|Microlivestock - Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future |
source ref: b17mie.htm
|Part II : Poultry|
Several preceding chapters have discussed the possibilities of domesticating certain wild birds.l Here, briefly, are highlighted other wild species with qualities that might make them suitable for sustained production. It should be understood that their practical use in the long run is pure speculation; they are included here merely to guide those interested in exploring the farthest frontiers of livestock science.
Collectively, poultry have become the most useful of all livestock— and the most widespread. Yet only a handful of species are employed. Of the 9,000 bird species, only a few (for instance, chickens, ducks, geese, muscovies, pigeons, and turkeys) have been domesticated for farm use. Strictly speaking, all birds are edible - at least none have poisonous flesh - so it seems illogical to conclude that these are the only likely candidates. Perhaps they are not even the best.
At first sight there may seem to be little need for new species, but poultry meat is in ever increasing demand and there are many niches where the main species are stricken by disease, or are afflicted by heat, humidity, altitude problems, or other hazards. For these areas, a new species might become a vital future resource. Perhaps some could even become globally important. The modern guinea fowl, for example, is a relative newcomer as a worldwide resource (see page 120).
The birds now used as poultry were domesticated centuries ago by people unaware of behavior modification, nutrition, genetics, microbiology, disease control, and the other basics of domestication. Today we can tame species that they couldn't. In particular, the new understanding of "imprinting" may make the domestication of birds easier today than ever before.
In this highly speculative concept, the birds described on the following pages are worth considering. They all eat vegetation and tend to live in flocks, which makes them likely to be easy to feed and to keep in crowded conditions. Most are sedentary, nonmigratory, and poor fliers. All but three (tinamous, sand grouse, and trumpeters) are gallinaceous.
Gallinaceous birds are already the most important to people. The best known are chickens, turkeys, quail, and guinea fowl. But there are about 240 other species. Most are chickenlike: heavy bodied with short, rounded wings, and adapted for life on the ground. Although some are solitary, many are sociable. Basically vegetarian, they also eat insects, worms, and other invertebrates. The young birds are extremely precocious, walking and feeding within hours of hatching. All of these are advantageous traits for domestication.
Game birds are also emphasized here. Many today are considered gourmet delights, and this should give them a head start in the marketplace. Indeed, some are already being raised in a small way on game farms and are at least partly on the way to domestication.
These brownish birds (Ortalis vetula and nine other species) are found throughout Central and South America, and, given research, could possibly be raised on a large scale. A sort of "tropical chicken," they tame easily, live together in dense populations, and protect their chicks extremely well. They commonly scavenge around houses and people often put out scraps to feed them.2 The chicks are easily hatched, grow fast, and can be fed standard chicken rations.3
There is already considerable demand for these birds. Everywhere they are found, they are prized as food. In some areas they constitute the single most important game species, and are heavily hunted to supply local communities. Although they have less meat than a chicken, it is tastier and darker.
Chachalacas are very adaptable. They occur mainly around forest edges and thrive in the thickets that appear after tropical forests have been felled. They do well close to humans, and their populations are not threatened, despite much hunting. Indeed, they seem well adapted to existence around villages and towns. Although not strong fliers, they are one of the few tree-roosting gallinaceous species. Primarily fruit eaters, they also consume tender leaves, twigs, and buds, and they scratch up the ground, presumably for insects.
Although excitable and noisy, chachalacas become remarkably tame when fed by people. In a few cases, full domestication has almost been reached. Farmers like to have chachalacas around and have even used them to guard domestic chickens. These very raucous and fearless birds will take on all potential threats, even weasels.4
Close relatives of the chachalacas, guans5 are glossy black birds about the size of small geese. They are highly gregarious and perhaps could be raised in larger numbers. They commonly live around houses, farms, and settlements in their native region of tropical America.
Unlike most game birds, guans are chiefly tree dwellers, but they also feed on the ground. Some 12 species are known. All are relentlessly hunted for food and sport - their tameness and inability to fly far or fast making them easy targets. The rapid destruction of tropical forests threatens their populations in some parts of their range. Conservation projects and specific plans of action are being proposed for the most threatened species. Perhaps for the other species, game-ranching projects or even outright domestication might provide just the right incentive for their protection and multiplication.
Curassows are also relatives of guans and chachalacas, but they are even larger - up to 1 m tall and 5 kg in weight. At least seven species are found over the vast area from northern Mexico to southern South America.6 Among them are Latin America's finest game birds.
