Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (7) 2010 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Pastoral chicken production trends: the case of Mashuru and Loitoktok Divisions in Kajiado district, Kenya

E Cheptarus Kirwa, E N Muthiani and A J N Ndathi

KARI Kiboko research centre, P.O Box 12-90138 Makindu, Kenya


A household survey was carried out to characterize chicken production and consumption among the maa speaking pastoral community in two divisions in Kajiado district.


The study indicated that the enterprise is new in the area with majority of households having started after the year 2000.  Other than the common constraints of shortage of labour, feeds, predation, pests and diseases in chicken production, pastoral mobility, distance from the markets and cultural beliefs were found to discourage keeping of chicken in these pastoral areas.

Key words: Emerging livestock, indigenous chicken, Maasai, technology adoption


Poultry industry is the most rapidly growing sub sector of livestock with an increase in population from 15 million in 1980 to 25 million in 1992 (Ndegwa and Kimani 1996). The poultry sub sector was expanding at 6% and contributed 4% of the total Gross National Product (GNP). Indigenous chicken farming which is the main contributor in the poultry production industry is an important source of income and cheap source of protein for majority of rural households in Kenya. Nyariki and Wiggins (1999) noted that poultry and especially indigenous chicken breed are a source of quick cash to the agro-pastoral community in Makueni District. The indigenous chickens account for 60% of the total egg production and contribute to about 80% of the total poultry meat production (Tuitoek et al 1999).


Pastoralists are increasingly faced with challenges of maintaining a sustainable livestock herd due to shrinking grazing land that has been aggravated by recent land subdivision coupled with changing land use system and increasing human population. These factors have rendered the pastoral coping strategies ineffective especially to withstand the effects of drought, disease epidemics as well as other disasters (Ndikumana et al 2002). The past two decades have actually seen declining per capita livestock (Lesorogol 1998).  These recent changes have forced many pastoralists to find other ways of surviving including crop farming (often on marginal lands), wage employment in urban areas and dependence on famine relief supplies (Herlocker 1999).


Chicken production is a relatively new enterprise in Kajiado District (Ndathi et al 2004). The older people (Nyangusi) term it as livestock for the poor and associate it with poverty. However, more and more households are developing interest in the enterprise. There is need therefore to support the Maasai community in enhancing production of this emerging livestock species for the community to derive maximum benefits from them. The practice will reduce land degradation through reduction of cattle and small stock needed to subsist on by pastoralists. Other added advantages would be improvement of income generation to the households and economic empowerment of the Maasai women and youth.


Materials and methods 

The survey was conducted in Mashuru and Loitoktok Divisions of Kajiado District. The divisions occupy an area of about 2,250km2 and 6,090 km2, respectively. The two divisions are adjacent to one another with Mashuru bordering Nairobi-Mombasa railway to the East, which forms the boundary between Kajiado and Makueni District, and Loitoktok bordering Tanzania to the South and Taita Taveta District to the S. East.  Most parts of Mashuru and Loitoktok divisions are located in ecological zone V and VI which are characterized by semi arid conditions. The two sites receive a bimodal rainfall with an average of 400-500 mm per annum.


Five Locations in Mashuru and three in Loitoktok divisions were covered by selecting one sub-location in each except in Mbirikani and Lenkism Location where two sub-locations were selected in each. The sub-locations sampled in Mashuru Division were Kiboko, Merueshi, Mashuru, Mbilin and Emarti. In Loitoktok Division, Kimana, Oltiasika, Olgulului, Mbirikani and Lenkism sub-locations were covered. A total of 242 households were interviewed with equal number of households taken in each Division.


The survey was structured to capture information on chicken production status, consumption of chicken and chicken products (presented in a different paper) as well as constraints to production in the two divisions. A semi-structured questionnaire was used to gather information related to chicken production from the community.


Data were analyzed by one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) procedures and means separated using Tukey-b in the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS).


Results and discussion 

The number of households keeping chicken is higher in Mashuru (66.9%) than in Loitoktok Division (46.1%) (Table 1).

