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Scientific names of Gallus gallus or Gallus domesticus. 

Local names in Kenya (Kuku Kienyeji) 


Indigenous poultry is a name used to refer to chickens, with the scientific names of Gallus gallus or Gallus domesticus. Also referred to as traditional, scavenging, backyard, village or local chicken, these birdsare well adapted to harsh living conditions that include being reared under free range management system, limited feeding, poor housing conditions, etc. Exposure to environmental risks such as diseases, predators and poor nutrition militate against their survival and productivity. As a result, they do not attain their full production potential. They lay between 8 and 15 eggs per clutch depending on availability of feed. They are broody and hatch about 80% of the eggs they sit on. They attain 2-3 clutches in a year. The few chicks that escape high mortality rate and attain maturity form most of the replacement stock. These birds, though under poor management, form an important part of family life in rural areas. They are a valuable source of protein and income and play important cultural roles. These local birds, though low in productivity, exhibit some advantages which include:

  • A good market demand for their meat and eggs.
  • A good taste for their meat and eggs and thus are preferred by most consumers to those obtained from commercial breeds.
  • Initial investment is less than that needed to keep commercial breeds.
  • More tolerant of harsh conditions, including diseases, than commercial breeds.
  • Can be fed on cheap, locally available feeds.
  • When allowed to range freely, they need little feeding or other care. 

Indigenous chicken can be profitable if managed well. Control of common diseases in the free-range system could improve survival rate of chicks by at least 30% while improved feeding, housing and disease control could increase survival rate to 80%. Selection and breeding can be another area of improving productivity. Over the last 20 years, KARI (now KALRO) has specialized in selection, breeding and marketing of indigenous chicken “breeds” suited to such harsh environment. 

In order to build consumer confidence, increase value addition and expand their high-end market, a good production practices at the farm level need to be developed. The KALRO Food Crops Research Institute – Alupe Centre, was supported through a grant by the GIZ, to develop the standard for Good Agricultural Practices for an Indigenous Chicken Farm culminating into this guidelines for local poultry production. Improved practices of rearing the indigenous chicken will ensure improved productivity and incomes. 

This document has tried to gather existing knowledge on how to improve indigenous poultry production with relatively few inputs. The document covers the requirements for Good Agricultural Practices on housing, feed, water, farm management, animal health, animal welfare, environment and record keeping, for commercial free range indigenous chicken. The aim is to produce an increased number of healthy indigenous chicken and obtain adequate eggs and meat that is safe for consumption. The GAP, if adopted, will improve free-range systems consisting of small flocks of 5- 200 local or cross-bred chickens.


Suitable chicken houses are important for efficient production and management.

A good housing structure should be spacious, well ventilated and dry, well lit, easy to clean, have perches for chicken to roost, provide shelter for egg-laying and broody hens and protect chicken from predators, thieves and adverse weather (rain, sun, cold winds and low night temperatures).


The house should be located in a dry, flat area ideal for raising chicken. The site should be secured near the family house for easy management and protection against predators or thieves. Avoid poorly drained sites or sites with physical, chemical and biological hazards; otherwise put effective preventive measures in place. 

Design and layout:

Chicken houses vary depending on availability of materials, weather and traditions. Type of housing should be based on cost, durability and usage. 

The chicken house should be well laid out and the housing area enclosed to prevent predators from easy access to the birds. In a rectangular house design, the end walls should face East and West to ensure that only the end walls face the hot afternoon sun and wind thus avoiding strong winds inside the chicken house. Heat, humidity, and harmful gasses can be considerably reduced through good ventilation. High temperatures and humidity may cause a drop in egg production, low shells quality, reduced weight gain and/or deaths.                        

               Front view of a chicken house     

Building Materials: Indigenous poultry house can be made of locally available materials like timber, iron sheets, off-cuts, reeds, thatch grass and/or clay bricks. Materials used should be durable and protective to the birds and should not pose any harm to humans and chickens. 

Space for birds: Each bird requires a floor space of

2 x 1 ft (2 square feet). Therefore, a house of 30 x 10 ft can hold 150 birds. 

Floor: The floor should be easy to clean and maintain, with sufficient raising area for chicken to express its innate behavior. A cement floor is easy to clean but in order to keep costs down, it can also be left un-cemented.  Whether floor is cemented or not, it should be covered with a material like wood shavings to absorb the moisture of the chickens' droppings & reduce pests & diseases. Replace the litter after every 1-2 weeks to prevent disease build up.