It might be possible to produce curassows in organized farming or ranching. They are commonly called "tropical turkeys" because they look like and run like turkeys. Indeed, Latin Americans normally refer to them as "pavos" or "pavones," as if they were the real thing. Their plumage ranges from deep blue to black, invariably with a purple gloss, and all have rather curly crests on their heads. They are not good fliers and spend most of their time on the ground.
Curassows are increasingly hunted; their tropical forest habitat is shrinking, and the subsequent loss of populations is a calamity. They are special targets, not only because they are large but also because their light-colored flesh makes exceptional eating.
There is hope that these large wild fowls can be raised and managed in organized programs. Even now, people commonly keep them around their farms and villages. For example, on a number of Venezuelan ranches, yellow-raped curassows can be seen wandering around the cattle yards as if they were chickens.7
FOREST BIRD RANCHING
This report has intentionally focused on intensive farming - the type where people bring feed to animals in captivity. However, where this normal type of farming is of marginal value, `'ranching'' free-ranging birds may often be a more effective option. In this, the farmer simply monitors and improves the condition of the range and devises methods to harvest the birds on a sustainable basis.
"Bird ranching" may today have outstanding merit, particularly in tropical rainforests. Hence, in this chapter we emphasize birds of the jungle. These might help make standing rainforests profitable producers of income, and thereby provide economic incentives to stop felling trees for cow pastures. Indeed, forest birds might become part of a whole new "salvation farming'' that makes forests more valuable than fields. It is a technique that may contribute to preserving both bird life and its vitally valuable habitat.
Megapodes (family Megapodiidae) include some of the world's most interesting birds. They have temperature-sensitive beaks and employ nature's own heat sources as incubators. The best-known species build piles of leaves and use the heat of decomposition to incubate their eggs. The species of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, however, take advantage of sun-warmed sand or even geothermal activity.
People have long revered these birds. Aborigines in Australia, Melanesians in New Guinea, and many Micronesians all protect the bizarre nesting sites, and "farm" them for eggs. Local people consider the large eggs special delicacies, and sometimes the egg-laying sites are owned and exploited for generations without a single bird being killed for food.8
Programs that provide sustainable supplies of eggs have been established in Papua New Guinea. One is near Mt. Tovarvar, a simmering volcano on the island of New Britain. Here, megapodes gather in large numbers to lay eggs in the hot sands. They dig until they locate sand that is exactly 32.7ÝC, before laying their huge (more than 10 cm long and 6 cm wide) pink eggs. Each year the villagers dig up some 2O,OOO eggs, which are an important source of protein and cash income. The government now regulates the harvest in a way that protects the bird population while supplying a nourishing food.
Megapodes are found in only a few parts of the world, but projects such as those in Papua New Guinea provide hope and guidance not only for the sustainable "ranching" of megapodes, but also for other species elsewhere. Many wild birds yield locally important products— down, colored feathers, eggs, meat, and skins, and they make excellent songbirds and pets, for example. Their management on a sustainable basis may in certain cases be the key to turning local people into the most dedicated conservationists of all.
PARTRIDGES AND FRANCOLINS
Partridges include many small game birds native to the Old World. They are robust, precocious, and larger than quails. Some lay many eggs - the European partridge, for example, lays up to 26 in a clutch. Newly hatched chicks are soon able to feed themselves and can fly within a few weeks, sometimes even within the first few days.
Species that may make useful poultry include:
- The European (or gray) partridge (Perdix perdix);
- The rock partridge (Alectoris), bantamlike birds of Africa; and
- The chukar (A. graeca).
A native of the vast area from southeastern Europe to India and Manchuria, the chukar is stocked as a game bird in many countries. It is now produced routinely under poultrylike husbandry in many parts of the United States, not only for hunting clubs, but also for expensive food markets. The birds are generally raised on turkey rations and dress out at about 500 g after 18 weeks. They sell for more than broiler chickens and are a profitable sideline for increasing numbers of poultry farmers.9
A group of closely related birds are the francolins (genus Francolinus), of which there are 34 species in Africa and 5 in West and South Asia. These adaptable birds are sturdy, live in a variety of habitats, and tend to be rather noisy. Basically, they are partridges with leg spurs. They are highly regarded as a food source and are hunted and trapped wherever they are found.
