Cover Image
close this bookPractical Poultry Raising (Peace Corps, 1981, 225 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentAbout this manual
View the documentAbout the author
View the document1. Poultry production - An overview
Open this folder and view contents2. What do you have to work with?
Open this folder and view contents3. Getting to know the chicken
Open this folder and view contents4. Working with country chickens
Open this folder and view contents5. Poultry husbandy
Open this folder and view contents6. Housing and equipment
Open this folder and view contents7. Keeping chickens healthy
Open this folder and view contents8. Feed and nutrition
Open this folder and view contents9. Poultry marketing and finances
Open this folder and view contents10. Poultry extension
Open this folder and view contentsAppendices
View the documentGlossary

1. Poultry production - An overview

What is Poultry?

The word poultry applies to all domestic fowl raised for their eggs, their meat, or both. Poultry includes chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, pheasants, quail and pigeons. Chickens by far are the most popular poultry raised today, and this manual will concentrate on them. A brief section on other fowl is given in Appendix B (p. 185).

The first chickens (probably the species Gallus gallus) were lured or captured from the rain forests of Southwest Asia over 3,000 years ago. Since that time, chickens have been kept for meat and eggs by nearly every human group throughout the world. Over the years, the original chicken has been bred by selection and circumstance into many varieties.

Until recently almost all chickens were raised in small flocks and left to look after themselves. In many areas of the world chickens still are raised a few at a time for occasional eggs or to serve at a feast. There are people today who grow chickens only for cock - fighting or religious ritual. Some types of chickens with beautiful plummage are raised just for show.

In the past 40 years, the growing need for protein to feed the world's rapidly expanding population has caused farmers and scientists to pay more attention to chickens as food sources, ant to increase the efficiency with which they are raised. Genetic research has developed many different breeds and varieties adapted to different climates, farming methods and purposes.

Types of Chickens

Even though there are many different breeds and varieties of chickens used in farming, they all can be divided into three types: Layers - Bred primarily for egg production, these birds usually weigh about 1 - 2 kilograms (kg) (2.2 to 4.4 pounds). They are lighter than chickens bred to produce meat. Because they are smaller, they need less feed to maintain their body weight while laying as many or more eggs than the big birds. The layers also are eaten, usually after they have been producing eggs for a year to a year and a half. Farmers often do not keep the males of these breeds because it takes too much feed to bring them to a marketable weight. Birds that lay brown eggs usually are a little larger than those that lay white eggs. Meat Chickens - These birds grow rapidly and reach marketable size after two to three months. They are sold well before they reach egg - laying age. Whether a meat chicken is called a fryer or a roaster depends on its size and age. Meat chickens usually are called broilers. Capons (castrated males) grow large, fat and tender as they get older. Dual - Purpose Chickens - These birds are raised for both eggs and meat. Females of the new, improved breeds are kept to lay eggs while the males are separated and sold for meat as soon as they reach about 15 weeks of age. Also, dual - purpose hens are sold for meat at the end of the laying time. The country chickens roaming free in most villages of the world are a kind of dual - purpose bird. Generally, it is more profitable to specialize in either layers or meat birds, for these improved breeds of chickens can reach very high levels of production. Some layers now produce at an average rate of 90% for a whole year. Meat chickens weighing 2 kg or more are ready for market in seven to ten weeks. However, unlike country fowl which, through many centuries, has developed resistance to many diseases and learned to take care of itself, these new breeds need the active care of the farmer to protect them from disease and predators if they are to survive and produce well.

Why Raise Poultry?