Alternatively, the floor can be slatted or raised to keep away droppings and avoid predators. 

Walls: The house should have the lower 3 ft made of blocks/bricks /mud or mabati while the top 5 ft is made of chicken wire reinforced with a wire mesh for ventilation.

To control lice, the walls and roof should regularly be disinfected with a flaming rag and wood ash spread on the floor and under the wings of the birds. 

Perches: Perches are important for chicken to roost on at night and during daytime. They also reduce boredom, which can lead to vices like pecking and fighting.  Diseases and parasites may

attack poultry when left to rest on the floor.     

Each one-meter perch may roost five adult birds. Make perches from rounded sticks, which match the size of the birds’ feet. They should be treated with used engine oil or kerosene to keep away parasites.   


Nests should be placed inside the chicken house and preferably above the ground to avoid exposing the eggs to predators. Simple nests can be made out of clay, calabashes or baskets made of local fibres, cardboard or wooden boxes. 

There are two types of nests:

  • Battery and communal nests where more than one hen lays at the same time.      

  • Individual nests where one hen lays at a time. 

Individual nests can be prepared using the following steps:

(i) Ensure the pot or basket is clean and dry;

(ii) Fill the pot or basket with sand mixed with ashes up to 1/3 full;

(iii) Place clean, soft nesting litter material (hay or straw or wood shaving) on top up to 2/3 full. 

Provide one laying nest for every 5 hens. Nests should have the correct measurement for the hen to feel comfortable. An individual nest box measures 45x 45 x 45 cm (upper diameter x height x lower diameter). 

Nesting material should be changed when dirty to avoid contamination of eggs. Remove eggs continuously from the nests to stop hens from going broody. 

Brooding nests are individual nests and should be placed in quiet and dark places where they are easily removed. Once the hen is broody it may be necessary to move her to an isolated place to avoid other hens disturbing her or going broody as well. 

External parasites reduce hatchability, since brooding hens spend too much time and energy leaving the nest, cleaning and scratching her body hence leaving the eggs cold. One can use ashes, tobacco leaves or other anti-parasitic substances with the nesting material to keep out most external parasites. 

Chicken Runs

Chicken runs are a fenced open air space where poultry are kept and protected against predators and thieves. Runs are also used for feeding, watering, for daily flock observation and collection

of eggs. The walls are 2 meters high and can be made of clay or woven mat or chicken wire.  A chicken run is relatively costly but provides security to the poultry. Allow adult birds to scavenge outside the run during daytime to reduce feeding costs. 

Free range area

Sufficient area should be provided as free range area with pasture or forage crops for chicken to perform livability. 

The feeding, laying & brooding area, garbage collection, storage and residential areas should be appropriately and clearly separated to serve their purposes.


Feeding is important so as to increase the production of meat and eggs from chicken. 

Birds need feeds that give the necessary elements for body functions, including growth, egg and meat production. This is a requirement that the free-range production system does not meet adequately. As a result, Indigenous chicken will starve during certain periods of the year when left to scavenge without supplementary feeding.

To attain a balanced diet, it is recommended that in addition to scavenging, a farmer should include protein supplements from one of the recommended cheap but quality sources such as yeast, ‘Busaa’ waste dregs [Machicha]), sunflower cake, heat-treated soya or ordinary beans, lucerne, peas, fishmeal (Omena), termites,  maggots, earthworms and other insects.

Birds also need carbohydrates for supply of energy and heat. In addition to kitchen waste, birds should be given feed rich in energy such as maize, millet, cassava, sweet potatoes and sorghum.                     

                      Chicken feeding from a feeding trough

Minerals are trace elements found in plant seeds and grate. Minerals such as calcium that are important for bone and egg shell formation are found in fishmeal (Omena). 

Vitamins are necessary for growth and reproduction. In nature vitamins are found in young and green plants, seeds and insects. It is recommended you supplement your birds feed with greens to remain healthy. A farmer can also buy vitamins mixes eg AMILYTE and mix with the feed. Additional vitamins should be given when there is change in weather, vaccinations or disease outbreak. The rich, yellow pigment in the skin and egg yolk of indigenous chicken indicates presence of carotenoids from fresh vegetation they feed on, such as grass and vegetables, the precursors of vitamin A.


