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Citation of this paper

Chicken consumption at a mountain village in Northern Thailand

T Masuno

National Museum of Ethnology, 10-1 Senri Expo Park, Suita, Osaka 565-8511, Japan
masuno_takashi@goo.jp

Abstract

This case study is intended to clarify the amount of chickens consumed per month in households of a Mien village in Northern Thailand, and to identify the purposes of chicken consumption and the means of chicken acquisition.  The results were compared with four previous studies of other regions. 

 

The average number of adult chickens raised per household was 12.2.  During a 13-month period, household A consumed 45 fowls (3.5 fowls per month).  Seven fowls were consumed in August 2005 and March 2006, none in November 2005, and one in September 2005, indicating wide variation in monthly chicken consumption.  The months in which large numbers of chickens were consumed corresponded to annual and occasional ceremonies in which all villagers participated.  Household consumption, consumption for rituals, and gifts accounted for 6.7%, 88.9% and 4.4% of total chicken consumption, respectively.  Rearing within the household, purchases, and gifts accounted for 77.8%, 13.3%, and 8.9% of total chicken acquisition, respectively. 

 

This case study indicates that chicken consumption is characterized by the consumption for rituals of fowls reared within the household.

Key words: monthly consumption, ritual consumption, sacrifice, small-scale, village chicken consumption


Introduction

It is pointed out that small-scale poultry production has played important roles in not only household subsistence but also household economy at rural areas (Sonaiya and Swan 2004).  Research on household chicken consumption in small-scale poultry production has focused on clarifying the amount and purpose of chicken consumption.  Dessie and Ogle (2001) and Henning et al (2007) quantified annual chicken consumption on a household basis. Little attention, however, has been given to monthly chicken consumption and factors affecting its variation.  The previous work of Akililu et al (2007) showed the monthly variation of chicken consumption and pointed out that the amount of household chicken consumption increased in line with religious festivals.

 

The purposes of chicken consumption (utilization) include household consumption, ritual (sacrifice), gifts, and sale.  Previous studies have reported high proportions for each purpose, including a high proportion of household consumption (Gondwe and Wollny 2007), high proportions of both household consumption and sale (Henning et al 2007), high proportions for sale and ritual (Dessie and Ogle 2001) and a high proportion offered for sale (Kondombo et al 2003).  These studies suggest that chickens are consumed for multiple purposes, and that the combination of purposes differs according to the region.

 

The objectives of this study were to clarify the amount of chickens consumed per month in households of a Mien village in Northern Thailand, and to identify the purposes of chicken consumption and the means of chicken acquisition. The results were compared with four previous studies of other regions.

 

Materials and methods 

Study area

 

This study took place in Pha Daeng Village, located 950 m above sea level in Phayao Province, Northern Thailand (1928'05.N, 10028'14.E).  The village is located in the watershed area of the Ing River, a branch of the Mekong River.  Its population in August 2007 was 130 people in 21 households.  The village is about one hour’s journey from the nearest town. Villagers subsist on agriculture on the hillsides.  They grow upland rice for subsistence and hybrid maize for sale.  Each household also raises chickens and pigs in its backyard.

 

Chicken raising in study village

 

The villagers mainly raised chickens native to Northern Thailand, called kai muwang in the Thai language.  Nobody offers chickens for sale on the market.

 

Table 1 shows the average number of adult chickens raised by each household in the village, together with egg batch size and weight.  All 21 households in the village raised chickens.  The average number of adult chickens per household was 12.2 fowls (4.9 cocks and 7.3 hens). The average number of eggs per batch, weight of eggs per batch and weight of individual eggs were 11.8 eggs, 441.2 g and 37.4 g, respectively.


Table 1.   Average numbers of chickens raised in each household in the village, and egg batch size and weight

Category

Mean

Median

SD

Range

Sample size

Chickens*1, fowl/hh

 

 

 

 

 

Total

12.2

9.0

6.9

4-30

21

Cocks

4.9

4.0

3.6

1-13

21

Hens

7.3

6.0

3.7

2-17

21

Eggs*2

 

 

 

 

 

Batch size, egg/batch

11.8

11.0

3.9

7-18

5

Weight, g/batch

441.2

417.5

143.7

249.5-685.0

5

Weight, g/egg

37.4

37.5

3.2

26.5-44.5

59

SD: Standard deviationhh: household
*1 Chickens are limited to adult birds, cocks and hens.*2 Eggs were weighed by using an electronic balance, which can weigh up to 3 kg with to an accuracy of 0.1 g.Sources: Interviews with the owners concerning numbers of chickens, and weighing eggs directly in August 2007

All chickens were free range during the day. They were fed on rice bran and maize.  Although all households reared chickens, only 16 households out of 21 possessed chicken houses. Some chickens slept on tree branches at night, with at least two households using tree branches as the main sleeping place for their chickens.