Small Poultry Flocks - anything from a hen and a few chicks running free up to a group of 50 or so that receive some special care - can provide a family with important protein in its diet and perhaps some income through the sale of extra eggs and birds to neighbors. Feeding the birds food scraps and crop byproducts is a good way to use vegetable matter that the family doesn't eat. But, if country chickens are used, they will not produce very much, and it is difficult to use the new breeds efficiently in small numbers. By keeping costs low, some farmers can make sufficient profit on a small flock to allow for expansion to a larger flock. Medium - Size Flocks - one or two hundred birds or more - can increase significantly the local supply of high - quality protein, minerals and vitamins. This is especially important for young children and for pregnant and nursing mothers. These flocks also can:

· increase family income;
· increase local employment;
· use food processing by - products that normally are wasted;
· use relatively little land (chickens can be kept by urban as well as rural people);
· increase the supply of manure for fertilizer and methane gas production; and
· provide possible benefits when combined with other protein increase programs (for example, chicken manure can be used to fertilize fish ponds).

What Are the Disadvantages?

Of course, there also are possible disadvantages to raising chickens. Some people say that livestock in general are inefficient producers of food and that most developing nations cannot afford to use their scarce resources to raise them. By growing such crops as soybeans, they say, farmers can produce much more protein per acre. Livestock also often compete directly with humans for cereal grains such as wheat and maize (corn). But much agricultural land isn't suited for growing protein crops. Chickens eat less per unit of protein produced and require less land than other livestock. They also can be raised on diets containing foods not usually eaten by humans. Chickens provide high quality protein that is particularly well suited to human digestive systems and dietary needs.

Medium - size poultry operations in developing nations have other possible disadvantages:

· Poorly run projects can destroy a small farmer's scant savings or put him deeply into debt;

· Market cycles can hurt or destroy a poultry project, even if it is well run;

· Feed, water or labor stoppages can cause failure;

· These projects need specially bred birds, pharmaceuticals, markets, transport and technical advice that may not be found in your area;

· Compared to traditional ways of raising chickens, these projects need a large investment per bird.

After considering the advantages and disadvantages, most developing nations have decided to encourage poultry production. This encouragement has not yet reached many small farmers. Here is where you may be able to help.

What Do You Need to Raise Poultry?

Just as humans have certain minimum requirements for life, there are basic chicken needs which must be provided for by the farmer if the birds (especially the new breeds) are to be productive. These include: shelter; protection from disease, pests and predators; temperature and humidity controls; sanitation; control of light; and elimination of stresses.

Examples of stresses are: noise and other disturbances; dust; drafts; foul or stale air; crowding; changes in feed; introducing new chickens into established flocks; changes in weather; and keeping males with females. Stress factors are additive, that is, the more that a chicken has to bear, the worse the effect may be. An otherwise healthy bird may contract only a mild case of a disease when exposed to it; a bird that has worms, is crowded, or is not eating well may die when exposed to the same disease.

The most important element in poultry raising is a good relationship between the caretaker and the flock. A caretaker must like and understand chickens and be dedicated to seeing that they do well. In short, chickens need tender loving care.

What Do You Need to Expand Beyond the Farmyard Flock?

Interested Farmers - Unless farmers are convinced that poultry raising is a good idea and are ready to provide the constant care and attention, finances and other support that larger flocks need, there is no point in going on. You cannot and should never attempt to persuade farmers to do something that they don't think is in their best interest.

Cultural Acceptability - The chicken has been linked with human society for so long that many cultures have developed special ways of dealing with them. Vegetarians, of course, don't eat chicken meat and many don't eat eggs, especially fertilized ones. Other societies relish eggs in which the fetus already is formed. Some people regard fowl as sacred and will not eat them, while others won't touch them because of the worms and manure that chickens sometimes eat. Some cultures forbid eggs to pregnant women. There are many other such taboos and traditions throughout the world. In most places, however, people welcome chickens and eggs to their menus and willingly form a good market, but you must learn from local people about their customs and attitudes if you are to work effectively.

Financial Means - Farmers must have available cash of their own, be able to pool their resources through cooperative efforts or be able to borrow from private sources or government agencies. For small farmers, investing in the new breeds means that a large portion of their resources is not available for other uses. They must realize that they risk losing part or all of their investment. Even if they do make a profit, it may not be for some time - in layer operations this may take at least one and a half years, sometimes longer.

