Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (3) 2010 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Village poultry production in Serowe-Palapye sub-district of Botswana

J C Moreki

Department of Animal Production, Private Bag 0032, Gaborone, Botswana


A study was conducted to assess the performance of village production in Chobe district. A total of 95 village chicken rearers were studied in Serowe, Palapye and Maunatlala. Data collection was by formal and informal interviews, group interviews and direct observation. Secondary sources of data were also reviewed. School children revealed more information on village systems than adults.


The national village poultry population was estimated to be about 3.5 million. Village poultry were kept by most rural households in Serowe-Palapye sub-district. Rural families kept village chickens to supplement diet, as source of income and for greeting visitors. Sixty-six percent of the rearers owned 1-20 birds and mean flock size across the villages was 18 birds. Village hens produce three clutches (15.454.53 eggs per clutch) in a year and hatchability was estimated to be 81.90%.


Low input husbandry methods contributed to high mortality in village chickens. However, the main constraint to village chicken rearing was Newcastle disease (ND), which frequently causes serious mortalities. Losses from other factors, especially predation, accounted for 35%. Traditional disease control remedies predominated. The productivity of village chickens is likely to be improved by allowing chickens to breed during low disease and predation risk periods (e.g., winter and autumn) and by confining birds during high risk periods (e.g., spring and summer months). There is need for new extension strategies that encourage farmers and scientists to work together to promote village chicken rearing.

Keywords: diseases, feeding, health management, Newcastle disease, predators, Tswana chickens


Of all livestock reared, poultry (chickens) are the most widespread in Botswana as almost every rural family owns chickens, which provide a valuable source of family protein and additional income. Production from village chickens continues to be in demand to meet local needs. According to Reddy (1991), the main poultry production systems world-wide can be broadly classified into: (a) backyard (village) scavenging systems, (b) small-scale commercial systems, and (c) large-scale commercial farms with modern technology. Village poultry production is an old system based on small flocks and minimum production inputs. The birds are mostly of a local, native type (indigenous) that roam the farms or village freely in search of feed. They are occasionally provided with home-grown grains and minimum shelter.


Village poultry represent an important system for supplying the fast growing human population with high quality protein and providing additional income to resource-poor small farmers, especially women (Guye 2009). Village chickens are also important for healing rituals. Generally, village chickens are owned and managed by women and children, and often essential part of female-headed households (Ahlers et al 2009). A study was conducted to investigate the village poultry rearing systems in Serowe-Palapye sub-district, with a view to increasing the benefits to poultry farmers. The objectives of the field research were to study the village poultry systems; describe the village poultry systems and to identify constraints and opportunities for improvement.


Materials and methods 

The main methods used in obtaining data on the farming systems were informal and some formal surveys. Data collection was by formal and informal interviews, group interviews and direct observation. Secondary sources of data were also reviewed. Through these methods, data were obtained on rearing, feeding, rearing, overall productivity and sales of village poultry in the sub-district.


Results and discussion 

The poultry species reared in the three villages are presented in Table 1. Ninety-five percent of respondents kept single species of poultry (94% chickens and 1% ducks) while the remainder (5%) kept more than one species (Table 1). The average flock size per household was 18 birds and 66% of the rearers owned 1-20 birds. Chickens were mainly of the native Tswana type, with different colours of plumage. However, some exotic blood was present in indigenous birds as a result of indiscriminate cross breeding with commercial breeds.

Table 1.  Poultry species distribution by households in three villages in Botswana


No. of households

% of households







Chickens and pigeons



Chickens and ducks



Chickens and geese






Although the roles played by village chickens were manifold, they were kept mainly for family consumption (100%), as a source of income (65%), for greeting visitors (55%), as a hobby (14%) and for other reasons such as barter, religion and healing rituals (12%). It was apparent that chickens were an important hedge against unexpected cash needs, such as medical and school fees. One or more chickens were sold to meet such emergency expenses.