Francolins are much like quail, but are several times larger. Arabs introduced one of the most beautiful species (Francolinus francolinus) into southern Spain, Sicily, and Greece during the Middle Ages. However, it was hunted so heavily that it soon became extinct in Europe. More recently, francolins have been introduced to the Soviet Union.'Ý
Francolins inhabit steppes, savannas, primeval forests, and mountains. They thrive in cultivated land with much cover. The clutch consists of 6-8 hard, thick-shelled eggs. In recent times at least one program to domesticate them for food has been started in Africa.11
MALAYSIA'S MOBILE MOUSETRAP
Although the report emphasizes microlivestock as food suppliers, it should be realized that small animals - even wild ones - can have other important uses as welt The following interesting example, with possible worldwide implications, comes from recent experiences in Malaysia. *
Certain rodents are major pests on farms and plantations. Now, however, Malaysian zoologists are finding that owls, particularly barn owls (Tyto alba), can help control them. An owl pair and its chicks annually consume 1,500 or more rodents. This is not new knowledge; indeed, on farms throughout the world the barn owl has always been a welcome guest. What is new is that Malaysians are showing how outstandingly effective this process is, and they have initiated major projects to attract and maintain these feathered friends.
Barn owls are found in many parts of the world, but were formerly almost unknown in Peninsular Malaysia. In 1969, however, a pair began nesting in an oil-palm plantation in Johore State. Since then, these birds have steadily increased in numbers and have spread throughout most of the peninsula. Today, the population is increasing remarkably quickly as more and more managers erect nest boxes for the owls to live in.
The owls are proving to be a good way to remove rats and are notably effective in plantations of oil palm. They perch on fronds and fly under and between the rows of trees. A cost of $1 - $2 per hectare per year is all that is required to install nest boxes, a negligible outlay for the control of such a serious and expensive problem.
It is believed that the barn owls hunt mainly in plantations and other agricultural areas and not in the rainforest. Barn owls are, after all primarily adapted to open spaces and not dense forest.
Perhaps this experience can be replicated and adopted in other locations and with other crops. Grain crops - notably rice - are particularly prone to the ravages of rodents, and one trial has commenced in Selangor State in a rice area. The concept of using owls for rodent control is also catching on in the United States. Indeed owl nest boxes are being erected in Central Park in the heart of New York City.
One pheasant, the red junglefowl, gave the world the chicken (see page 86). The other 48 species may have some potential, too. These are rarely seen forest birds; all but one are confined to Asia.13 Because they are prolific they can sustain heavy predation, and many species, notably the ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), are constantly hunted.
People in several countries have learned to exploit pheasants on farms and estates. As a result, there is a vast amount of information on how to rear and manage these birds. So far, however, it has been applied only to sport hunting in wealthy societies; the potential of raising pheasants for the mass market should now be seriously addressed.
The most dramatic-looking pheasant, the peacock (Pavo cristatus), is raised as a poultry species in Vietnam. The meat of the young birds is considered outstanding. In fine restaurants in New York, a peacock dinner is reputed to cost $150. Common peafowls are considered sacred in many parts of India, where they have become so tame that they are essentially domesticated. They also control snakes.
Domestic quail have been previously described (page 146)J but dozens of wild quail species and subspecies occupy many different habitats and ecological niches in almost all parts of the world. Out of all this genetic wealth only one species - the Japanese quail - is widely used. Yet many other species seem easy to raise, becoming exceedingly tame after about the sixth generation.
The management and even perhaps intensive production of these various local quails might provide long-term benefits for many developing nations. Quail meat ranks among the finest.14 Some of these lesser-studied birds are more meaty than the Japanese quail or have other possibly useful traits. Much is known about rearing a few of them because they are used in sport hunting or laboratory research. The possibility of domestication, therefore, is not farfetched.
Particular quail that might be considered for domestication are the lesser-known subspecies of Coturnix coturnix. These subspecies are found in various places, including the following:
- Europe (C. c. coturnix breeds in the area ranging from northern Russia to North Africa and from the British Isles to Siberia. In winter it migrates to tropical Africa, Asia, and southern India.)
