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Nutrition of Smallholder

Utilisation of Poultry Feed Resources by Smallholders in the Villages of Developing Countries

J.A. Roberts

P.O. Box 881, Buddina 4575,
Queensland, Australia
Fax: +61 7 5493 5693


Some of the wide range of feed materials suitable for poultry in developing countries is listed in the order of their availability to small holders. Most are already fully utilised. A simple method for determining the amount of feed material available in a region for a chicken development project is described. The size of the SFRB in a village is limited, of low quality (crude protein approximately 9%), and fully utilised. Village populations of scavenging chickens grow until the capacity of the SFRB is exceeded. The low crude protein in the SFRB is inadequate for chicks and growers. Consequently the weaker chicks and growers die of starvation when there is competition for scavenging feed. Growth and survival rates of chicks are greatly improved if they are given preferential access to household refuse supplemented with protein. The ultimate cause of death of chicks and growers is usually predation.

Advantages of the existing scavenging system include having their own chickens at no cost or low cost, breeding their own replacements, and access to all components of the SFRB. A premium price is paid for village poultry products in most countries. Disadvantages include the restricted size and poor quality of the SFRB, and waste of eggs, chicks and growers, caused by population pressure and inefficiencies associated with the use of broody hens. Low cost ways of alleviating the problems of the existing scavenging system are discussed in terms of improved production. (a) Concentration of the family on the utilization of the refuse from its own household, with limited use of scavenging. (b) Hatch fewer chicks and treat them preferentially. (c) Restrict the broody periods of hens. (d) Information exchange on husbandry procedures for scavenging village chickens should be encouraged. Small-scale intensive production in villages is feasible if feed resources are assured. A production package should include source of birds and feed, secure appropriate housing, reliable vaccines and access to markets. An infrastructure is needed to assure the supply of inputs to small holders, and could be provided by a cooperative, a poultry shop, an aid organization, government services or large-scale industry. Suitable genotypes for utilization of the SFRB, and for more intensive village poultry production, are discussed. Particular reference is made to the relationships between genotypes, the quality of feed available, and productivity. A procedure for selecting chicken genotypes for a supplemented scavenging production system is described. A similar procedure can be used to select chickens for production on a low protein diet. All selection is based on production in the environment in which the chickens will be used. Scavenging poultry production with other species of birds is considered. It is suggested that there are many locations with irrigation channels, paddy fields, ponds or swamps, which would be suitable for mallard ducks, but are presently not utilised.

Key words: Smallholders, poultry, scavenging, feed resources, developing countries


If land is arable, and production from it is sustainable, it should be used to produce food for people. The products of land suitable for neither cultivation nor for tree crops, and the byproducts of crop production and processing, are then available for animal production for the benefit of the human population, including nutrition. Ruminants can utilise all animal feeds, but monogastric species such as poultry and pigs utilise some feeds more efficiently. The monogastrics do not make efficient use of high fiber diets, or diets which are low in essential amino acids and vitamins. Whereas ruminants can handle a large bulk of fibrous feed, and the organisms in the rumen break down some of the fiber as well as producing the essential amino acids and some vitamins. In some circumstances ruminants utilise high quality feed as a supplement to roughage as efficiently as for the production of meat and/or eggs by monogastrics (Preston & Leng, 1987). Superficially the rational distribution of animal feed resources seems obvious; but in practice the choice may not be clear-cut. There are cultural aversions to some species, the need for draught power may make large ruminants essential, and the preferences and purchasing power of consumers will influence production. Moreover, for the poorer families, trading of livestock and their products is often driven by family need and social obligations, rather than by market forces.

Feed resources

Possible feed resources include:

When the shortage of feed for scavenging chickens, particularly the lack of high quality protein, is considered, there is a tendency to invoke the prospects for unconventional or nontraditional feeds (Bandyopadhya & Akuja 1992; Branckaert, 1992; Ologhoho, 1992). Such feeds fall into two categories (Devendra, 1988; Gupta, 1988). There are the by products from local industries, some of which are listed above, most of which are already fully utilised in one way or another. There is also a group of potential sources of animal protein such as cultured snails, earthworms, termites, frogs and unicellular protein and vegetable protein, particularly from water plants. Expertise, labour and capital are necessary to produce the potential sources of animal protein so they are beyond the reach of village people. There is hope for vegetable protein in particular environments. There is no large untapped source of nutritional wealth out there; but there may be some jam for the bread.