Scavenging for feed is a major characteristic of free range/extensive poultry production systems. Birds are left free to forage and they usually manage to get a reasonably balanced diet. Nevertheless, their diet is restricted in quality and quantity to what they manage to find.             

                                    Chicken scavenging

Pullets and mature birds ought to be given enough time and space for scavenging in their surroundings daily. The best time for scavenging is during early morning and late afternoon when there are plenty of insects and less heat. Chicks below six weeks of age should be confined. Supplementary feeds should be offered in the morning and evening when the birds come back for the night. 

Under an intensive system, indigenous chicken may not be profitable due to high cost of feeds, however better returns will be attained if the feeding is supplemented alongside the scavenging. Lack of balanced feed will reduce resistance to diseases and parasites, and subsequently increase flock mortality (deaths). 

What to Feed?

The cheapest – and also often the best – way to supplement the diet of your poultry is to use local resources. 

If your production is based on improved breeds or hybrids for egg production, different types of commercial diets may be offered. These are divided into three distinct categories, with decreasing amount of protein as follows;

  1. a) Chick mash (or starter diet): high in protein; offered from day old up to 8 weeks (at 20-35g/ chick/ day).
  2. b) A growers’ diet/mash: medium in protein; offered from 9 weeks up to 18 weeks when they start dropping eggs; (at 80-100 g/bird/day);
  3. c) A layers’ diet/mash: medium in protein; offered to hens from when they start laying; (given at 120-140 g/bird/day). 

When buying commercial feeds for indigenous chicken, calculate whether it is profitable based on the market price for eggs or meat/live birds. If the product price is lower than the price of feed consumed by the birds it is not economical to offer commercial feeds. However, Indigenous chicks may be offered commercial diets profitably from day old to six weeks of age, for optimal performance. 

The mixing of chemicals or veterinary drugs in feed should be done on the advice of the farm veterinarian. Medicated feed should be stored separately from common feed. 

Simple Feed Mixing

In case of on farm feed preparation, raw materials or feed additive used should be safe and of quality. 

It is advisable to make a semi-balanced diet for the small chicks from 0-6 weeks of age. Locally available ingredients should be dried in the shade (the sun may destroy important vitamins) and grounded in a mortar before mixing. 

Ingredient Quantity

  1. Crushed maize/sorghum or millet 1 kg tin
  2. Wheat by-products/sorghum or millet bran 1 kg tin
  3. Sunflower/sesame/groundnut cake 2 match boxes
  4. Bone meal/salt mix 1 match boxes
  5. Blood or fish meal 2 match boxes
  6. Sesbania/leucaena leaves 2 match boxes

Termites or maggots may also be added during the first 8 weeks. 

In general mixed feeds should not be stored for more than a month to avoid contamination from mould, bacteria or rodents and quality deterioration. Above 8 weeks of age, poultry may be fed in a cafeteria system saving time and energy on mixing feeds. 

Cafeteria System

Adult birds are able to mix their own feed according to their needs. The best way to feed semi-intensively managed birds above 8 weeks of age is a cafeteria system, whereby various types of feeds are offered separately. In the cafeteria system, there should be at least one feeding compartment for:

  • Energy rich feeds, e.g. maize, millet, sorghum.
  • Protein rich feeds, e.g. beans, peas, oil cakes, fish, meat, bone meal, maggots, termites.
  • Mineral rich feeds, e.g. bone meal, burned eggshells.                    

                    Chicken on a cafeteria system of feeding

An additional compartment for oil rich feeds may be added, e.g. animal-based fat, oil cake meals, or fish oil. By giving adult birds feeds in compartments, observe their feeding behaviour and avoid feeding unnecessary amounts and types of feed. For example, during harvest seasons the birds may feed less on energy feeds in the evenings because there is plenty of cereal in the environment. 

How Much to Feed?42

Limit the quantity of feed offered to the birds daily to at least 30% to 50% of their full daily intake.

At day old to 4 weeks young chicks should receive feed according to their needs. As the birds grow, they will gradually get a smaller portion of what they need, until they only get between 1/3 and half of their needs as adults.

         Amount of feed intake at different ages of local poultry  

Age in weeks

Feed Intake/bird/day (g dry weight)
















Clean water should be provided at all times. Water should be clean, adequate, and located in an area free from contamination and easily accessible to all birds. 

