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Chapter 4

Livestock species for urban conditions

Goats, sheep, cows, horses, camels, chickens, buffaloes, pigeons and many other types of animal can be found in cities around the world. Each of these animals has its own specific advantages and disadvantages. Small animals, for example, are particularly adaptable to backyard conditions, they require little start-up capital, it is easy to sell them and they reproduce quickly. Aquaculture represents an interesting diversification of agriculture at the periphery of cities. In Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire), fish are fed rice bran, and slaughterhouse residues and manure are used as fertilizers to produce feed. Tilapia culture in Southeast Asia is currently spreading and intensifying. In Thailand, peri-urban enterprises use processing wastes and other inputs from cities.


Pig farming is common in the urban areas of many countries, other than those in which the Islamic or Jewish religion is prominent. Pig keeping adapts well to the family level where the role of women is very important, both in collecting household waste and in looking after the animals. Pig production implies a significant reuse of household waste as feed, but the waste of commercial enterprises (bakeries and vegetable and fruit markets) and industrial activities (breweries and abattoirs) is also useful. Pig farming allows households to generate supplementary income in peri-urban squatter settlements (slums) in, for instance, Montevideo (Uruguay) and Port-au-Prince (Haiti). In these areas the activity is generally linked to the widespread practice of collecting, sorting and selling household waste to the local recycling industry.

Most pig breeders are small producers who have one or two sows and raise their animals from birth to fattening prior to slaughtering. Usually they sell suckling pigs (either slaughtered or alive) to intermediaries and slaughterhouses or directly to consumers. Other producers are more specialized: some raise the animals from birth until they are weaned, when they are sold to fatteners; others sell slaughtered or suckling pigs. Still others fatten the animals until they weigh between 90 and 120 kg, when they are sold or slaughtered. In large-scale commercial units it is common to keep pigs until they reach a specific standard weight; subsistence and semi-commercial farmers tend to slaughter their pigs when they need money. Typical problems associated with pig keeping are caused by fears that pigs spread disease, that young piglets in particular will be involved in car accidents and that pigs cause noise and public nuisance. Ways to cope with these issues include providing housing, reducing the number of pigs so that they can survive and grow on local waste and keeping them in a hygienic way. Cross-breeding of pigs is common but tends to be useful only to commercial growers since the resulting animals generally have a different body composition (e.g. less fat) and flavour than those that are preferred locally.


In (semi-)arid regions such as Rajasthan (India) camels are widely used for transport


Goat's milk is an important source of nutrients (protein) and income for poor families near Multan (Pakistan)


As well as fulfilling ceremonial roles - the one shown here is the Buddhist Perahera festival in Kandy (Sri Lanka) - elephants also supply draught and lifting power in many Asian countries


Pigs scavenging on garbage landfill in Vitoria (Brazil)


Small-scale pig production is a profitable activity for many female-headed households in peri-urban areas of Haiti



Port-au-Prince is experiencing enormous population growth and now has nearly 2.5 million inhabitants, mainly owing to migration from rural areas. Surrounding towns and villages have been overgrown by the city, resulting in a giant metropolis that has retained certain rural characteristics. Pigs and goats are widely raised and are a common sight as they roam around scavenging for feed. In Haiti, pork is the most popular and expensive meat. The majority of the population can rarely afford fresh meat and buy mostly cheap "fifth-quarter" parts (ears, pettitoes) imported from the United States. The wealthy who can afford to pay for meat of international quality standards from supermarkets constitute a niche market for fresh pork. In Haiti, four types of pig producers can be distinguished:

  • large producers (70 to 90 sows);
  • medium-sized producers (5 to 20 sows);
  • small producers (one to two sows; or fattening of one to five pigs a year);
  • "non-conventional" producers who let the pigs scavenge in the streets and on garbage dumps. These "scavenging pigs" represent a major public health risk. Fortunately, Haitians usually deep-fry pork before consumption, thus preventing outbreaks of such diseases as cisticercosis (see also the section on Animal welfare in Chapter 5).

Table 13 gives an overview of these four categories and their main characteristics.