 

For the reasons described above, the production system of the study village is classified as a “Backyard Extensive System” partly combined with a “Free-Range Extensive System” according to Bessei's classification (as cited in Sonaiya and Swan 2004).

 

Rituals in the study village

 

The villagers belong to the Mien (Yao), one of the hill tribes of Thailand.  They have an animistic faith with Taoist influences, and use chickens and pig as sacrifices in their rituals (Kacha-Ananda 1997).  After the end of a ritual, the sacrificed chicken is consumed in a feast or by household members.  Rituals in which chickens are sacrificed therefore offer a good opportunity for villagers to eat their fowl.

 

Rituals in the study village were classified as small or large according to whether the participants were on a household or village level, or whether or not they were annual ceremonies.  Small rituals included rituals that took place as needed within each household; including rituals for ancestor worship and praying for good fortune.  Large rituals were annual and occasional ceremonies in which all villagers participated; including the annual Mien July 14 ceremony and Mien New Year's ceremonies as well as occasional ceremonies for weddings and funerals etc. [The Mien July 14 ceremony and Mien New Year’s ceremony have the main aim of ancestor worship, and take place every year on July 14 and January 1 of the lunar calendar.  Both ceremonies last for about two weeks. The dates of these festivals in the corresponding solar calendar were August 18, 2005 and January 29, 2006]

 

Data collection

 

The research took place over a total of 13 months from March 2005 to April 2006, excluding May 2005. Household A consisted of 3 persons:  a father and mother and their son.  The author stayed in household A and conducted direct observation of chicken consumption.  Household A kept a total of 12 adult fowls in November 2006 and seven adult fowls in August 2007. A wedding ceremony took place in household A in May 2006.

 

The author attended the slaughter of chickens as frequently as possible and also investigated the purpose of chicken consumption, the means of its acquisition, its price, and its weight.  If the author could not attend the slaughter of a chicken, the householder was requested to answer survey questions to complete the data.

 

The purposes of chicken consumption by household A included household consumption, rituals, and gifts. “Household consumption” indicates that chicken consumption in the household took purpose without any ritual, for the sole purpose of eating. “Ritual” indicates chicken consumption for sacrifice, including ceremonial use.  “Gift” indicates chickens presented to other households, or offered to visitors and agricultural workers.

 

Chickens were weighed by using a spring scale with a maximum weight of 5 kg and accurate to within 20 g.

 

Results 

Monthly chicken consumption and its variation

 

Household A consumed 45 fowls during the 13 months from March 2005 to April 2006.  The average number of chickens consumed was 3.5 fowls per month (SD = 2.1, n = 13), and the average weight of chicken consumed was 1.09 kg per fowl (SD = 0.36, n = 25).

 

Figure 1 shows the monthly number of chickens consumed for each purpose by household A from March 2005 to April 2006.  A monthly maximum of seven chickens was consumed in August 2005 and March 2006. On the other hand, no chickens were consumed in November 2005 (the study minimum), one in September 2005, and two in June 2005 and December 2005.  This indicates wide variation in the monthly number of chickens consumed. 



NA: Not Available
Note: Household consumption did not involve any rituals.
Gifts comprised offerings to visitors (March) and to agricultural workers (January).
Source: Direct observation by the author


Figure 1.
 Monthly chicken consumption by purpose in household A from March 2005 to April 2006


Purpose of chicken consumption

 

Consumption for rituals was observed every month, excluding November 2005 (Figure 1).  Household consumption, on the other hand, was observed three times (June, October, and December 2005; one fowl consumed each time) and consumption for a gift twice (March 2005 and January 2006; one fowl consumed each time).  Chickens were never consumed for both household and gift purposes during the same month.

 

Household consumption, consumption for rituals, and consumption for gifts were three fowls (6.7%), 40 fowls (88.9%) and two fowls (4.4%), respectively (Figure 1).  About 90% of chickens were consumed for ritual purposes.  The custom of using chickens as a gift existed in the study village.