Lack of water will reduce feed intake, seriously reduce growth and egg production. Chicken can also get diseases by drinking unclean water that may have water borne diseases and parasites. It is important that all feeders and drinkers are kept clean to avoid diseases. Mixing of chemicals or veterinary drugs in water for treatment should be under the supervision or advice of the farm veterinarian.

Equipment for chicken production

Equipment needed to improve chicken production include Feeders, drinkers, nests and Roosts/ Perches. 

Feeders: A good feeder should have the following characteristics;

  • Feed all your chicken with ease i.e. allow 8cm of space per chicken.
  • Not allow feed wastage i.e. should not tip over.
  • Not allow feed to get dirty.          

Good (Proper) feeders will minimize spillage and prevent feed wastage thereby reducing economic losses. 

Drinkers: A good drinker should have the following characteristics; 

  • Be easy to clean. 
  • Not spill water. 
  • Not allow chicks to fall into it and drown.

Good (Proper) drinkers will minimize spillage, improve hygiene, minimize chick losses due to drowning and will ensure chicken get access to adequate amounts of clean drinking water. 

Nests: A good nest should have the following characteristics;

  • Measure approximately 45cm in depth, width and height so as to provide enough room for the birds to hatch comfortably.
  • Be raised 50cm from the floor.

Proper nest will lead to clean egg collection and reduce predation of eggs by dogs, and other animals. 

Roosts/ Perches: A good roost should;

  • Be placed higher than nests (approximately 1 m high).
  • Be rounded for the chicken to grip well with their feet.

Cleaning and maintenance
Plant the grafted material at the onset of the rains, when rain water has properly penetrated the soil. 

Chicken houses should be cleaned and disinfected after moving the previous flock out and prior to the introduction of a new flock. 

After moving the previous flock out, the house should be kept vacant for a certain period of time prior to the introduction of new flock. 

The use of chemicals, disinfectants or hazardous substances in various operations should be in accordance with the instructions on the product label or the recommendations of the poultry farm veterinary supervisor.

Management of area for free range
Ensure availability of green feeds for scavenging to reduce costs. 

Free range area used for pasture or forage crops should be rotated or kept idle for a period of time.

In the case of insufficient supply of pasture or forage crops, additional feed from outside should be procured and hanged to the birds.

    Vegetable feed supplement


Handling of the day-old chick and management of the brooding program has a direct relationship on lifetime production of the bird.  

Why Brood?

A newly hatched chick has not developed the mechanism to regulate its body temperature. Therefore, it cannot maintain its body temperature properly for the first few weeks and is subject to chilling. Brooding will help to provide extra heat, from external sources to newly hatched chicks. When extra heat is not provided the chicks will not take sufficient feeds and water. This leads to retardation of growth and poor development of internal organs, responsible for digestion. 

Broodiness is undesirable if egg production is the aim and highly desirable when increasing flock size is the aim. 

Breaking broodiness

Indigenous technical measures of how to break broodiness for local chickens comprise:

  • Dipping the hens in cold water (cold brooding)
  • Foster brooding
  • Tying the hens to a post in the sun, or plucking the tail feathers
  • Isolating the hen in a small cage for 5 days with feed and water provided

Care for the broody hen should be given by providing a good nest (e.g. a broken pot), in a quiet place, out of reach of children and dogs, with some cereals and clean water put next to the brooding hen. The brooding hen should not be allowed to sit on more than 15 eggs, or on more than 10 bigger improved eggs. Brooding should be regulated such that the chicks are 2 months old at the onset of either the rainy season to make optimal use of the grains found in harvested fields. 

Foster brooding

Foster brooding is where some hens are selected to foster chicks from other hens. In this way the other hens can go back to laying. 

How do you select foster mothers?

Select hens with good mothering abilities i.e being able to search for food and take care of the chicks. Due to foster brooding, chicks learn how to scavenge for food, water and how to avoid predators by hiding or seeking shelter in bushes and trees. 

Cold brooding

In cold brooding, no heating is provided but insulation is used to keep the chicks warm. Some examples of cold brooding include: 

  • Hay box chick brooder

A Hay box brooder is a simple square box as shown below. 

It has a wire-mesh roof with a provision of a cover made of a sack filled with insulation material (hay/straw). Insulation is also provided on the walls of the hay box. 

The hay box provides the warmth required by the chicks and feeding is done on a separate run attached to the hay box. 

Hay box brooder is simple, easy to make and use. Since no heat is required, brooding costs are reduced. It can be used in different zones. 