Village chickens played a role in religion and traditional medicine and in cleaning up wastes in villages, by picking up grains that spilt during pounding and threshing. The white portion of chicken droppings was mixed with water to treat measles in humans. The mixture of herbs, blood, viscera and meat from chickens was reported to be effective in treating intestinal worms (e.g., tapeworms) in children, epilepsy, and male sterility. Blood from the smallest digit of a young black chicken was mixed with herbs to treat eye infections in humans. Black and white chickens were used in casting away evil spirits, however, white chickens were generally preferred. In addition, there were beliefs associated with the behaviour of chickens, e.g., in Maunatlala it was believed that when a cock stands on a wall and crows during the day, it indicates that someone has died.


Breeding and productivity of village chickens


The most prolific breeding time for village chickens was in autumn and winter months because of low incidence of ND (mokorobalo), low predation rates and abundance of feed supply (Table 2). These findings could point to changes in management practices that could result in higher output from village chicken enterprises.

The growth of grass cover following summer rains contributes to low predation rates in autumn. Although grass cover could be used by the chicks to hide from predators (kites and buzzards); it can also contribute to increased predation by dogs, cats and mongooses as well as, increased snake bites. Since flying predators are said to cause more losses than terrestrial predators, predation is likely to be reduced during this period. Migration of some predators (i.e., nkgodi) to warmer areas, hibernation of most reptiles and the abundance of feed during and at the end of the harvest season makes winter and autumn ideal times for breeding.


Winter appears to be a better time for breeding than autumn because of the lower level of predation and abundance of harvest wastes. However, cold is another main problem that can contribute to high mortalities in chicks. Chick mortality can be reduced by confinement of the brood and the hen for 2-3 months. Paraffin lamps and mbaula can be used to provide warmth to the chicks. A simple structure suggested for the rearers is one with a roof of metal sheets or thatch grass, while the walls can be of concrete or mud and the floor of concrete or soil-cement type for ease of cleaning and disinfection.


A summary of the approximate reproductive performance of Tswana chickens reared under extensive system is presented in Table 3. Three clutches produced by hens per year in this study is inconsistent with findings of Sazzard (1993) and Siegmann (1996) who reported 3.5 and 5.2 clutches, respectively. Egg production estimates for village birds in this study were higher (15 eggs per clutch) than those of Sazzard (1993) who reported 12.5 eggs per clutch. This indicates that an average of 46.38 eggs can be produced by a hen per annum, at present input and management levels.


The hatchability of 81.90% found in this study is consistent with figures reported by Kingston and Creswell (1979) in Indonesia. Lower hatchability rates observed in summer and early spring were attributable to high ambient temperature and high relative humidity. The combination of high temperatures (especially in December and January) and rainfall could result in high egg deterioration; hence low hatchability rates during this period. In agreement with Sazzard (1993) chicks in this study were separated from the mother hens at two months of age. However, the findings of this study are inconsistent with those of Guneratne (1992) in Sri Lanka who reported that chicks separate from their mothers at three months of age. 

Table 3.  Approximate reproductive performance of Tswana chickens under extensive management

Production parameters

Average & SD


Age at sexual maturity, months

6.37 2.55


No. of eggs per clutch per hen

15.5 4.53


No. clutches per year

3.00 0.00


No. of eggs laid per hen per year

46.8 13.6


Hatchability, percent

81.9 11.2


Weaning/ separation age, months

2.24 1.14


Incubation period, days

21.0 0.00


No. of chicks reaching maturity

7.67 3.28


Percentage of chicks reaching maturity

65.0 14.3


Of all the chicks that are hatched from a clutch size of 15.45 eggs, an average of 7.67 chicks manage to reach maturity, which means that only 23 chicks per hen reach maturity in a year. On average 65% (43-78%) of chicks in the current study reach maturity; this represents a very high chick mortality and perhaps offers the greatest area of potential improvement. Mortality could be reduced by confining birds during high risk periods, and vaccinating them against mokorobalo. Confinement during summer months should reduce mortality and contribute to an increase in the number of chicks that reach maturity, which could result in more birds being sold or consumed by the rearers.


Some possible opportunities that require testing in village chicken enterprises include: 

Breeding should be controlled such that birds are allowed to be broody in cooler months (February to August) when hatchability is high and predation and disease incidence low. Eggs sales and consumption should be increased during periods of low hatchability rates (Table 4).