Clearly all of the feed resources listed above are not available in every environment, or in every developing country. They are listed in a rough order of the ease with which village families have access to them. Thus village families have absolute control over their household waste, limited control over materials from the environment, and access at a price to the byproducts of local small industrial units; but virtually no access to the byproducts of larger industrial units. Some developing countries have problems with the supply and quality of feed for their intensive poultry industry (Bessei, 1987; Haan, 1992; Ketelaars, 1992; Ologhoho, 1992; Panda, 1992; Saxena, 1992). This is largely due to shortage of foreign exchange for importation of raw materials, and large-scale producers may well bid up the price of smaller scale resources to fill the gap. At the same time there are feed resources being exported to developed countries and one would hope that they would be utilised at source in the future.

How much feed wealth do you have?

If a chicken project is contemplated for a district or country, or one is already in progress, it is wise to determine in advance, the size of the feed resource base, which in turn determines the potential biomass of the project flock. It is not difficult, mainly government statistics and some simple calculations. Just answer the following questions.

The feed resource base

The bottom line calculated from the above data, for each material, can be referred to a table of nutrient values to determine the metabolisable energy (ME) and protein value (CP) of each. The sum is the maximum potential feed resource base (FRB), without scavenging feed. Some of the figures may be rubbery; but they will put you in the general area. Things will change; a new crop may come in, so redo the calculation every couple of years.

The consumption demand for feed in a project

Apply the formula:

ME/bird daily = W0.75 (173–1.95T) + 5.5 ∆ W + 2.07 EE

to each class of birds (National Research Council 1994).

W = body weight (kg)
T = ambient temperature (ôC)
∆ W = change in body weight (g/day)
EE = egg mass (g/day)

Multiply the result of the calculation for each class by the number of birds in that class, and add all the totals to give the ME requirement for each family flock per day.

Multiply by 365 to give the family flock requirement per year. Multiply by the number of families to give the project requirement per year.

Knowing the energy values of your feed from standard tables, you can calculate the weight of feed required by each family per year.

Divide the supply of feed per year by the requirement of each family per year, and you have the number of families the project can support in a small-scale intensive system.

If the scavenging feed resource base (SFRB) is to be utilised as part of the nutrition for the project, then use the formula above to calculate the existing SFRB for each family (Roberts, 1992, 1995; Roberts & Gunaratne, 1992), multiply by the number of families which will be in the project and add it to the supply of feed available for the project. This will be a slight overestimate because the feed from the environment will have to go further when the project starts, but that is not a major effect.

If the project is already running, then the demand can still be calculated as above. During the calculation any drain of resources from other regions will become apparent, and should be taken into consideration. The contribution of the SFRB can be assessed by examining the feed in crops at different times of the day, to determine how much is household refuse, how much from the environment and how much is supplementary feed (Roberts, 1992, 1995; Roberts & Gunaratne, 1992). Those ratios can be used to calculate the actual feed resources available to the project in areas to be added to the project. To add new families in the same area the figure will be lower, because the SFRB will be shared among more families.

The end figure is the demand for feed resources for the project, and the difference between supply and demand indicates how fast the clock is ticking.

Is there a source of animal protein in the FRB? A small quantity goes a long way towards improving the efficiency of utilisation of protein in the FRB for growth and egg production, because it provides essential amino acids.

There will be seasonal fluctuations in the capacity of the SFRB in line with periods of fallow or flooding, cultivation, harvesting and processing. Allowance and adjustment should be made for these as discussed below.

The size of the SFRB and levels of major nutrients have been measured in a range of environments (Roberts, 1992; Gunaratne et al., 1993, 1994), Table 1. The proportion of the SFRB provided by household refuse is directly related to the density of housing and usually household refuse provides most of the SFRB, Table 1. There are substantial differences between countries, in the amount of scavenging feed available, Table 5; but on limited data, the nutrient values are similar (Prawirokusumo, 1988; Gunaratne et al., 1993), Table 1.

Village hens have similar growth characteristics, Table 4, and nutrient requirements, Table 2, to those of commercial white egg layers. The main differences between the two, nutrient requirements for egg production and the number of eggs produced probably come from their histories. Commercial egg layers have been selected to maximize egg production and have been provided with the appropriate nutrients. Whereas village hens have been subject to natural selection to maximize egg production on the diet available to them in the scavenging system, Tables 1 and 3.