Several government and non-governmental organizations are involved in improving pig production. Some activities focus on reintroducing indigenous Creole pigs which, although well-adapted to local conditions (feed, management) and popular with consumers, were almost all killed off in the 1970s and 1980s as a measure to prevent the spread of African swine fever. The exotic breeds (Duroc, large white) that replaced these local ones are not suitable and perform weakly. Since, as a result of the cull, local genetic resources are lacking, a new "indigenous" breed which is very similar in performance and character to the original Creole pig has been created by cross-breeding animals from Guadeloupe, China and France. Other activities include:

  • improving feed availability by using such local resources as the pods of the Bayahonde tree;
  • improving the marketing of fresh meat and processed products;
  • improving access to vaccines and medicines.

Source: Based largely on a contribution by M. Laplanche.


Categories of pig producers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti


Large producers

Medium-sized producers

Small producers

Scavenging system

Number of farmers





Number of animals

70-90 sows

5-20 sows

< 5 sows

1-2 animals

Pig farming

is main occupation


No; bakery, restaurant

or other business is









Concrete pens

Concrete pens


None; animals scavenge

Feed source

Food waste, commercial feed

Fruit/vegetable waste,

wheat bran, brewery waste,

commercial feed

Forage, wheat bran,

kitchen waste, sometimes

commercial feed

Waste, forage


Reproductive cycle within farm;

breeding organized with other

large producers

(exchange of boars)

Full cycle within farm,

from each litter some piglets

are sold for cash to keep

business going

Cycle within farm, one-third

of weaned piglets are sold,

one-third are kept and one-

third are given to relatives

in the countryside who raise

the animals at their own

expense and share the

profit with the owner

At random

Production capacity

20-30 fattened animals per week

30-120 fattened animals per year

3-6 fattened animals per year

< 1 animal per year



Commercial, but stay

in business only if

profitable, adapt quickly

to market changes

Subsistence; animals are

fattened using extra feed

to pay for education,

weddings, funerals



Supermarkets and processing

facilities (salami, standard cuts)

Supermarkets and processing

facilities (salami, standard cuts)

Local butchers, markets

Local butchers, markets


Consanguinity (lack of

"new blood"), insufficient

access to vaccines and

drugs, high feed costs

Consanguinity, high piglet

mortality, insufficient access

to vaccines and drugs

Decreasing genetic potential

(best animals are sold),


Diseases (especially



Poultry production can be divided into traditional backyard, semi-commercial, commercial and industrial poultry systems. Large poultry enterprises are found every where, but small-scale poultry production is also widespread in urban areas. Poultry includes chickens, ducks, turkeys, etc., but this section refers only to chickens.


Popular in Viet Nam and other Southeast Asian countries, ducks are well-adapted to high rainfall, grow larger and lay more and larger eggs than many indigenous chickens and are less susceptible to diseases and parasites

Chickens are kept for many reasons, including for gifts and ceremonial activities. A major purpose of chicken keeping is to supplement household revenues in terms of food and cash. When daily wages are low the sale of even only a few eggs can be a very substantial contribution to the family income. Urban households with relatively high incomes also keep chickens, especially laying hens, because they believe that eggs produced at home are of higher quality than those found at the market. The special liking that people have for village-raised chickens (more taste, tougher meat) is reflected in a higher price for these animals. Specialized, large-scale and market-oriented chicken production is found in and around urban areas across the world, wherever access to young chicks for broiler and egg production, inputs (feed) and markets is relatively easy.

This section highlights two important modes of urban poultry:

The two systems are fundamentally different from each other. Farmers with chickens in a scavenging system live under different economic and social conditions than those who keep backyard, often enclosed, animals. The latter produce mainly for the market and are therefore ready to spend cash on concentrates, disease prevention and housing. The former, in the first place, keep animals for home consumption or sale when need arises, and they do not invest because they want to keep their way of chicken keeping as economic as possible. Unfortunately, extension workers often mistakenly believe that, with education and some inputs, a scavenging system can be transformed fairly easily into a more intensive backyard system. This is a typical case in which an apparent problem in (urban) livestock production can be overcome by reorienting extension workers: farmers are not necessarily mistaken in adopting one mode of production in preference to another and they tend to behave according to rules based on tradition and economics.