 

Table 2 shows the numbers and proportions of chickens consumed in small and large rituals.  These accounted for 52.5% and 47.5% of chicken consumption, respectively.  Small rituals included rituals for ancestor worship and for praying for good fortune, healing from illness, and a good agricultural harvest. More chickens were consumed in small rituals than in large.   


Table 2.  Numbers and proportions of chickens consumed in small and large rituals

Type

Variety of ritual

Number of chickens consumed

Proportion, %

Small ritual*1

Rituals for ancestor worship and praying for good fortune, good agricultural harvest, etc.

21

52.5

Large ritual*2

Mien July 14 ceremony

6

15

Mien New Year's ceremony

7

17.5

Wedding ceremony

6

15

Total

40

100

*1 Small rituals were rituals that took place as needed in each household.
*2 Large rituals were annual and occasional ceremonies in which all villagers participated.
Source: Direct observation by author.


Large rituals included the Mien July 14 ceremony, Mien New Year's ceremony, and a wedding ceremony, during which six , seven, and six fowls were consumed, respectively.  The two months in which the Mien July 14 ceremony (August 2005) and the wedding ceremony (March 2006) took place saw the greatest numbers of chickens consumed during the research period (Figure 1).  Six fowls were consumed during the Mien New Year’s ceremony (January 2006), however, but the number of chickens consumed was not significant in Figure 1.  This is because the ceremony extended across two months (January and February 2006).

 

Means of chicken acquisition

 

Figure 2 shows how chickens consumed in household A were acquired.  Means of acquisition include rearing within the household, purchase, and gift, which accounted for 77.8%, 13.3% and 8.9% of fowls, respectively. The degree of self-sufficiency in chicken consumption of household A was about 80 %.  



Source: Direct observation by author.


Figure 2.
  How chickens were acquired that were consumed in household A from March 2005 to April 2006.


Out of six chickens purchased, five were purchased from another village and one from within the study village. The price of chicken was 80 baht per kg ($1 was equivalent to about 40 baht in January 2006). This price was based on the price of chicken in the other village. Live chickens were sold according to need, but household A did not sell any chickens during this research period. Moreover, household A sometimes bought cooked chicken such as fried chicken at the market, but never purchased uncooked chicken.

 

Of the two chickens acquired as gifts, one was received from the household of their son within the study village and one from their daughter living in another village.

 

Discussion 

Monthly chicken consumption and means of acquisition

 

Table 3 shows the average number of chickens consumed per month and the proportion of chickens used for each purpose according to five studies: this case study (case study 1) and four previous case studies (case studies 2, 3, 4, and 5). 


Table 3.  Monthly average chicken consumption and proportions by purpose in five case studies

Case study No.

Country

Number of subject hh[hh]*1

Research period, months

Monthly average chicken consumption, fowls/hh

Proportion of each purpose for chicken consumption, %]

Source

Household consumption

Ritual

Gift to somebody

Sale

1

Thailand (North)

1

13

3.5

6.7

88.9

4.4

0*6

This study

2

Myanmar (Yangon division)

296

12

1.4

45.5

0

0

54.5

Henning et al 2007*2

3

Ethiopia (Highland)

30

12

0.7

25.0

37.5

0

37.5

Dessie and Ogle 2001*3

4

Burkina Faso (Central region)

No description (Sampling from the village with 1540 inhabitants)

2

1.2

0

8.7

30.4

60.9

Kondombo et al 2003*3

5

Malawi

No description (Sampling from 27 villages)

12

No description

51.0

25.0*4

8.0*5

17.0

Gondwe and Wolly 2007*3

*1 hh: household
*2 Based on this research result, the author recalculated the chicken weight as 1.09 kg per fowl.
*3 Proportions for each purpose were recalculated by the author.
*4 Described as ceremonial use
*5 Including providing or exchanging breeding stock with other farmers (7%).
*6 No sale of chickens was observed in case study 1, but chickens are sold in the village according to need.


Average chicken consumption per month was 0.7-1.4 fowls in case studies 2, 3 and 4.  The present study, however, indicated chicken consumption of 3.5 fowls per month. Chicken consumption was clearly far greater in case study 1 than in the previous three case studies. This was because household A consumed chicken not only during large rituals, but also during small rituals that took place almost every month.  Of the chickens consumed, nearly 80% were reared within household A itself (Figure 2).