Table 1. Analyses of crop content of scavenging village hens at four locations and during wet and dry seasons. The crude protein requirements for an average family flock are included as a measure of biomass

 Crop contentScavenging feed resource baseFlock biomass crude protein
 Crude protein
Household: Environment
Dry Weight
Crude protein

Sources: Gunaratne et al., 1993, and Roberts, 1995.

Nutrient requirements for poultry production

The approximate nutrient requirements of commercial and village chickens are set out in Table 2.

Table 2. Approximate compositions of diets required by different types of chickens

Age of birds and supply from the SFRBMetab. energy
Crude protein
Egg production
Immature:White egg layers285016-
Village chickens280016-
Mature:White egg layers29001580
Village egg layers23001030
Available from the SFRB in a village23009.428

Table 3. Nutrient utilization efficiency of Sri Lankan village chickens for growth in pens over 17 weeks and for egg production over 40 weeks

Feeding SystemGrowth
Weight gain (g)Nutrient intakeNutrient efficiency
Crude prot.
(kcal/g gain)
Crude prot.
(g/g gain)
Free choice1,64821,7291,16913.20.71

Feeding SystemEgg production
Egg weight (g)Egg productionNutrient efficiency
(kcal/g egg)
Crude prot.
(g/g egg)
Free choice48.22713160.78

Sources: Chandrasiri et al., 1994 and Wickramaratne et al., 1996. Sri Lankan village hens had good reserves of abdominal and subcutaneous fat when scavenging (Gunaratne et al., 1993), and egg production did not respond to a higher level of nutrition, Table 3. Egg production may respond to improved nutrition, in other strains of village chickens (Horst, 1991). Hen day production of 12 to 20% for scavenging village hens in other regions (Kingston & Cresswell, 1982; Avante, 1989; Janviriyasopak et al., 1989), improved marginally with better nutrition in the village (Avante, 1989), and rose to 40% when Indonesian village birds were in pens with excellent nutrition (Cresswell & Gunawan, 1982).

The protein requirements must be qualified by the need for essential amino acids. Monogastric animals have to obtain them from animal sources like fishmeal, meat meal and small metazoans. If the diet is deficient in essential amino acids, then utilisation of protein is inefficient and therefore expensive. Vitamins are usually available in a mixed diet, which includes green feed. If there is more than about 7% of fiber in the diet the efficiency of utilisation falls.

Table 4. Feed intake, growth rate and feed conversion ratios of village chickens and hybrid layers under different husbandry conditions

MeasurementVillage chickenHybrid layer
 HusbandryFree choice in pen
ScavengerIn pen
 ConventionalFree choice
Age at point of lay (days)197133143130
Weight at point of lay (g)1227160015101520
Growth rate (g/day)9.212.911.811.7
Feed intake (g/day)  59.060.3
Feed conversion ratio  4.54.1
Mortality rate (%)40883

Source: Chandrasiri et al., 1993, and Wickramaratne et al., 1993.

If diets are compounded in the village, it is not realistic to expect precise balance and optimal utilisation; but a reasonable approximation is achievable using tables. In villages, free choice feeding has much to offer (Cumming 1992; Chandrasiri et al., 1994), as the birds select their own diet from different feeders, one with high energy materials, and the other a high protein source and minerals. The birds match their intake to requirements. In the study of Chandrasiri et al., (1994), presented in Table 3, village chickens chose diets for growth and egg laying, which was substantially lower in protein than is provided in commercial diets.

Optimal utilisation of the SFRB by smallholders

The SFRB is not the exclusive domain of scavenging chickens. They compete with semidomestic pigs, goats and dogs, and a range of wild scavengers. Nevertheless, when the SFRB is referred to in this paper, that portion utilised by scavenging chickens is implied.

A simple model has been described for the relationship between the size of the SFRB and the population of scavenging chickens in a village (Roberts, 1992) and is illustrated in Figure 1.

The model is that of a wild population with no territorial or reproductive constraints. The population reproduces until a Malthusian constraint intervenes, and war, disease or starvation then reduces the size of the population until it is within the capacity of the feed resources. The weakest members of the population die, and productivity is compromised. The pressures of competition have diverted productive yield into waste.