Scavenging birds

A flock of scavenging birds usually consists of some adult chickens, one cock and some pullets. In several areas, such flocks also include hybrid layers. Housing is absent or very rudimentary: often an improvised pen of old boxes turned upside down, baskets, etc. Grains, legumes and food wastes are given via provisional feeders or thrown on to the soil. Water is supplied only in the dry season. Nests are made of leaves or old clothes to keep costs low, and scavenging chickens eat mostly household food leftovers, second-quality grains and milling by-products. Scavenging chickens need to be protected from predators during the night. In many cases the chickens spend the night in trees, which can be covered by a metal guard. Farmers in Africa often use a small shed on poles near their homesteads. Dogs sleep nearby and during the day cocks protect the hens from, and warn them of any danger from predators.

Low-input (scavenging) poultry keeping is generally regarded as a women's activity. Husbands often become interested when more cash is involved. Government officers, who have access to cash and credit, are particularly likely to take up the activity as a second source of income, but chicken production is highly preferred by women and can be an important tool to increase their income. Small informal groups to help women start this activity have been shown to have significant impacts.


At almost no cost, scavenging chickens provide their owners with eggs, some meat and, when needed, cash in Sahiwal (Pakistan)


A semi-commercial system for broilers in Malang (Indonesia) where a modified form of battery cages for layers is made of local material (bamboo) and metal trays are used to collect dung for use on gardens as a fertilizer

Backyard system in pens

This system refers to small-scale activities with confined chickens that are undertaken by families in their backyards. Such activities demand care and the input of concentrates, whereas scavenging chickens balance their own feed intake and need fewer inputs. Young broiler chicks are usually bought when they are one day old and fattened over a period of six to eight weeks. Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been instrumental in initiating such activities. Help with vaccination schemes, input supply and marketing can be particularly useful during the difficult first few years. Feed can account for up to 70 percent of total production costs, so it is important that it be used efficiently. It is worth investing in good feeders that keep losses from spoilage down to a minimum. These backyard activities are popular because of their quick cash returns resulting from the short production cycle.

Layers for egg production are kept in an intensive way and the investments are longer-term than they are for broilers. Housing for layers is more important and, if the animals are enclosed, a balanced ration is indispensable in preventing nutritional stress. Electricity is sometimes used to provide the longer daylight hours that are necessary to induce egg production.

For layers, either one-day chicks are raised until they reach the point of lay, or farmers purchase pullets. The first method is more common but has disadvantages compared with the second one. Young chicks are non-productive for a long period and require special conditions with respect to housing and management (vaccinations). Chicks almost always need heating for the first few days of life, and this can be provided, for instance, by a simple brooder with a paraffin lamp. They are usually vaccinated against several diseases, of which Newcastle disease and fowl pox are the most harmful and common. Vaccination schemes vary according to local conditions (see also the section on Animal health, food safety and welfare, in Chapter 5).

The production of young chicks for intensive poultry systems is a specialized job that requires parent stocks and a good hatchery. Where conditions for broiler and egg production are in place (concentrates, markets, vaccines), day-old chicks are always available. Small-scale hatcheries can be found on the market, but the results of local hatching are often disappointing (low hatchability and vitality). The cost prices of chicks will therefore be higher, and these kinds of hatcheries are more attractive to the breeders of exotic breeds, e.g. fighting cocks.

