broiler diets without detrimental effects on egg production and growth (Branckaert, 1968). The introduction of glandless cotton will allow undelinted and undecorticated cottonseed to be used for poultry feed.

Sesame (Sesamum indicum)

The feed consumption and conversion rates for birds fed various forms of raw undehulled sesame seeds were higher than those for birds fed dehulled but unground sesame seeds (A.O. Aduku, J.S. Oyerinde and S.M. Misari, 1992, unpublished data). This confirms the wisdom of smallholders who use whole sesame seeds as supplements for scavenging poultry.


In pullets and layers fed raw soybeans at a level of 12 percent, a significant depression in body weight at 20 weeks was observed, as well as a delay of four days at the 50 percent egg production stage (Ogundipe, 1973, unpublished data). Boiling raw soybeans for 30 minutes was reported to result in satisfactory performance in broilers and laying hens, even at up to 35 percent of the diet (Ogundipe, 1980, unpublished data). Smallholders in soybean-growing areas simply boil soybeans and feed them to their scavenging birds. If cotyledons are used for human food, the testa is given to poultry.

Oil-palm (Elaeis guineensis) products and by-products

Most of the oil-palm processing in Nigeria is done by scattered rural processors who sell the by-products in the villages. The by-products of palm oil production are kernels and an aqueous mixture of oil, fibre and solids. This solution is strained to remove fibre and then used as fuel, leaving an aqueous mixture called palm oil sludge (POS).

Smallholders supplement feed for scavenging birds with grains - De petits éleveurs complètent avec des grains l'alimentation des volatiles se nourrissant de détritus - Los pequeños propietarios complementan la alimentación de las aves de corral con cereales

Sun-drying of by-products is an efficient processing method - Le séchage au soleil des sous-produits est une méthode de traitement efficace - El secado al sol de los subproductos constituye un método eficaz de tratamiento

Cattle kraals provide enhanced protein resources for poultry - Les enclos pour bovins fournissent aux volailles des ressources accrues en protéines - Los kraal (cercos) de ganado vacuno proporcionan recursos proteicos mejorados para las aves

Artificial drying is also used where facilities are available - On a également recours au séchage artificiel lorsque les installations nécessaires sont disponibles - También se utiliza el secado artificial cuando se dispone de instalaciones

4 - Potential of some tree crop products and by-products for poultry - Potentiel pour la volaille de quelques produits dérivés de cultures arborées - Posibilidades de algunos productos de cultivos arbóreos para las aves


Optimum level in the diet

Banana meal


Citrus molasses


Citrus pulp


Cocoa bean residue


Cocoa husk


Cocoa shell


Coconut meal/cake


Coffee grounds


Kapok seed cake


Leucaena leaf meal


Oil-palm sludge, dried


Oil-palm sludge, fermented


Palm kernel meal


Palm oil


Rubber seed meal


Source: Adapted from Hutagalung, 1981.

5 - Performance of laying hens fed neem leaves - Performances de poules pondeuses nourries avec des feuilles de margousier - Rendimiento de gallinas ponedoras alimentadas con hojas de cinamomo


10 percent dried

10 percent fresh

0 percent

Feed intake (g/hen/day)

102.6a ± 3.51

124.9b ± 3.33

121.2b ± 5.00

Production (%/hen/day)

59.5a ± 7.15

81.0b ± 6.73

61.9a ± 5.91

Egg weight (g)

41.1a ± 5.00

55.5c ± 4.50

47.8b ± 5.01

Source: O.I. Adekanye & E.B. Sonaiya, 1992, unpublished data.
a,b,c Means within the same row with different superscripts are significantly different (p<0.05)

Palm kernels are processed locally into palm kernel oil by heat or cold-water extraction. The residue resulting from heat extraction is similar to ash and unusable for poultry, while the water-extraction residue is very nutritious and palatable. Nwokolo, Bragg and Saben (1977) reported that palm kernel cake could be used in complete poultry feeds at up to 30 percent without any adverse effect. Onwudike (1986) confirmed the value of palm kernel cake for poultry, with the high fibre level only serving to enlarge the gizzard. Palm kernel residue can thus be used like groundnut cake, which is used by smallholders at present. Such usage is compatible with homestead operations since palm products are generated within the farming system.