Figure 1. Model of a wild population with no territorial or reproductive constraints

Scavenging village chickens
Malthusian constraintsType of flockUse of products
 Family flock VILLAGE FLOCK 
 ß ß 
 ßÜ Þß 
StarvationEggs EggsConsume
PredationChicks ChicksSales
DiseaseGrowers GrowersGifts
MortalityLaying time   

The most vulnerable members of the population are the chicks and growers, probably because the gap between their requirement for protein, Table 2, and the availability of nutrients in the SFRB, Table 1, is greater than for any other class in the population. Moreover, physically they are the weakest members of the population. Low survival rates for chicks and growers have been reported in Indonesia (Kingston, 1980), Thailand (Janviriyasopak et al., 1989) and Sri Lanka (Gunaratne et al., 1993), and were alleviated by supplementing chicks in the field. (Chandrasiri et al., 1994; Roberts et al., 1994), Figure 2.

Figure 2

Creep feeder arrangement

Figure 2

Modified after Roberts (1994)

Survival of village chicks and growers from hatching to 160 days: Indonesia and Sri Lanka

Growth rates of village chicks and growers were much higher in an intensive system than in villages.

Disease is not commonly associated with the high mortality, the steady rate of attrition being unlike that of an infectious or parasitic disease. The primary cause is starvation (Prawirokusomo, 1988; Ologhoho, 1992; Roberts & Senaratne, 1992), the chicks and growers which die tending to have lower growth rates than the average for their brood (Wickramaratne et al, 1993). The growth rates of survivors to 70 days ranged from 2 to 7 g/day with a mean of 4.4 (Gunaratne et al., 1993). Chicks and growers which die, also tend to be those with lighter feather colors, that is, those which are more conspicuous (Wickramaratne et al. 1993). Predation is the ultimate fate of most chicks and growers (Branckaert, 1992; Roberts & Senaratne, 1992; Gunaratne et al. 1993; Wickramaratne et al., 1994). Presumably anything which weakens a chick, such as inadequate nutrition, infection or parasites, increases the likelihood of it being taken by a predator.

Placing household refuse in a creep feeder for chicks in villages, for a short period, twice a day, increased the survival rate; but did not improve the growth rate. Supplementing the household refuse with protein improved both survival rate and growth rate (Roberts et al., 1994), Figures 2 and 3.

Figure 3

Creep feeder arrangement

Figure 3

Modified after Roberts et al., (1994)

There was a very high survival rate and improved growth rate, when village chicks were reared in a pen with free choice feeding (Chandrasiri et al., 1994). In the creep feeder study, all of the household refuse was supplemented and the substantial residue after the chicks had fed was made available to the remainder of the flock, which showed no increase in productivity. It would be expected that, if a small amount of household refuse were supplemented and continuously available to the chicks, then there would be a greater benefit at lower cost. It is important to note that if more chicks and growers survive, then the capacity of the SFRB will be exceeded, unless countermeasures are implemented. If the families consume more eggs (hatch fewer chicks), or consume more growers, they will benefit, and the biomass of the flock will remain in balance with the capacity of the SFRB.

The scavenging model can be used to interpret the differences between the meat production systems described in Indonesia by Kingston & Cresswell (1982) and in Thailand by Janviriyasopak et al., (1989), with the predominantly egg production system favoured in Sri Lanka (Gunaratne et al., 1993). In the meat production systems there are a large number of hens, Table 5, a high proportion of eggs incubated, Table 6, and very low survival rates for chicks and growers, Figure 3. It is suggested that families are seeking to produce more meat by rearing more chicks; but the attempt to raise production increases the competition pressure within the village flock and reduces the survival rates of all chicks and growers. In the egg production system there are fewer hens, Table 5, higher hen day production and a higher proportion of eggs is consumed, Table 6. It is suggested that the competition pressure is reduced because the higher egg consumption reduces the number of eggs being incubated and chicks hatched, so a higher proportion of chicks and growers survive.