In the urban backyard, an old building, or even a room, is often used as a poultry shed. For confined chickens a good pen with easy waste disposal is required, for example, a layer pen that is 1 m high and has a floor of wire mesh or wooden slats. Pens are normally cleaned when the litter has absorbed manure (around feeders and drinkers) and between batches of animals. If cleaning is complicated, farmers will not do it often enough and health and environmental problems are likely to arise. Manure is a valuable fertilizer for gardens, so investment in a manure collection system that is easy to operate is therefore repaid by higher crop production, as well as increased feed for livestock. With regard to the latter, proper bedding (rice husks or fruit pulp rather than sawdust) makes the dung even more palatable and such bedding can also be used for dung ensilage. The use of hormones or other medicines makes dung less suitable for cows (and the meat for humans). Disease pressure in an enclosed environment is different from that in open, scavenging systems. Coccidiosis occurs particularly frequently when animals are confined, but timely application of coccidiostatica is effective. Worms, bronchial viral infections and bacterial diseases such as coli infections and cholera are frequent. Treatment and vaccinations can solve those problems in a technical sense but they need to be suited to the local conditions and perception to be successful.


Keeping rabbits in urban areas is common in many countries, including Indonesia, Mexico, Ghana and Egypt. In some cases, rabbits provide an essential source of high-quality food (protein) for the family, in other cases they provide income or "pet" value for children. Rabbit keeping is also a typical emergency activity (see the example of increased numbers of rabbits raised in the United Kingdom during the Second World War, in Chapter 2).

In towns where urban rabbit raising is common the animals are kept in cages on rooftops, in gardens and even in empty rooms. Units of between four and six does and a buck are frequently observed. The people who live in towns are generally more wealthy and can sometimes afford to buy metal cages, although these are not strictly necessary; any simple wooden or bamboo cage may do, as long as strict hygiene is maintained. Generally, people start with a pair of rabbits, but it is advisable to keep four to six does, if enough feed is available. It is also possible to maintain only one doe and mate her with a neighbour's buck.

Common meat breeds have an adult live weight of about 4 kg, and can be slaughtered when they weigh between 2.3 and 2.4 kg (live weight). It is not necessary to keep only pure breeds and genetic traits in the system described have been exploited only partially. Four parturitions per doe per year may be regarded as a reasonable standard. Under most circumstances, it is possible for an average of five rabbits per litter to arrive at slaughter weight. A total production of about 20 animals per doe per year is very satisfactory, and any number over ten is fair. A unit of five does can produce more than 50 rabbits a year, meaning 2.3 to 2.4 kg of rabbit per week. This level of production can be as much as doubled, especially if concentrates (bran) are fed to the does during late pregnancy and at the start of lactation.

Breeding animals should be replaced continuously to avoid decreases in production. As a general rule, one out of ten adult does should be replaced monthly, but low-yielding does should be eliminated immediately. Some animals continue to produce for several months in the second or even third year of production. Bucks are replaced annually and start mating at the age of six months. The exchange of males to reduce inbreeding is not as important as is often believed, because rabbits are territorial animals and inbreeding is common, even under natural circumstances. Up to a certain degree, reduced fertility is even an advantage. Rations, consisting mainly of kitchen and vegetable waste, are often poor and unbalanced, with protein and energy contents that are too low to allow does to produce enough milk for a litter of more than five or six puppies. Larger litters are less likely to survive, and it is more economic to wean five animals from a litter of five than one or two from a litter of eight or more. For the same reason, does are not usually mated while they are still lactating, even though nature allows them to be mated on the day of giving birth. If good-quality feedstuffs are not available ad libitum, it is better to mate only after the previous litter has been weaned or even to wait for some weeks until the doe has gained weight. The day of mating must be registered - record keeping is a useful practice with rabbits. After two weeks the doe has to be checked for pregnancy and, if negative, should be mated again. The palpation technique for discovering pregnancy needs practice. Twenty-eight days after mating, the mother will prepare the nest, ideally in a specially provided box, and clean straw should be provided. The number of successfully weaned puppies should be the main selection criterion for does. The young does and bucks to be kept for reproduction must be chosen from the litters of does that have shown to be good mothers over at least three parturitions.

Rabbits can be fed with vegetable wastes or (dry) grass that is collected daily: a certain quantity should not be eaten immediately. This is a very important point and if there is not enough feed, it is necessary to reduce the number of animals. Clean water must always be available, although rabbits survive without drinking if enough fresh grass or other vegetal resources are at their disposal. In hot climates feeding should take place in the late afternoon so that rabbits can eat during the coolest period of the day. To avoid diseases, the cage floor must be cleaned daily.


