How to Breed Chickens Naturally in Nigeria

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Chicken Breeds: Management and Nutrition Breeds of Chicken

Chicken Breeds

A chicken is a type of bird that is raised for its meat and eggs. All breeds and varieties of birds are due to natural and artificial selection. Commercially speaking this may be referred to as; egg type, broiler or table type and dual purpose type.

Important Characteristics of Chicken Breeds

Important characteristics that Nigerian breeders select for and improve in poultry include:

  • Egg production, size, shape, colour and quality;
  • Body weight and rate of growth; and
  • Feed efficiency, high liveability and resistance to diseases.

Types of Chicken Breeds

1. Egg laying breeds:

Good layers usually begin producing when they are about18 to 20 weeks old and continue for 12 months, laying about 260 to 300 eggs. There are two types based mainly on the colour of the egg shell - white eggs and brown eggs.

  • White Eggs: The most popular white-egg breed is the white leghorn. It is smaller than other breeds and produces the most eggs per unit of feed eaten, thus it has a higher profit potential. Distinctive features are white earlobes, white shelled eggs, small body size, large and mostly single combs. They are non-broody but exhibit a nervous disposition. Females weigh about 2 kg while the males weigh about 2.7 kg by the 20th week. Other breeds in this group include the Minorca and Ancona.
  • Brown Eggs: Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire are the two popular breeds in this group. These breeds are heavier than the white egg shell laying types. Some lay as much eggs as the white leghorn but they eat more feed per egg produced. Distinctive features are eggs vary in colour from light beige to dark brown, ear lobes are red and feathers vary from almost white to red, brown, black or combinations. Skin and shank colour is yellow. Other breeds in this group include the Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte and Jersey giant. Adult females weigh about 3 kg and the males weigh about 3.6 kg.

2. Meat Breeds

These include the Whiter Rocks, Cornish, Barred Rocks, Dorkign, Orpington and others. Present day meat strains are known as "synthetic breeds" and are as a result of crosses which may include two or more of the aforementioned breeds. Meat breeds of chicken are usually reared only for 7 to 8 weeks when they weigh about 2 to 3 kg. Meat breeds have more meat per unit of bodyweight than egg breeds. It can also be economical to use males of heavier brown egg breeds for meat production in the absence of the meat breeds.

3. Dual-Purpose Breeds

Generally, these are breeds used to produce eggs, and the meat obtained from them is of secondary consideration.

Management of Chicken

To do well with any breed type of chicken, one must understand their needs and be ready to provide the daily attention they require. Understanding the minute details in chicken management makes all the difference between profit and loss in a chicken farm establishment. Intensive system of chicken production has the highest profit potential, this means that the fowls completely rely on the farmer for all of their needs.

Chick Management

Chick management schedule is divided into two parts: before the chicks arrive and after the arrival of the chicks.

Before the Arrival of the Chicks

  • The brooder house is cleared thoroughly, this include the floor, walls and the ceiling;
  • The brooder house is disinfected using one of the many commercial disinfectants available in the market strictly following the manufacturers recommendation;
  • Set up, and make a trial run with brooders (heat source).
  • This is to ensure that they are properly working. This should be done 2 to 3 days before chicks arrive;
  • Clean and disinfect all equipment such as feeders and drinkers;
  • Provide clean fresh litter on the floor to about 5 metres deep; and
  • Install brooder guards which should be about 36 cm high. This keeps the chicks confined to the brooder area thereby ensuring adequate consumption of feed and water.

After the Arrival of the Chicks

  • A few hours before the chicks arrive; ensure water fountains are adequately filled with clean water. Half-fill the feeders and put some feed on chick trays, papers or cardboards;
  • The temperature in the brooding area should be about 35°C;
  • Chicks should never be without feed for more than 30 minutes at a time. Ensure the feed contains coccidiostat;
  • Spend time everyday just observing the flock. While they grow, see if they are all about the same size and are putting out feathers at about the same rate; 
  • Watch out for inactive chicks (those that stand still for more than ten minutes), that are most likely sick. 
  • Start each successive week by adjusting the heat source or height of the hover; 
  • On the 3rd day, allow the chicks to finish the feed in the feeder. From then on, fill the feeders half full. If chicks are eating well, remove chick trays, papers or cardboards; 
  • For the rest of the chickens rearing period, completely change their water early in the morning and afternoon rinsing the drinkers out as you do so. Chickens should have water available at all times; 
  • On the 4th day, begin looking for signs of coccidiosis. If there is a serious outbreak, treat for coccidiosis until the flock is at least 12 weeks old;
  • On the 8th day, Infectious Bursa Disease (Gumboro) vaccination is recommended. Decrease the temperature to 31 °C and remove the brooder guard; 
  • On the 14th day, lower temperature to 29.5 °C and vaccinate against Newcastle Disease; 
  • On the 21st day, lower temperature to 26.5 °C. Provide larger feeders and repeat vaccination against Infectious Bursa Disease; 
  • On the 28th day, lower temperature to 24°C. Give booster vaccination against New castle disease; 
  • On the 35th day, Iower temperature to 21°C. If night time temperatures do not fall below this, remove the brooder. Brooder should be removed completely by 42nd day.

