Work on village chicken production in Hwedza, Zimbabwe, has been initiated. The objective is, in cooperation with Korea Program for international cooperation in Agricultural Technology (KOPIA) and Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) together with the farmers; to find a means to improve indigenous chicken production by way of improvements on poultry healthy management, nutrition, increased hatchability, increased growth rates, higher meat yield per bird and reduced mortalities throughout the production cycle thus improve farmer’s incomes through indigenous chickens’ production.
The aim is that more chickens should reach a higher slaughter weight under good agricultural practices. With such improvements, household consumption and income can be increased. These improvements will facilitate youth and women empowerment since women traditionally are responsible for chicken management as well as creating employment for youths.
Poultry production in most developing countries like Zimbabwe is based mainly on the extensive (scavenging) systems. This low input/output practice has been a traditional component of small holder farms.
Approximately 20% of the protein consumed in developing countries originates from poultry. Despite the importance of the scavenging poultry systems, few activities have been initiated in this field in order to improve the output of indigenous chicken production systems.
A review of existing literature has shown that little information is available on the management and productivity of indigenous chicken flocks in Africa. The target area of this project; Hwedza, is no different although the majority of farmers keep poultry, predominantly chickens of indigenous breeds. Poultry is an important component of the farming system in Hwedza communal area.
Poultry production in Zimbabwe is two-dimensional. There is a large-scale poultry production and a smallholder poultry production. Large-scale poultry production systems are characterized by large capital investments, intensive management, mechanization and specialization. The smallholder poultry sector can be intensive, semi-intensive or extensive. The intensive poultry units in the smallholder sector are dominated by hybrid broiler and layer breeds, whereas extensive systems are dominated by indigenous poultry breeds, which are not classified into specific breeds.
Indigenous chickens in Zimbabwe are estimated to be between 15 and 30 million, the estimate is based on about one million communal farmers each keeping an average of 20 birds. Even though village chicken are characterized by low productivity (30-80 small eggs per hen per year, low hatchability, high chick mortality rates and low body weights.), they are hardy: have a high tolerance to diseases and used to poor nutrition.
The extensive (free-range) poultry production system is best be described as a low input-low output system whereby the birds are given limited amounts of feed compared to what they get from scavenging from dawn to dusk daily. Supplement feed consists of household waste mainly sadza thick maize porridge, which is the staple food in Zimbabwe and some maize, sorghum, millet or sunflower seeds. This mostly unbalanced and not nutritionally complete.
The studies are primarily carried out as on-farm trials in Hwedza with on-station support trials conducted at SIRDC. The approach has been practical and multi-factorial, with improvements on management and feeding being subjects for research. The studies are still on-going and, hence, no final results are presented in this article.
Thirty lead farmers have been selected for the pilot project; these farmers are receiving technical support and extension services from scientists to improve their productivity. A foster base system has been initiated. What happens in Hwedza community is also happening at SIRDC. Each farmer has a new fowl run that ensures biosecurity measures put in place are adhered to. Farmers have gone through trainings on the importance of vaccinations especially for New castle a notifiable disease in Zimbabwe.
In order to address the low egg laying rate and low meat yield hybrid cocks from medium to high productivity birds have been used, these are Jersey Giants and Plymouths. These breeds have a mature weight of not less than 4kg per bird. Through hybridization our indigenous chickens will have higher meat yields and lay larger eggs per year. Nutritional improvements from chicken waste to a more balanced feed that has proteins, carbohydrates and essential vitamins and minerals will maintain the health of the birds and increase productivity. To improve hatchability an incubator has been made that works with both electricity and solar energy. With these technology farmers can reduce their losses of losing eggs due to unreliable hatching. ENDS