By Christine Nakkazi
Over 80% of rural households in Northern Uganda keep chicken, mostly local breeds kept under the free-range production system. However, these indigenous chicken exhibit low turnover and low growth rate due to poor management and inadequate feeding which challenges their ability to play their role as sources of food security and income.
The Enhancing Local Chicken Productivity through Strategic Breeding and Nutrition Management in Northern Uganda (ELOCHIP) Project, funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) under the Competitive Grants System, sought to enhance the productivity of indigenous chicken in this region through improved nutrition and breeding.
As a graduate student and member of the research team, I was engaged in the nutrition and chicken management component of the project. My research aimed at improving the performance of indigenous chickens through improved feeding and management. Since the majority of farmers left their chicken to scavenge freely, the birds did not meet their nutritional requirements for optimal growth and production because scavengeable feed resources were scarce, highly variable and of questionable nutritional value. Therefore it was prudent to identify local feed resources in the area, determine their chemical composition, formulate diets, and encourage farmers to adopt better management systems of rearing indigenous chicken such as semi-scavenging and intensive systems.
Formulating nutritious diets
Together with 120 farmers, the project team identified the local feed resources available for feeding chicken as well as the management practices in Northern Uganda and used this information to design feeding strategies. The research revealed that feeds were not compounded into simple diets. Farmers were indiscriminately providing energy-rich grains such as maize, sorghum, millet to all chicken groups. After determining the chemical composition of the local feedstuffs, the team formulated diets with varying levels of protein and energy and tested them on-farm to select the diet that resulted in best growth performance of the indigenous chicken. Farmers were engaged at all stages of the research and were trained on aspects of improved flock management such as brooding, disease control, record keeping, and synchronized hatching.
Because of the increasing market demand for indigenous chicken, some farmers sought to commercialize their production. These farmers made use of the diets recommended by the study under the intensive management system. They were further trained on how to synchronize hatching and brood using locally made pots as a source of heat to allow the mother hens an early return into lay. With these improvements, the chicken reached market weight in 4.5-5 months compared to the 6 month minimum required in the traditional management system.
Improving the semi-scavenging management system
To improve the semi-scavenging system, the study team together with the farmers designed portable cages using local materials. These cages were intended to confine chicks and their mothers in the morning when they would be given the formulated diets, then let out to scavenge later on. This system prevented the chicks from being total dependent on scavenging since it could not meet their nutritional requirements and thus, rendered them susceptible to diseases. Scavenging also exposed the chicks to predators, contributing to high mortality rates before weaning age.
Interestingly, whenever the chicks were released from the cage, it was observed that they did not wonder far away from the homestead since they were almost satisfied. This reduction in locomotion resulted in improved growth rate. Practicing farmers also reported a reduction in incidences of predation compared to the free-range system. The semi-scavenging system reported, on average, a survival rate of 80% for the chicks during the early growth phase (day-old to six weeks) compared to 60% reported under the free-range system. Also, farmers that could not afford to keep their chicken under the intensive system preferred it since it was less costly.
- Enhancing local chicken productivity through strategic breeding and nutrition management in Northern Uganda (ELOCHIP). Project summary available on the RUFORUM Institutional Repository
- The status of indigenous chicken production in Northern Uganda. Research Application Summary presented at the 4th RUFORUM Biennial Conference, 2014
Christine Nakkazi is an MSc Student at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Makerere University. Her research was part of the ELOCHIP Project, funded RUFORUM under the Competitive Grants System (Grant number RU/2012/GRG-70) and led by Prof. Marion Okot. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org