- The Azores (C. c. conturbans)
- The Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands (C. c. confisa)
- Cape Verde Islands (C. c. inopinata)
- East Africa (C. c. erlangeri)
- Tropical Africa, southern Africa, Madagascar, and Mauritius (C. c. africana)
- Japan (C. c. japonica, the most probable ancestor of the domesticated quail)
- China (C. c. ussuriensis, a possible ancestor of the domesticated Japanese quail)
Tinamous are quail-like birds of Central and South America's forests and grasslands. They are, however, much larger than quail and resemble small chickens, with plump bodies and no visible tail. There are more than 40 species, and all are much sought for food because their meat is tender and flavorful. The breast is surprisingly large, and its flesh is pale and translucent. One species, the great tinamou (Tinamus major), has been called "the most perfect of birds for culinary purposes." Frozen tinamous from Argentina were formerly sold in the United States under the name "South American quail."
Tinamous are found mainly in tropical areas, but are also widely distributed in Argentina and Chile. They dwell in varied habitats: rainforests, thickets, bushlands, savannas, and grasslands up to 5,000 m altitude in the Andes. Some species sleep in trees, others on the ground. They spend their days creeping about in heavy cover, flying only when forced.
At least some species tame readily. Indeed, during the nesting period males become so tractable that they can be picked up off the nest. At the turn of the century, many tinamous were raised as game birds in France, England, Germany, and Hungary. However, for reasons unknown, subsequent attempts to settle them in Europe have failed. Tinamous have been raised in Canada without undue difficulty; they showed little or no stress under captivity and there were few losses.15
Tinamous may also prove suitable for egg production. They lay clutches of 16-20 spectacular-looking shiny eggs that seem to be made of sky-blue and bright-green ceramic.
Sand grouse (mainly Pterocles species) are highly adapted to life in arid regions - desert, dry grasslands, arid savanna, and bushveld. Their entire body (including most of the bill and feet) is covered with dense down, which in the desert insulates them from the burning heat of midday and the freezing cold of night. It also protects the nostrils against blowing sand and dust.
These pigeonlike birds are found throughout the drier regions of Africa and Asia - for instance, the Sahara, Kalahari, Namib, Arabian, and Thar deserts. They live mainly on small seeds, and sometimes flocks of thousands may be seen at waterholes, flying in for a drink from up to 80 km away. For peoples of the driest spots on earth, these birds may make a useful food species: for one thing, they are not endangered. Indeed, they are proliferating as drought and overgrazing is increasing the amount of dry, desolate rangeland that they prefer. The bore holes provided for livestock have both boosted their populations and afforded a place where these wide-ranging birds can be easily captured. When nesting, sand grouse are highly vulnerable to foxes, jackals, mongooses, and other predators. Protection of the nesting sites may be the key to maintaining their populations if harvesting schemes are introduced.
Trumpeters (Psophia species) might prove to be a useful species for sustainable production within tropical forests. As "tree poultry," these relatives of cranes could help provide meat without destroying the trees, as is now done to raise cattle.
These chicken-sized birds inhabit South America's jungles.16 They are nonmigrating, ground-dwelling, and are often kept as pets, notably by Amerindians. Under human protection, trumpeters become very tame. They recognize strangers and challenge them with a loud cackle. 17
Fully adapted to the forest environment, they can run fast, but fly poorly. In the wild, this makes them easy targets for hunters. Because of this and the fact that they make excellent eating, they are approaching extinction in some areas.
No attempts have been made to rear these birds in numbers, but this should be tried. They feed mainly on plant materials, particularly berries of all kinds. They also relish grasshoppers, spiders, and centipedes, and are particularly fond of termites.
Trumpeters require trees; they completely avoid cultivated land. Thus, as the destruction of forests in South America continues, their habitat is shrinking. Although their existence is not as yet threatened, the long-term prognosis is bleak. If managed in "forest-ranching" programs, however, they might be saved from extinction and thriving populations built up.
Interest in rabbits continues to increase. It is now widely recognized that the raising of small animals in developing countries has great potential as a means of improving human nutrition and economic security. The famines in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia starkly illuminate the need for maximum efficiency in food production to maintain the quality of human life. Rabbit raising contributes to meeting these needs.
P.R. Cheeke, N.M. Patton, S.D. Lukefahr, and J.I. McNitt Rabbit Production
Rabbits are especially well adapted to backyard rearing systems in which capital and fodder resources are usually limiting factors in animal production. When rabbits are reared according to the techniques appropriate to the environment they can do much to improve the family diet of many of the most needy rural families, while at the same time supplying them with a source of income. With more advanced technology rabbit production can also help to supply big city meat markets.
Food and Agriculture Organization The Rabbit: Husbandry, Health, and Production