  • It relieves the hens from long broody periods and enables them to come into laying within a shorter period.
  • It also ensures brooding of more chicks at a time, higher chick survival and hens lay more eggs in their lifetime. 

Basket brooder

Chicks are kept in a movable basket made from sticks, wire or reeds.

What happens to the hens after their chicks have been separated from them for foster and cold brooding?

The hens are prepared to go back to laying by breaking their broodiness.

Shortening the reproductive cycle

Table 1 compares normal and shortened reproductive cycles.

Hens lay eggs earlier, doubling the number of clutches per hen per year while the

improved management increases survival rates from 2-6. 

Table 1. Normal and shortened reproductive cycles

Normal cycle

Laying Setting Brooding Resting Total

15-20 days 21 days 60 days 0 days 101 days

15 eggs 10 eggs 8 chicks 2 growers

Shortened cycle

15-20 days 21 days 0 days 10 days 61 days

15 eggs 10 eggs 8 chicks 6 growers 

Natural incubation

The eggs selected for incubation should be:

  • of average size and normal shape for the breed;
  • of smooth un-cracked shell;
  • stored at cool temperatures, below 20º C;
  • fresh, no more than 10 days old.
no more than 5 days old if the temperature is higher than  20º C.

Store the eggs in a cool and humid place until incubation. A box on the floor of the coolest part of the house can serve the purpose. If there are cracks in the shell, the loss of moisture from the egg can be too high and the embryo may die. There is also the risk of bacteria entering the egg, which may lead to unhealthy or dead embryos. 

Always check for fertile and infertile eggs during incubation. Fertile eggs very quickly develop blood vessels, which may be seen against a sharp light from a torch after 7–10 days (candling). Remove infertile eggs and eggs with dead embryos  from the nest. 

Fertility of eggs can be checked by candling

Select eggs that are smooth and have no cracks as shown below

Immediately after all hens hatch, distribute chicks to fewer hens giving each hen 30-40 chicks.

Hatching and care for the chicks

Hatching percentages of 85% are normal, and values of 75-80% are considered satisfactory. 

Often a free-range hen will lay the first eggs at the age of 22-28 weeks and lay 3-4 clutches of 10-15 eggs a year, depending on season, and in particular availability of feeds. 

Chicks should remain warm and should not get wet. It is bad practice to put the chicks with the chickens in a night house, particularly when ducks are also kept there because they will become diseased and infested more easily. 

Chicks can be kept together with the mother hen in a box lined with gum, for instance under the bed or in a coop. 

Where birds of prey are rampant, white chicks may be stained red, to reduce their visibility from the predators. Some shading in the homestead will give chicks and chickens an opportunity to flee from such predators.

Reducing chick mortality

The single most negative parameter in chicken rearing is mortality. Chick mortality is always present, with peaks in the rainy season due to disease. 

Keep the chicks warm and dry to improve their health.

Mortality of adult chickens is connected with epidemics, like an outbreak of Newcastle disease, Fowl pox, fowl cholera, coccidiosis and Marek’s disease. It is also important to undertake routine vaccinations of these diseases.

Genetic up-grading

Crossing the local chicken with exotic cockerels has resulted into the famous KALRO Kienyeji Chicken, which produces more eggs per laying cycle. 

Domestic (local) chickens are small, and hens get broody quickly, which limits the number of eggs laid to about 30 per hen per year. But local chickens have characters inherited from the wild fowl that improve their chances of survival under village conditions. It is generally considered wise to maintain sufficient of these domestic characteristics by crossing local birds with exotic ones such as Rhode Island Red, Australorp, White Leghorn, White Sussex, Barred, Plymouth Rock, etc. Crossing of village chickens with exotic birds’ results into improved chickens such as the famous KALRO Kienyeji Chicken and Kuroiler, which are bigger and more productive than the local ones. 

The technical possibilities to introduce exotic genes into the chicken population of a village are implemented by means of: cockerels, pullets, day-old chicks, fertile eggs, and semen.

Exotic fertile eggs

Hatching percentages of 85% are normal, and values of 75-80% are considered satisfactory. 

A shed houses 300 layers and 30 cocks, and production per layer per year is 140 fertile eggs. At 84 % hatchability, the resultant day-old chicks will be 117 (per bird). 

At a mortality rate of 10% per month, after half a year, only 62 birds will remain as adult birds (half cocks, half layers). 