Table 4 shows that to increase benefits to the rearers, village chickens should be confined during high risk periods (September to February) and three vaccinations against mokorobalo should be carried out based on Australian V4 vaccine. It is suggested that birds are confined permanently (or in the afternoons when predation rates are high) during periods of high risk. Alternatively the chicks can be confined while the adult birds are allowed to scavenge. The proposed vaccination schedule could decrease higher incidence of mokorobalo leading to increased benefits to the rearers.


Health management in village chickens


Seventy-nine percent of the rearers said that they used traditional and human medications to treat diseases and parasites; only 2.11% used vaccines; 15.79% of rearers used a combination of traditional remedies and vaccines, whereas 3% of rearers said they did not use any form of treatment and/or control measures. These values indicate that modern methods of disease control were lacking. Mokorobalo was a major constraint in village poultry, causing up to 100% mortality in unprotected flocks. This shows that village poultry is very risky. The views of rearers on the effectiveness of traditional remedies conflicted.


The wide use of traditional remedies could be ascribed to lack of knowledge in the use of vaccines, lack of cooling facilities, unavailability of vaccines, and possible effectiveness of the remedies in curing some diseases. Vaccines appeared to be inaccessible to rearers especially to those in the remote villages because of lack of cooling facilities, suggesting that the thermostable vaccines which do not require cold chain could be appropriate in this difficult husbandry system.


The belief that traditional remedies are effective in controlling diseases appeared to be hindering the use of vaccines. Similar observations on the use of traditional remedies in treating infections have been reported in various African countries. For instance, while Aloe vera was used in the control of diarrhoea in Somalia (Ahmed 1990), Cassia abbreviata (monepenepe), Senna italica (sebete) and Aloe marlothii (sekgophana) were used in this study. The common method of parasite control was by the use of wood ashes and ashes from Peltophorum africanum (mosetlha) and Combretum imberbe (motswere) were preferred.


It is suggested (Spradbrow 1994) that health management of village chickens could be improved by mass vaccination with thermostable vaccines such as Australian V4 or I2 vaccines. Future research should identify a suitable carrier for thermostable vaccines from the cereal grains grown in Botswana, e.g., maize, sorghum and millet and thorough evaluation of traditional remedies on a research station to determine their effectiveness in controlling diseases and parasites.


Marketing and economic returns


Village birds were sold all year round. The farmers indicated that village chickens and eggs were only occasionally sold, but estimates of output showed that the rearers may have had inaccurate recall. Various methods of selling village chickens were identified and the common method was through the word of mouth.


Village chickens were regarded as a walking bank by many families, and were often sold to meet emergency needs. Village chickens fetched a higher price than commercial chickens. The price of village birds in this study varied according to age and sex.


Kingston and Creswell (1979) reported that seven percent of eggs enter the market in Indonesia, but this study could not quantify the amount of eggs sold as rearers lacked recall of sales. However, it is evident that most of the eggs are used for hatching. Egg sales and consumption are likely to rise in spring and summer months though not significantly because of mokorobalo occurrence during this period. Sales could be increased by control of diseases and confinement of birds during high risk periods, as well, as by developing strategies that promote village poultry production. This involves participation of government and Non Governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Botswana Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (BONEPWA+). The extension service could provide transport service to a group of rearers to assist them to sell eggs during periods of high temperature when hatchability is low, until farmers organise their own means of transport. Higher sales would result in increased benefits to the rearers.


New approaches to research and development


A farming systems research (FSR) approach could be used in future, for example, to improve the productivity and benefits of village chickens by controlling mokorobalo with thermostable vaccines. Farmers can be involved in choosing and testing vaccine carriers and in setting up trials, managing trials and in evaluation. As FSR places the farmer at the centre of research and addresses policy issues, it is apparent that there is need for discussion on how FSR concepts can be integrated with existing research and development (R & D) for the poultry industry.



The main conclusions that can be drawn from this study are:


The assistance provided by the Botswana Government and Australian Agency for International Development for Development (AUSAID) to make this study possible is acknowledged with gratitude. Mrs G. Raditedu is thanked for assistance with data collection.



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Received 16 January 2010; Accepted 23 January 2010; Published 1 March 2010

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