Meat Breed Management

  • Once meat birds have been vaccinated on the 28th they may not need any special care, until they are sold off by the 8th week;
  • If they are kept beyond this age, then they should be given booster vaccination against Newcastle Disease and other necessary vaccinations depending on the prevailing endemic diseases in the production area;
  • Watch the flock and treat for outbreaks of intestinal worms, coccidiosis, external parasites and other health problems; and
  • Remove any sick birds. If there are more than one, perform a post-mortem examination, or take the birds to a veterinary laboratory for analysis.

Egg Laying Breed (Layers) Management

  • Vaccinate for fowl pox on the 42nd day;
  • Vaccinate against Newcastle Disease on the 52nd day;
  • Increase feeders and water fountains on the 84th day and begin a lighting programme if appropriate;
  • Watch out for symptoms of worms' infestation by the 16th week, and treat birds if necessary;
  • Place nesting boxes in the house by the 19th week, so the pullets get used to them before laying starts, if rearing will continue on the floor;
  • Cull all pullets that look sick and place healthy ones in cages by the 20th week if laying will be in battery cages. Changefrom growers' to layers' ration when 50% of the flock are in-lay. The main difference between layers' ration and growers' is the amount of calcium;
  • Improved breeds should begin laying by the 21st week. However, pullets might start laying 16 to 19th week if lighting programme is wrong;
  • Watch out for eggs laying outside nest boxes. Hens found laying directly on the floor be introduced gently to a nest with an egg in it. Hens should not be unnecessarily disturbed once they begin laying. Egg production should peak at about 85 to 95 eggs per day per 100 hens and then fall gradually to about 55 to 70 eggs at the end of 12 months of lay.

Several factors influence how long a flock of layers will produce economically. These include breed type, feed prices, management and seasonal considerations. Normally, layers are kept in-lay for 12 months. However, in situations where flock replacements costs are high, it may be economical to keep them for another six months.

Under good management additions, Leghorns may lay up to 18 months at an economic level and some heavier breeds up to 15 months. The time to replace a flock is determined by many factors and it is wise to consult experts before making decisions. Layer should be kept in the same house or cage during their laying year. Moving them when they are on-lay may cause them to stop laying for several weeks. Feed and water must be available continuously during daylight and ensure that their calcium and phosphorus requirements are met.

Nutrition of Chicken

For every animal there is an optimum amount and balance of foods or nutrients that will produce peak physical condition, growth rate, and in the case of chickens it is important to understand that both amount and balance are important in attaining maximum productivity. Thus, proper nutrition, balance and control (by the farmer) of what the chickens consume are of paramount importance. Meeting the nutritional needs of chickens is dependent upon several factors:

  • Breed Type: Improved breeds do not produce well unless the feed given them contains a proper nutrient balance.
  • Size of Operation: If a farmer has only 100 birds, it will probably be more costly and certainly more time consuming to mix feed than it will be to purchase from a commercial source.
  • Climatic Conditions: In hot climates with humid conditions, feed cannot be stored for more than a month without spoilage. Vitamins deteriorate rapidly in hot climates and must be used within a few days after purchase except refrigeration is available.
  • Type of Operation: A broiler operation will require a steady supply of feed for only eight to ten weeks. A situation where feed ingredients may be available for short periods in line with harvest and grain milling, fishing times and other seasonal variations. These place a layer operation at a disadvantage, since feed must be available without interruption throughout the year for a successful operation.
  • Types Available: It is the protein and energy content of a diet that distinguishes what feed should be given to different ages and types of chicken.

For broiler chicken it is categorised into two:

  • Broiler Starter Diet: Fed to chicks from day old to the 4th week of age. It contains 22 to 23% crude protein and energy level of about 3,000 to 3,200 kcal/kg diet.
  • Broiler Finisher Diet: Fed to chicks from the 4th week to finishing at about 8th week. It contains 20 to 21% crude protein and energy level of about 2,800 to 3,000 kcal/kg diet.

For the layer breeds it is categorised into three:

  • Pullet Chick Starter Diet: Fed from day old to the 8th week. It contains 19 to 21% crude protein and energy level of about 3,000 to 3,100 kcal/kg diet.
  • Pullet Growers' Diet: Fed from about 8th to 18th week. It contains about 14 to 15% crude protein and energy level of about 2,800 to 2,900 kcal/kg diet.
  • Layers' Diet: Fed from about 20th week of age to end of lay. It contains about 16 to 17% crude protein and energy level of about 2,600 to 2,750 kcal/kg diet.

Nutrient Requirements of Chicken

  1. Energy: Energy (measured in calories) is required by birds to move, eat, digest, grow, maintain body temperature and in the of layers produce eggs. Chickens get energy from carbohydrate (grains, roots, tubers and other starchy foods and sugars), Nitrogen free extract, crude fibre (corn bran, wheat offal etc.) and fats and oils.
  2. Protein: Consists of various combinations of amino acids. Amino acids are essential for tissue building and body functions. Proteins for chicken come from animal sources (fish meal, blood meal, meat and bone meal, etc.), and plant sources (groundnut cake, soya bean meal, etc.).
  3. Vitamins: These are organic compounds required in extremely small quantities but are essential for normal growth, health and productivity. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, while others like niacin, thiamine, pyridoxine, biotin, choline, etc. are water soluble.
  4. Minerals: These are basic elements required for use in many life support functions. Not all the necessary minerals will be found in an otherwise balanced feed. Mineral supplements must be added. Salt will have to be added to the feed mix, and calcium and phosphorus must certainly be added in adequate quantities especially for laying hens.

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