The production capacity of the shed thus is 31cocks/birdx300 birds= 9,300 exotic cocks and an equal number of pullets per year.

Exotic day old chicks

Fertile eggs and proper incubation will enhance production capacity.


As mentioned above, 300 layers will each produce 140 fertile eggs per year. Hatching them in the incubator will give 98 day-old chicks, of which after half a year 52 remain.

The production capacity of the shed is thus 7,800 cocks and an equal number of pullets per year. 

Exotic cockerels
A proper ratio of cocks to hens and cockerel exchange system is necessary to enhance flock productivity and performance. 

A shed can house 800 young cockerels and 800 young pullets till 2 months of age. 

The shed is not entirely available because a few layers and cocks have to produce the necessary eggs: 18 layers and 2 cocks, producing 2,300 eggs, of which 70% will hatch in the incubator. They use only 7% of the floor space. 

The remaining 93% of floor space can house 744 young cockerels and 744 young pullets. 

After 2 months, pullets and, taking mortality in the shed into account, some of the cockerels can be culled. 

Five hundred cockerels of 6 months can be distributed twice a year, bringing the production capacity of the shed at 1,000 cockerels per year (plus a number of young pullets and some young cockerels).

Exotic breeds for consideration to improve local chicken

Hybrid chickens, that would involve the recurrent purchase of new stock, obviously are out of question for village chicken management 

Which is to be preferred depends on the purpose of chicken keeping. Is it consumption or selling?

What gives more profit in terms of nutrition or financial proceeds? 

We can adopt as point of departure for a comparison: 100 eggs. Under village conditions, this will give 84 chicks, of which 44 chickens of 6 months will remain. 

It is not difficult to see that the market value or the nutritional value of 100 eggs is far less than of 44 grown chickens. So, rearing chicks to maturity is far more profitable than selling or using the eggs. 

There are however two conditions that must be fulfilled to make this statement true:

  • The costs for rearing chickens should not exceed the difference in market value, and
  • Rearing chickens from fertile eggs to grown birds should be feasible. In practice, under the conditions in the villages, this means that the chicks should be able to scavenge their food during a period of six months and that care for and management of the chickens should bring only low costs. 

Where rearing broilers is to be preferred, the breed should be true to type. 

Therefore, White Leghorn is less suited than the fleshier, coloured breeds such as Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, Australorp and the like. 

The advantage of bigger and fleshier chickens is their faster growth, as they reach a desired size earlier, eg. KALRO Kienyeji chicken or kuroiler. 

In Western Kenya, young broilers of that size are preferred because the parts, e.g. drumsticks, cost less and because cooking time will be short. 

Making hens hatch frequently

Improved nutrition can raise the average number of eggs laid per clutch by 100 per cent and successful hatching depends on how they are taken care of from laying till setting. 

The broad end of an egg has an air sac through which the egg breathes. Eggs should be stored with the broad end facing upwards. The egg shell is porous (has little holes which if blocked may suffocate the embryo [baby chick]). Since fertile eggs grow slowly, eggs that are more than 14 days old should not be used for hatching. 

  1. a) Synchronization (Making several hens hatch at the same time) 

How is it done?

Identify hens that start laying within the same time. When these hens that started laying within the same week reach broodiness, the 1st hen to reach this stage can be delayed by being given one egg or dummy eggs to sit on. This can be repeated for the 2nd and 3rd hens so that finally all the hens are set on one day. Give enough eggs to each hen when the last hen is ready to sit on eggs and remove the dummies. 

How to make dummy eggs?: Make a dummy egg by drilling a hole on the 1st egg layed and emptying the content; Clean the shell and let it dry; Fill the shell with sand to add weight and cover the hole with tape; May also mould an egg using mud or stone. 

Select eggs for hatching based on the following:

  • Clean, Normal shape for particular breed,
  • At least 40g,
  • Less than 10 days old. 

Eggs must be fertile, and to ensure this, you need one cock for every 10 – 15 hens. 

Caution: Distribute chicks at night in the dark so that mother hen receiving the chicks does not notice it. 

  1. b) Relay brooding (Making hens sit on more than one batch of eggs in succession). 

How is it done?

  • Select hens with good characteristics such as size and use them for hatching.
  • When the eggs hatch, remove the chicks at night and replace them with a fresh batch of eggs.

After a laying cycle, a hen will rest for 3 weeks and resume laying. 