Table 5. Average constitution of family flocks of scavenging chickens in villages of different countries. The value for the family SFRB is calculated from the constitution of the flock and the growth rate of each class of bird as described by Roberts (1992)

CountryNumber of birds in each classFamily SFRB
Indonesia6.76.311.43.6475Kingston & Cresswell (1982)
Thailand14. et al., (1989)
Sri Lanka2. et al., (1993)

Table 6. Egg production by scavenging hens in villages in different countries, and the disposal of the eggs

CountryDisposal of eggsReferences
Per hen per year
Indonesia72963523Kingston & Cresswell (1982)
Thailand49049363Janviriyasop et al. (1989)
Sri Lanka110102850.5Gunaratne et al. (1993)
 Per family flock per year
Indonesia82110371859327Kingston & Cresswell (1982)
Thailand221022116213Janviriyasop et al. (1989)
Sri Lanka44040832202.5Gunaratne et al. (1993)

Scale of production within households

Scavenging chicken production is seen as free because there are no alternative uses for the inputs. However, as we have seen, there is a low ceiling on the level of production attainable from scavenging. Moreover there is a large step up to smallscale intensive production. For a wide variety of reasons many village families don't want to take that step, or cannot take it. Many of them obtain great satisfaction from the existing scavenging system and want it to stay as it is. Others might be encouraged to take small steps to increase the productivity of the SFRB. Some of the pros and cons of the existing scavenging system are considered below, and some low cost options for addressing the problems are suggested.

Favourable aspects of the existing scavenging system for village families:

Deficiencies of the existing scavenging system for village families:

Addressing the problems

Table 7. The effect of broodiness on egg production of village hens

Hen activitiesProduction parameters for one year
LayHatchRearBroodiness in daysEgg production in numbers

Source: Prasetyo et al., 1985.

Considerable effort has gone into attempts to upgrade the scavenging system; but the medium term failure rate of apparently successful poultry projects in villages is high (Sauer, 1987, 1991; Haan, 1992; Farrell, 1992). We have never had funds for a development project, and so have not promoted any of the procedures described above. However, we have done research on some of them and have undertaken extensive village trials on hand rearing, creep feeding and supplementation. Village families have usually cooperated willingly and been interested in the results. Use of a procedure has always ceased shortly after a trial. Motivation of the village family may be the main constraint to increasing the productivity of the basic scavenging system. Village families are getting something for nothing now with little risk - if the system collapses then it can be started again at little cost. Cock fighting is still alive and well in many villages. Many will be unwilling, or unable, to undertake the effort and risk associated with inputs to the scavenging system. Productivity is irrelevant for those for whom the social and cultural contributions of the traditional village chickens are their most important attributes. They believe, with some justification, that scavenging chickens are the ultimate poultry.

Small scale intensive poultry production in villages

For those village families, which want to go to a level of production, which is higher than that, available from scavenging, more, and higher quality feed must be provided. Once one significant input is provided, a cascade of further inputs becomes mandatory. There is no point in providing better feed to village hens which cannot utilise it efficiently, so specialised birds must be obtained. With more valuable birds it is necessary to keep them secure, and to protect them against disease, particularly Newcastle disease. If many families increase production then new markets may be necessary so storage and transport become issues. This scenario is highly commendable, provided it has been thought through. Are all of the inputs available? And is there an infrastructure to maintain the supply? (Branckaert, 1992; Haan, 1992). Establishment of an intensive husbandry system could be facilitated by an appropriate production package (Johnston & Cumming, 1992). A small-scale intensive industry is more likely to succeed if there is a reliable local supply of a high energy feed material such as rice bran, coconut meal or a seed meal. Preston, (1992) has proposed intensive poultry production based on oil palm oil or seed. If sufficient households in a community opt for small scale intensive production there is then scope for other families to contribute and benefit by providing supporting activities such as breeding and rearing of replacement chicks, vaccine storage, vaccination, collection and distribution of feed components, supply of materials, and product marketing.

There are several possible bases on which sustainable small scale intensive chicken production can be established in villages. Governments can do it through banks and livestock services; but the resulting projects are rarely sustainable (Haan, 1992). It is also possible for village production units to be integrated into a vertical industrial system including feed mill, hatchery, hybrid birds, veterinary services, abattoir and marketing, with the parent organisation providing some credit and taking some risk, and profit (Bhannasiri, 1992). In effect the village family provides housing and labour; but in the process is vulnerable to the vagaries of the commercial industry and the market. In Turkey similar vertical integration has been achieved through cooperatives which have developed in place of the commercial intensive industry (Unver, 1992). Project aid could be a good option if an adequate infrastructure is established before the assistance is withdrawn. A poultry cooperative could underpin the operation, and poultry shops can also provide the support system with feed, credit, vaccines and marketing (Sonaiya, 1992).