Palm oil and sludge derived from palm oil or palm kernel supply energy and fatty acids. The sludge must not be residue from processing by chemical solvent extraction since the level of chemical residue may be toxic to the birds. When evaporated, the palm oil sludge becomes a sticky substance that is high in ether extracts and fibre. This evaporated palm oil sludge (EPOS) can also be fermented. It is equally adaptable for subsistence poultry use (fermented) or can be dried for incorporation in dry compound by commercial operations such as the feed mill at up to 40 percent (Hutagalung, 1981). Egbe (1989) recommended a level of up to 15 percent of POS in layer diets, while Sonaiya (1993) fed EPOS to scavenging chickens.

Other oilseeds

Other oilseeds that have been fed to poultry under test station conditions include rubber, sunflower, amaranth, African breadfruit, locust bean, African oil bean, melon, mango and castor oil. Okra seed (Hibiscus esculentus) has not yet been evaluated as a protein source for poultry. Although a little lower in protein, it compares favourably with soybean in all other chemical components and has the same protein efficiency as casein for rats. Since okra is widely grown by smallholders and the seeds stored for planting, it may constitute a potential protein source for small poultry producers.

Bambara groundnut

Bambara groundnut (Voandzeia subterranea) is a good protein source with high lysine content. As the nut is not eaten in most parts of Nigeria, the plant is grown mainly as a mulch crop, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The foliage is scavenged by poultry and the nut is available for confined and scavenging birds.


There is an abundance of tree crop products and byproducts that can be included in poultry diets (Table 4).

6 - Composition of some non-conventional feedstuffs - Composition de quelques aliments pour animaux non conventionnels - Composición de algunos piensos no tradicionales


Crude protein

Ether extract

Crude fibre

Calculated metabolizable energy


(kcal/kg dry matter)

Neem leaves





Amaranth seeds





Soybean testa




2 096

Cowpea testa




1 005

Melon pulp




1 148

Plantain pulp




1 004





GE4 900





5 680


- meal sievings




1 787

- fermented chaff




3 436

- peel meal




2 460

Yam meal sievings




2 115

Yam peel meal




1 367

Starch residue


- fresh




1 642

- sun-dried




3 305

- oven-dried, yellow




GE4 780

- oven-dried, white




GE4 758





GE4 417





GE5 474

Blood meal mixture

Rice bran/blood





Maize cob/blood










Fish by-products




GE5 055

Source: E.B. Sonaiya & V.E. Olori, 1989, unpublished data.
EPOS = evaporated palm oil sludge.
GE = gross energy determined by bomb calorimeter.
PKC = palm kernel cake.
POS = palm oil sludge.

Dried cocoa husk

This tree crop by-product has been fed to layers (E.B. Sonaiya, 1974, unpublished data) and broilers (Adeyanju et al., 1978) without any significant effect on performance. It is better fed on a cafeteria basis since its inclusion on a isocaloric, isonitrogenous basis was consistently uneconomic.

Neem leaves

A pilot study was conducted to test the response of layers to three treatments: 10 percent dried neem leaves, 10 percent fresh neem leaves and 0 percent neem leaves. The results indicated that layers receiving 10 percent fresh neem leaves had higher feed intake and daily egg production as well as egg weight than those on the other two diets (Table 5). There seems to be a component in fresh neem leaves (Azadirachta indica) that enhances egg production and egg weight. Siddiqui et al. (1986) reported the isolation of a triterpenoid called nimbocinone from fresh neem leaves as well as two steroids identified as sitosterol and stigmasterol. These deserve further study.

Animal by-products

Mixed blood/crop by-products

Blood meal is recognized as an excellent protein source with a good amino acid balance. The handling and processing of blood, however, is very difficult in low-technology situations. The use of vegetable carriers provides a much larger surface area for drying, making sun-drying a feasible option. Sonaiya (1989) used palm kernel meal, rice bran, brewer's grain and ground maize cobs as carriers and compared these blood meals with fish-meal (Table 6). Such a process is amenable to subsistence and commercial applications. For the small farmer, the slaughter of a goat, sheep, chicken or other livestock can provide the blood supply with which to soak vegetable materials before sun-drying. At the commercial level, abattoirs and slaughter slabs provide ideal opportunities for the production of mixed blood/crop by-product meal. The addition of 1 percent salt prevents clotting.