  1. c) Use surrogate mother hens (Serial hatching) 
  • Use turkeys, ducks or guinea fowls. 
  • May sit on between 30-50 eggs compared to hens. 
  1. d) Remove chicks after hatching and brood artificially

Remove chicks immediately or a few days after hatching from any hen that hatches and brood them artificially. Chicks of different ages may be brooded together. 

Feed the hens well and will start laying again after 3 weeks. 

Hatching and care for the chicks

Hatching percentages of 85% are normal, and values of 75-80% are considered satisfactory. 

Often a free-range hen will lay the first eggs at the age of 22-28 weeks and lay 3-4 clutches of 10-15 eggs a year, depending on season, and in particular availability of feeds. 

Chicks should remain warm and should not get wet. It is bad practice to put the chicks with the chickens in a night house, particularly when ducks are also kept there because they will become diseased and infested more easily. 

Chicks can be kept together with the mother hen in a box lined with gum, for instance under the bed or in a coop. 

Where birds of prey are rampant, white chicks may be stained red, to reduce their visibility from the predators. Some shading in the homestead will give chicks and chickens an opportunity to flee from such predators.

Pest/Disease prevention

Preventive control for pests and diseases is important to avoid undue losses due to outbreaks. 

Preventive control and disinfection of vehicles, tools and equipment, personnel and visitors prior to entry and exit should be in place. 

Animal health management and use of veterinary drugs and vaccination programmes should be under guidance and supervision of a veterinarian. 

In case of disease outbreak or doubt of any disease incidence, Animal Epidemic Act and the recommendations of the Department of Livestock Development should be followed.

Disease  control and treatment

For good productivity and profitability, chickens should be kept as healthy as possible. 

Diseases kill, interfere with normal growth, reduce productivity (eggs/ meat) and lead to heavy losses if not controlled.

The following are the Common poultry diseases and their management practices: 

  1. Newcastle Disease

Cause: Viral infection. It causes respiratory nervous disorder in chickens and other birds.

Symptoms: Coughing, gasping, nasal discharge, murky eyes , Drooping wings, Paralysis, Twisting of head and neck, Swelling of head, Greenish/watery diarrhoea, High mortality.                   

Effects to birds: Death in high numbers, Drop in egg production, Blood spots in eggs, Rough/shell-less egg, reduced hatchability.

Management & Control: Quarantines and Vaccination. 

  1. Gumboro

Cause: Viral infection. Ages severely affected 14 -28 days; signs commonest at 4-6 weeks of life. Virus resistant in houses and droppings.

Symptoms: Vent pecking, Diarrhoea with urate in mucus, Sudden death. PM-Skeletal bleeding, Swollen Bursa of Fabricious, Dehydration, Swollen kidneys with urates.

Effects to birds: Moderate deaths, Secondary infections.

Management & Control:  Vaccination as scheduled. 

  1. Fowl pox

Cause: Viral


  • Cutaneous form: Nodular lesions or non-feathered skin.
  • Diphtheritic form: Lesions on mucus membranes of mouth, oesophagus, pharynx and trachea. 

Effects to birds: Retarded growth; Decreased egg production; Low or moderate mortalities.

Management & Control: Vaccinations and Quarantine. 

  1. Infectious Bronchitis

Cause: Viral.

Symptoms:  Sneezing, snoring, and coughing. Secretions from nose and eyes; Laying ceases.                            

Management & Control: Virus is easily destroyed by heat and ordinary disinfectants; Vaccination. 

  1. Infectious Coryza

Cause: Bacteria; Survives for 2-3 days outside the bird but is easily killed by heat, drying and disinfectant.

Symptoms: Incubation period of 1-3 days, fast spread of disease to the whole flock. Facial swelling; Purulent ocular and nasal discharge; Sneezing and dyspnoea.                           

Effects to birds: Loss of condition; Drop in egg production; Low mortality.

Management & Control:  Use Antibiotics; Flouroquinolones, might prevent carriers; Keep Coryza-free birds; Proper management of the flock. 

  1. Fowl Typhoid

Cause: Bacteria

Symptoms: In chicks- acute infections with sudden deaths of up to 90%; Vent pasting with chalky white excreta; depression, ruffled feathers, poor appetite, labored breathing, and diarrhoea causing feces to stick to the vent.                              

FT has a similar presentation and diagnosis to pullorum disease, except that FT is more likely to occur in adult chickens.

Effects to birds: High death up to 90%; Poor growth; Poor feathering of survivors; Decreases egg Production.