 

Factors influencing monthly variation in chicken consumption

 

The household-level study carried out in the Tigray region of Ethiopia revealed that household chicken consumption increased in the months including the religious festivals of Easter and Christmas (Aklilu et al 2007). Case study 1 showed a similar tendency, in that chicken consumption increased in the months during which large rituals (the Mien July 14 ceremony and wedding ceremony) took place.  Additionally, case study 1 showed that chicken consumption increased not only during annual ceremonies but also according to occasional ceremonies.

 

Aklilu et al (2007) also pointed out that chicken consumption was small in the two months before Easter and three months before Christmas.  In household A, no chicken was consumed in November 2005, when the household was busy harvesting upland rice and maize. Two chickens were consumed in June 2005, when the household was busy with seeding of upland rice and maize. Three chickens were consumed in July 2005, the month before the Mien July 14 ceremony, and two in December 2005, the month before the Mien New Year’s ceremony. It appears that Household A reduced its chicken consumption in July and December 2005 to make provision for large rituals. 

 

It is possible that chicken consumption is reduced not only in the months before large rituals but also in agriculturally busy seasons and during the months following large rituals.

 

Characteristic of chicken consumption in this study

 

Chicken consumption in small-scale chicken production is divided into four main purposes: household consumption, rituals, gifts, and sale (Table 3).  The proportion of chickens consumed for each purpose was different in each case study.  In case study 1, the proportion of household consumption was 6.7%. In case studies 2, 3, and 5, however, it was 25-51%.  No household consumption was observed in case study 4. Excluding that study, case study 1 had the smallest proportion of household consumption of any of the studies considered.   

 

In case study 1, chicken consumption for rituals accounted for 88.9% of consumption. In case studies 3, 4, and 5, however, it was 8.7-25%. No consumption for ritual purposes was observed in case study 2. In comparison with the four other studies, the most obvious feature of case study 1 is that nearly 90% of chickens were consumed for rituals. 

 

In case study 1, chicken consumption as gifts is very low (4.4%).  The amount was far higher in other case studies, however, such as case study 4 in which it accounted for 30.4% of chickens consumed. 

 

The sale of chickens was not observed in case study 1, although chicken sales were very common in the other four studies. The fact that chicken sales were of very little importance is the second obvious feature of case study 1. 

 

Conclusions 

Acknowledgements 

I thank the villagers of Ban Pha Daeng for their help with my field research. I also thank Professor Kazunobu IKEYA for giving me many suggestions for carrying out fieldwork and improving my draft paper. I also acknowledge Dr. Kazuyuki WATANABE, who read the draft paper and offered useful commentsThis research was conducted as a part of the Human-Chicken Multi-Relationships Research (HCMR) Project. Part of this study was presented as an oral presentation at the HCMR Congress held in Tokyo in May 2006.  I am also grateful to congress participants who offered advice and comments on this research.

 

References 

Aklilu H A, Almekinders C J M, Udo H M J and Van der Zijpp A J 2007 Village poultry consumption and marketing in relation to gender, religious festivals and market access. Tropical Animal Health and Production 39: 165-177

 

Dessie T and Ogle B 2001 Village poultry production systems in the central highland of Ethiopia. Tropical Animal Health and Production 33: 521-537

 

Gondwe T N and Wollny C B A 2007 Local chicken production system in Malawi: Household flock structure, dynamics, management and health. Tropical Animal Health and Production 39: 103-113

 

Henning J, Pym R, Hla T, Kyaw N, and Meers J 2007 Village chicken production in Myanmar: purpose, magnitude and major constraints. World's Poultry Science Journal 63: 308-322

 

Kacha-Ananda C 1997 Thailand Yao: Past, Present, and Future. Institute for the study of languages and cultures of Asia and Africa. Tokyo

 

Kondombo S R, Nianogo A J, Kwakkel R P, Udo H M Y and Slingerland M 2003 Comparative Analysis of Village Chicken Production in Two Farming Systems in Burkina Faso. Tropical Animal Health and Production 35: 563-574

 

Sonaiya E B and Swan S E J 2004 Small-Scale Poultry Production: Technical Guide. Food and Agriculture Organization. Rome http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y5169e/y5169e00.htm



Received 14 November 2007; Accepted 30 December 2007; Published 1 March 2008

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