Farina, Demey and Hardouin (1991) described a technique used in Togo to produce termites for scavenging poultry. Briefly, the stovers of sorghum, millet and maize are chopped, placed in clay pots or calabashes and moistened with water. The mouth of the container is then placed over a hole in a termite colony under construction. The container is covered with a jute sack to prevent desiccation and a heavy stone is placed over the container to secure it. After three to four weeks, a new colony of termites should be established inside the container. The eggs and larvae are particularly relished by chicks, guinea keets and ducklings, while adult birds also feed on the adult insects.


Alao and Sonaiya (1991, unpublished data) grew maggots on cowpea testa and monitored the chemical composition of the mixture over ten days. Cowpea testa samples were simply placed in a basket close to a pit latrine so that flies could lay eggs on them. Every two days, a sample was steeped in boiling water to kill the maggots. They were then sun-dried and ground before proximate analysis. Results showed that the crude protein content of the mixture doubled by the second day (Table 7).

In Porto Novo, Benin, Soukossi (1992) produced maggots from fibrous vegetable material and poultry droppings. The method was developed for feeding fish but it can easily be adapted for small livestock producers. A 1-m3 tank is filled with water up to about 15 cm from the top. Dried stalks of maize, amaranth, groundnut, soya and other legumes are soaked in the water to which some poultry droppings are added. Flies and other insects are attracted to the soaked material to lay their eggs. After five to ten days, eggs are hatched and larvae are developed enough to be fed to fish. Beyond this period the maggots develop into adult flies. It was observed that up to 50 percent of the eggs laid by flies die if exposed to the sun for several hours. A cover, at least for the hottest hours of the day, is therefore necessary.

7 - Composition of cowpea testa/maggot mixtures - Composition des mélanges testa de niébé/asticots - Composición de mezclas de testa de caupí y gusanos


Crude protein

Crude fibre

Ether extract

Nitrogen-free extract


















Testa/maggot mixture












































Source: E.A.O. Alao & E.B. Sonaiya, 1991, unpublished data.


Vorster, Adjovi and Demey (1992, unpublished data) worked in Cotonou, Benin, on the production of earthworms as a source of protein for chicken feed. An indigenous West African species Eudrilus eugeniae was found to be excellent for this purpose based on the gain of biomass and prolificacy. In a production site of 25 m2, 1 kg of fresh earthworm biomass was produced daily. This is sufficient to supplement at least 50 chickens with high-quality protein. It must be noted, however, that earthworms (and snails as well) may be important vectors for tapeworms such as Davainea and Raillietina.

Other animal by-products

Aquatic animal by-products that are mineral sources include marine shells from mangrove oysters (Ostrea tulipa), mangrove periwinkles (Tympanostomus fuscatus) and clams, as well as shells from land snails. Marine shells are available in abundance in the coastal areas. Snails and their shells are harvested from the forests, but there is also ongoing development of productive snailery. It is estimated that a 1-m3 box in a snailery can yield 40 snail shells each year. Other marine by-products such as prawn dust and shrimp heads supply both minerals and protein.


There are non-conventional feed resources available for feeding poultry at all levels of production. Smallholders who use the semi-intensive system and wish to make their own feed must adopt simple rations based on feed resources produced by them or obtainable from local small-scale processors. For backyard producers, resources available in the backyard must be supplemented with sources of appropriate nutrients as necessary. Free-range poultry keepers must make the effort to provide sufficient supplementation to their birds rather than simply throwing leftovers "away to the birds".

Training, research and development agencies must focus more on the needs of smallholder poultry producers, who for the most part are women. Such efforts would improve the quantity of eggs and chickens available for consumption and sale by the family and thus enhance the nutrition and income of households.


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Akpapunam, M.A. & Markakis, P. 1981. Protein supplementation of cowpeas with sesame and watermelon seeds. J. Food Sci., 49: 960.

Atteh, J.O. 1990. Rural poultry production in western middle belt region of Nigeria. In E.B. Sonaiya, ed. Rural poultry in Africa: proceedings of an international workshop, p. 211-220. African Network for Rural Poultry Development (ANRPD), Department of Animal Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Nigeria.

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