Management & Control: Antibiotic and Vaccination 

  1. Fowl Cholera

Cause: pasteurella avicida, a bacteria.

Symptoms: Yellowish colouration on birds droppings, followed by yellowish or greenish diarrhoea. Infected birds become droopy, feverish and sleepy. They struggle to breathe and have a darkened head or wattle. Birds also sit with the head down or turned backwards or rested in feathers about the wing.

Management & Control:

  • Destroy/burn birds with acute type.
  • Clean and disinfect house.
  • Use recommended sulphur drugs for treatment. 
  1. Coccidiosis

Cause: Coccidia, a protozoan with several species

Symptoms: Bloody stained droppings or yellowish diarrhoea; High mortality around the 6-8th week of life.

Effects to birds: Impaired feed utilization or conversion; Uneven growth; High death rates; Low production.

Management & Control:

  • Outbreaks treated immediately using coccidiostats
  • Avoid contamination of feeds and water by droppings
  • Avoid wet-litter
  • Avoid over-crowding
  • Coccidiostats mixed in feeds for young flocks. 
  1. Bumblefoot

Cause: The disease is acquired when a wound in a chickens foot gets infected

Symptoms: Infected wound swells up the leg.                           

Management & Control: Wash and disinfect the wound to prevent the disease from setting up.

  1. Internal parasites

Cause: Several worms. Infestation with e.g Round worms, Ascarides, Cestodes, Tapeworms

Symptoms: Loss of body condition; Death in heavy infestations.

Effects to birds: Downgrading of eggs - Loss of shell colour, strength, yolk colour and egg size; Poor weight gain, poor feed conversion; Increased cannibalism via vent pecking due to straining.

Management & Control: Use appropriate dewormers e.g. Fenbendazole, Piperazine or Levamisole; Strict sanitation; Segregate birds by age group; Clean house before introduction of new batch.

  1. External parasites

Cause: Mites, Fleas, Lice and Ticks

Symptoms: Uncomfortable- Scratching, pecking, irritation, blood loss, loss of feathers

Effects to birds: Retarded growth; Reduced egg production; Damaged plumage; Death.

Management & Control: Use appropriate acaricides e.g. Synthetic Pyrethroid, Organophosphates; Ensure strict hygiene.

Vaccination and medication

Vaccinate chicks against the most important diseases and revaccinate if necessary. 

Vaccinations are possible against Newcastle disease, fowl pox, fowl cholera and Marek’s disease. The vaccine should be diluted with cold distilled water. Measuring 100 ml for 1 vial can be done accurately only with difficulty. 

Isolate and treat sick birds – if medication is not available then kill and bury the sick bird.

Animal welfare

Adhere to animal welfare regulations when raising chickens

Different species of poultry, for example hens, turkeys, pigeons, ducks and guinea fowls should be kept separate. Separate chicks from adult birds except from the mother hen. 

Chicken should be raised in an appropriate living condition. In case of sickness, injury, crippling or culling off, chickens shall be treated in an appropriate manner not causing any sufferings.


Keep the environment clean and safe when raising chicken. 

Garbage, trash and feces should be disposed of or managed by an appropriate and hygienic method to prevent any impact to environment. 

In case of discharging farm effluent to public water sources, the effluent should be treated prior to releasing from farm. 

In case of infected garbage, such garbage shall be segregated and destroyed in a proper way as determined by the farm veterinarian.

Record keeping

Proper records are the basis of good farm/enterprise management

Data on the important operations of farm management affecting health, productivity and disease control shall be recorded, covering personnel management, production management, as well as disease prevention, control and treatment.


FAO, 1999. Good practices in small scale poultry production: A manual for trainers and producers in East Africa. FAO ECTAD Regional Unit Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya (1999). 

Farrell, D. 2000. A Simple Guide to Managing Village Poultry in South Africa. The University of Queenland, Australia, 56pp. ISBN 0 620 26105 6.
Moran, F.T. 1996. Success in Poultry Keeping (for Food, Income, Work and Education). 4th Impression. Longman, Harare, Zimbabwe, 128pp. ISBN: 0 908310 005.
Oosterwijk, G., van Aken, D. and Vongthilath, S. 2003. A Manual on Improved Rural Poultry Production. 1st Edition. Department of Livestock and Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Vientiane, Lao PDR. VII + 115pp. ISBN: 974-91217-9-1