Pens are necessary to protect the birds from predation and theft. The main requirements are for protection from direct sun, adequate space, ventilation, perches, feeders, nests and water. An elevated slat floor (Owoade & Oduye, 1992) can assist ventilation and disease control, and make the faeces available as fertiliser, or for fish culture. Split bamboo is an effective building material. It is usually better to have an adequate hen house and no yard, than to have a small hen house with a fenced yard, which rapidly becomes a desert. Fencing may be more efficiently used to protect a kitchen garden fertilised with the manure.

Effort should be made to ensure that the important role of women in village chicken husbandry (Aboul-Ella, 1992; Acheampong, 1992; Ahmed, 1992; Ahmed et al., 1992; Bradley, 1992; Scola, 1992) is expanded as small-scale intensive villarge production develops.


The genotype of the chickens is an important component in efforts to optimise utilisation of the SFRB, regardless of the intensity of production. Market forces should determine the type of bird used. Where the local cooking style includes chicken boiled for long periods, flavour is important and if consumers have the money, there is commonly a high premium on the price of traditional village chickens. In such circumstances it may be worthwhile to accept, or adapt to, the disadvantages of village chickens in the intensive situation, particularly the stress and fighting problems caused by crowding (Lee, 1992), and the inefficient utilisation of nutrient materials for egg and meat production.

Village chickens, and their crosses with improved breeds, have been selected for productivity characteristics on high quality diets (Qiu, 1988; Avante, 1989; Chung, 1989; Okada, 1989). Simulated village chickens have been developed in Taiwan by crossing village and commercial birds and selecting the offspring for the overt features of the village birds such as coloured plumage, bare necks, pigmented bones and skin, pigmented and variant combs and long shanks, together with the efficient production characteristics of the commercial birds (Lee, 1989). Production is medium to large scale intensive on high quality diets, and the product is well received, so the enterprises are highly profitable. While there may be significant heterosis benefits in growth rates and egg production for village X layer hens (Horst, 1988, 1991); it would be difficult to maintain heterosis benefits in a village breeding system.

Where there is only a small premium for traditional birds then commercial crossbred layers, broilers, or a suitable dual-purpose breed are more efficient, both nutritionally and economically, for small-scale intensive village production. Production from such birds has been successful when introduced to the village as day old chicks (Roberts & Senaratne, 1992) or as young adults (Huchzermeyer, 1973). With supplemented scavenging, hen day production averaged up to 60% with eggs weighing about 60g. However there was a high attrition rate attributed to theft and predation. The main disadvantage is supply of stock, because commercial interests control the genetic material for producing hybrids, and they are geared to supplying the large-scale industry. They tend to be apathetic, or even antagonistic, to orders for fewer than thousands of chicks. The dual purpose breeds are no longer fashionable in developed countries; but could be appropriate in villages because village people desire both egg and meat production, and could breed their own replacement stock. Where scavenging is to be incorporated, a cross with a dual-purpose breed could be more appropriate.

In the past there have been attempts to improve the productivity of scavenging village chickens by ‘genetic upgrading’ with schemes like cockerel exchanges. It became apparent that birds, which were highly productive in an intensive environment with high quality nutrition, did not survive in the rough and tumble of the village with its low quality SFRB, and aggressive cocks.

Protein is the most expensive component of the diet. When two lines of chickens were selected for growth rates on balanced and on low protein diets, growth rates of the lines were similar when both were on balanced diets; but chickens of the line selected on the low protein diet were 10 to 20% heavier at six weeks on the low protein diet (Sørensen, 1985). The adaptation of village layers to the low protein scavenging diet, Table 2, is probably a similar phenomenon. In many regions there could be a case for crossing village chickens with a coloured dual purpose breed, and selecting progeny for locally desirable morphological characteristics, and for productivity on an economical, locally available diet, or more simply on a low protein diet. The strain could be valuable for controlled scavenging or smallscale intensive chicken production.