The keeping of guinea pigs is somewhat similar to that of rabbits. It can be done in urban and rural areas and guinea pigs alleviate food deficiencies in places where other kinds of animal production are difficult. As do rabbits, they eat any kind of grass or leaves, and a small daily quantity of fresh feed per animal is sufficient. Guinea pigs need very little space; a fenced area of about 1 m2 is sufficient for eight to ten does and one buck. Any material, from a cardboard box to bricks, can be used. Management is very simple because there is no need to interfere in mating or nest preparation. After a gestation period of approximately nine weeks, an average of 2.5 animals per litter are born. Newborns are able to feed by themselves immediately and can be weaned after two weeks. Each doe can produce about eight to ten animals per year, which means about 100 offspring from a group of ten does, corresponding to nearly 1 kg live weight per week. Although a heavier breed occurs in Peru, the smaller variety is more common and can be found all over the world. The adult live weight is 800 to 1 000 g and animals should be slaughtered when they have reached about 450 g.



A university teacher in Malang (Indonesia) started to keep rabbits that he purchased from the market. They carried diseases (mainly internal and external parasites) but, after treating them for a few months, the teacher managed to bring the animals back to health and, by keeping them in cages with wire floors or on bamboo slats, he and his wife were able to start a breeding nucleus with clean animals. The family then started to make a small side income by curing other people's animals (using medicines against parasites) and for some time rabbit keeping became popular, also because other groups started this type of business.

Straw, dry leaves and even newspapers can be used to absorb the urine and must be changed when they become wet. Animals must be provided with water and fresh grass, leaves or kitchen wastes every day, and care should be taken not to throw the feed on to the litter - more than 15 percent is spoiled in this way. A small rack is sufficient to avoid feed spoilage and to improve hygiene. Disease incidence and mortality are very low but, at the first suspicion of sickness, as with rabbits, the animals must be slaughtered and can be eaten if they are large enough. Raising rabbits, particularly in towns, can be difficult because of lack of space, insufficient feed availability, insufficient resources for buying or constructing cages and nests and the complexity of managing the animals' reproduction efficiently. In these respects, guinea pigs may be a suitable alternative because they are smaller and easier to keep.


These backyard rabbits in Malang (Indonesia) are kept in bamboo cages and fed with vegetable waste


Guinea pigs are kept on a family scale by poor refugee families in Lima (Peru)


Pigeon keeping is very popular in the Mediterranean region; for instance, in the Nile delta, dovecotes are common in both rural and urban areas. Pigeons can contribute substantially to household diets and income. They do not compete with other animals for space and feed; if fed by their owners, the birds tend to remain in the neighbourhood, but they are able to find feed within a radius of 15 km, thereby making use of the different vegetation cycles of local plants. In low-input systems, feeding is necessary only during the short period when the animals are getting accustomed to their new home. Pigeons adapt easily to urban conditions and are a common sight as they scavenge in town squares and markets. Pigeons nest in natural or artificial holes in rocks, caves, towers and other buildings. Dovecotes are normally located on rooftops, which makes pigeon keeping possible even for people who live in multi-storey buildings - an important consideration in developing country towns. Dovecotes are usually constructed of wood or from mats attached to a wooden frame. Pigeons reach maturity at about six months of age; incubation lasts 18 to 20 days and both sexes are involved in the hatching. The newly hatched squabs are fed a special substance that is produced in the crop of the adults ("crop milk") and, later, eat regurgitated feed. Each clutch contains two eggs and, if no supplementary feed is given, pigeons brood about five times a year. Ten couples can produce eight squabs per month, which can be collected at the age of about four weeks, when their live weight will have reached about 400 g, just before they are able to fly. In more intensive systems, females lay two new eggs when the squabs are still present in the previous nest, requiring a two-nest structure. Surprisingly, in spite of being easy to raise and cheap to produce, this species is very rarely considered in urban food security programmes.


In the Netherlands, pigeons are kept mainly for recreational purposes and contests are held in which the birds fly back to their bases after being released hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away

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