African village chickens: Health and production

Livestock are an integral part of the agricultural systems of Africa and contribute to livelihood strategies of the poor and food insecure in many ways. They are an important source of cash income, and one of their few liquid and mobile assets that offer risk management options to reduce vulnerability, social networking instruments and social security capital.

Whereas the major comparative role of grazing ruminant livestock is that of utilizing land resources of low agricultural potential, the major comparative role of small-scale poultry production is that of utilizing available household labour and surplus on-farm resources. Utilization of these resources which commonly have very low or no opportunity costs is one of the major functions of the traditional poultry production system.

Village or family poultry is kept by nearly all rural households for many generations, living in almost symbiotic relationship with human communities. It is estimated that some 80% of the rural population keeps chickens, a proportion that has changed little in the last decades. In some countries, the chicken to human population ratio of a village can be as much as 1.5:1. However, their contribution to farm household and national income is not proportional to their high numbers due to several constraints, including poor reproductive performance, poor growth rates, high mortality, losses due to predation, and low level of literacy among farmers.

The traditional system of production can be economically efficient because although the output from the individual birds is low (low egg production, small sized eggs, slow growth and low survivability of chicks) the inputs are even lower or virtually non-existent (Smith, 1990).

This module on the health and production of African village chickens, deals with the following topics:

  • The current situation
  • Prospects for future development
  • The most common diseases.