Local Supplies and Technical Support - You must have an assured supply of clean water and fresh, well - balanced feed for the life of the birds. This is easier to arrange for meat birds that are kept for only a few months than it is for layers that will need vaccines, medicines and food supplements, and advice on how to use them.

Markets and Infrastructure - Even if the people in your area enjoy eating chickens and eggs, they may be too few or too poor to justify an expanded chicken operation. Transport problems may mean that you cannot deliver your products, especially eggs, to market quickly enough so that they are fresh, attractive and earn a profit. Farmers near towns or good roads usually have a good market, even though competition may reduce their per bird profit. Those in remote areas often can't sell as many eggs and birds, but may make up for that by receiving higher prices.

Breed Source - A farmer who wants to start a medium - size poultry operation will need a source of an improved breed. Ways to work with and upgrade flocks of country chickens are described in Chapter 4 (p. 37), but if farmers are to spend their. limited resources on buildings, feed or other support, they should use birds with the greatest genetic potential.

Market Plans - Farmers will have to determine: when to start their flocks so they are ready for laying or sale in the most profitable season; which types of eggs and meat are most enjoyed by buyers; what quantities realistically can be sold if neighboring farmers also are expanding; what to do about other seasonal problems such as scarcity of labor during harvests, lack of water during dry seasons, and so on. These topics are discussed in Chapter 9 (p. 153.)

Where Has Poultry Development Worked Well?

Many developing nations have made big gains in their poultry industries in recent years. Poultry development in India serves as a good example of the way a developing country can increase its protein production.

Poultry Development in India

Most of India's poultry development has happened in the past 20 years. A country with minimal cereal grain resources, India faced many other problems as well. Many farmers could not afford even a small backyard poultry operation. The vast majority of Indians are vegetarians. There were transport problems, and difficulties with feed and medical supplies. Extension personnel were few, and though some were dedicated, others were not. Most areas had no poultry feed analysis laboratories. All viable improved breeds (breeds in which a high percentage of chicks live and turn into good producers) were being imported, usually through multinational corporations. Farmers were accustomed to traditional ways of raising chickens and were reluctant to change to new methods until they were proven.

While a few neighboring countries have had little success with poultry, India has made much progress. Much of it is due to intensive, broadly - based extension work, some of it done by Peace Corps Volunteers. Once farmers began taking advantage of the extension service, bought and raised better birds and found they were making money, they began to demand more service and even better birds.

The government and others responded to the new demands by establishing tax incentives for poor farmers, setting poultry feed ingredient standards, building more feed analysis laboratories, issuing loans, insuring experienced farmers, improving government breeding programs, increasing vaccine production and delivery, providing better disease diagnostic services, and expanding extension activity.

Peripheral industries sprang up. Small shops began making poultry equipment such as brooders, feeders, and supplies such as egg shipping cartons and baskets. Farmers in remote areas organized cooperative societies. With advice, loans and grants from the government and international agencies, the cooperatives began mixing feeds, buying supplies and equipment, building storage units and marketing members' products. They began contracting with farmers and rice mills, and growing their own feeds as well. Major breeding. pharmaceutical and feed supply companies also expanded and assisted farmers in more remote areas.

Marketing also had been a problem. The vast majority of Indians are Hindu, a religion which prohibits or discourages eating anything which is or has the potential to be animal life. It was believed that all eggs had the potential for life and therefore should not be consumed. Consumers were taught by poultry people and nutritionists that eggs could be produced without the presence of roosters and that a difference existed between the fertilized and unfertilized egg. Although some Hindus still will not eat them, most have accepted unfertilized eggs as part of their diet.

Today, the number of eggs produced in India has increased 600%, from 2 billion in 1969 to over 12 billion in 1979. The growth of egg production has outpaced population growth, resulting in lower egg prices relative to family income.

What India is learning about chickens can be and is being learned in other developing nations. As a poultry production worker, you can help make poultry an important food and income source in your area.