The multiplication and production systems used by Fattah and Swan (1999), to produce chickens for the Participatory Livestock Development Project in Bangladesh could be used to test genotypes for suitability for a supplemented scavenging diet. Eggs are produced in villages, or on government farms, hatched and reared in villages, and sold to village producers. Birds being assessed could be on appropriate diets and production would be measured at each stage. When the best genotype is selected, it could be bred through the F2 generation if a crossbred. Chickens could then be selected for productivity on lower quality feed. Producers may need a small subsidy; but the over-riding advantage would be selection in the environment in which the chickens are to produce. There is little point in selecting chickens on an institutional farm if they are to scavenge in villages. Higher productivity on a low quality diet would provide a substantial benefit over the large number of birds in a project.

There is flexibility in the scale of operation of each village family, the optimum combination of the factors of production being relatively independent of scale when production is intensive. At the lower end two to four commercial layers in a small unit suspended from the wall of the home, could be fed on the household refuse appropriately supplemented. Flocks around the size of present village family flocks of about four hens, a cock and some chicks and growers can be housed and fed household refuses and supplement; but still allowed scavenging time. In larger flocks household refuses ceases to make a significant contribution to the diet, so the family has to rely on the byproduct and feed markets. When the level of production in the community exceeds the local demand, then the producers are competing with large commercial producers for market share. The advantages, which the small-scale intensive producers in the village could have, are low expectations of return for labour, small capital investment, and low costs for purchase, transport and processing of feed, if crop by products are available locally. They also have cheap access to local markets for the sale of produce, for example the village farmer can sell live chickens locally for meat, whereas the large scale producer has to have access to an abattoir, a freezer and a refrigerated or insulated distribution system.

A simple classification of the levels of chicken production available to smallholders in the villages of developing countries is set out in Table 8, which also indicates some of the benefits and potential constraints of each level. If we accept that the objectives to be promoted by village chicken production are family nutrition, family opportunities and satisfaction of social and cultural aspirations, then traditional scavenging and small scale intensive production have most to offer. For the foreseeable future, in the villages of the developing world, there will be many families still keeping scavenging chickens, some because they like having them around, and some because they need their products.

Table 8. Characteristics of different levels of chicken production for village families in developing countries

CharacteristicTraditional scavenging
(1 to 10 hens)
Small scale intensive
(10 to 50 hens)
Medium scale intensive
(50 to 1000 hens)
Households that benefit from productionLarge number of poor rural familiesModerate number of rural families with education or initiativeA few educated families such as public servants, businessmen and professionals
BenefitsManaged by women. Family nutrition, small cash flow, meet social obligations and satisfy cultural needs.Women's opportunities. Nutrition, income and family nutrition.Income
Production consumed byPoor rural familiesLocal familiesLocal urban dwellers
Resources utilizedMaterial from the environment and refuse from the householdByproducts of local crops and industriesByproducts of local and regional crops and industries. Commercial feed
Marketing requirementsPersonal contact and middlemanMiddlemen and local retail outletsMiddlemen and regional retail outlets
Infrastructure requiredNone. Information could helpSources of information, birds, feed, vaccines, medicines.
Markets. Possibly credit
Sources of information, birds, feed, vaccines, medicines.
Markets. Credit.

Other poultry species used for scavenging production in the villages of the developing world

Muscovy ducks (Cairina muschata) and mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos; A. pocilorhyncha) can utilise small fish, snails and water weeds from paddy fields, irrigation channels and swamps, so their SFRB is largely separate from that of chickens. There is a sophisticated mallard duck husbandry system in association with wetland rice cultivation in some regions of South and Southeast Asia. Ducks scavenge newly cultivated and newly harvested fields; but unlike chickens the scavenging is supervised. Eggs are incubated in traditional solar heated sand incubators, and ducklings are sexed shortly after hatching - by the note of their ‘cheep’. The newly hatched ducklings are imprinted to the individual totem of each owner, and it is used to control them all the days of their lives. On Bali, flocks are kept at one locations; but on Java, husbandmen may migrate hundreds of kilometers following cultivation and harvest and selling the eggs. At the end of the journey the ducks are sold for meat, and the herdsman recommences with a young flock. Ducks also integrate well with fish culture. They are good egg layers, and all eggs are laid shortly after dawn, before the birds are released from their portable pens. There are many suitable environments in other regions; but ducks are not kept, possibly because of the need to transfer a production package, and because local palates do not appreciate duck eggs and meat.

Geese (Anser cygnoides), Guinea fowl (Numida melagris; N. ptilorhynca), Turkeys (Meliagris gallpavo), Pigeons (Columba livia) and Japanese Quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) all have regional popularity; but not wide appeal.


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