Table  1.  Percent number of households keeping chicken and average chicken holdings per households in Mashuru and Loitoktok Division


Sub location

Households, %

Chicken per household,  No.















Total Mean




















The former could be the case because the group ranches in Mashuru are sub-divided and the pastoralists are relatively settled. In addition, Nzioka (2002) had earlier reported that chicken production was not an integral part of the pastoral production system in Kajiado district. The major poultry type common in both Mashuru and Loitoktok divisions is the chicken.  The only other poultry type found was the duck whereby only four of them were found in one household in Kimana Sub-location. Nzioka (2002) noted similar findings where the population of other poultry species like turkeys, geese and ducks were limited in Katumani mandate districts. The type of chicken breeds kept is the indigenous breed.  Although there were varying types of indigenous chicken breeds, the survey did not identify them. 


The average chicken holdings were 11.9 and 4.5 birds per household in Mashuru and Loitoktok divisions respectively (Table 1). Kiboko Sub-location has a slightly higher average chicken holding per household (17.2) compared to the other Sub-locations in Mashuru division. This could be due to the influence from the neighbouring Kamba community who keep more chicken.  According to Nyariki and Wiggins (1999) the average number of bird holdings per household in the Kibwezi Division in Makueni District was 17 birds across 3 seasons in 1994-1995. Similarly, Munyasi et al (2003) recorded an average of 22 birds per household in Makindu division in the same district The average bird holdings per household in Mashuru division were within the number characteristic of rural chicken production of 10-20 birds while that of Loitoktok was very low (Ndegwa and Kimani 1996).  Studies done in 2002 in the former division indicated a lower number (7) of birds per household (Munyasi et al 2003), which shows that chicken numbers in Maasai community is on the rise.


The trend of keeping chicken in the two divisions indicated that more and more families have been picking up the enterprise. In addition, most of those not keeping chicken in the two divisions expressed an interest to start the enterprise (Table 2).

Table 2.  Interest on chicken production and preferred breeds in Mashuru and Loitoktok Division


Households interested, %

Chicken breeds preferred

Local, % Households

Exotic, % Households

Mashuru division























Loitoktok division























In all the Sub-locations, less than 10% of the respondents had started keeping chicken by end of 1989 (Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Chicken production trends in Mashuru and Loitoktok Divisions in Kajiado district

There was a significant increase (60.4+ 6.12, P<0.05) in the number of households that started keeping chicken between 2000 and 2004 in the two divisions. All the households interviewed in Lenkism started keeping chicken between 2000 and 2004 while in Oltiasika they started after 1995 with the majority taking up the enterprise between 2000 and 2004, which explains the reasons for the low average chicken holdings per household in the area. The former could be attributed to the fact that they are still moving with their livestock in search of pastures unlike the relatively settled pastoralists in Mashuru division and Kimana and Mbirikani Sub-locations in Loitoktok division. Indeed, those who reported that they are not interested in keeping chicken in Lenkism Location mentioned their nomadic pastoral lifestyle as a limitation since it would be difficult to move with the chicken.

Geographical location and distance to regional centres with information and services influence the level of adoption of technologies (Guerin and Guerin 1994). The communities in Lenkism are far (37.2km) from any major markets and hence the level of interactions with other communities is low (Ndathi et al 2004). The interpretation of this finding is consistent with the findings of Australian Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (1999; cited in Munyasi et al 2003) that isolation and remoteness of Western and Northern Australia to most pastoral stations and neighbours was a very serious constraint to the implementation of land care practices.  In addition successful neighbours have been known to be influential in extension of new technologies in a social system (Munyasi et al 2003). Guerin and Guerin (1994) described innovators or those who are quick to adopt new technologies as progressive farmers and it is likely that they are influential in encouraging other farmers to adopt. One of the respondents, Serah Kisimba (over 80 years old) from Mashuru division indicated that she started keeping chicken in 1960(s) when she got married and relocated to Kajiado town where she interacted with women from the Kamba and Kikuyu community who kept chicken and later influenced her into chicken production. She later introduced a number of Maa speaking women into the same enterprise. This was an example of some of the revelations from the Maasai Nyangusi age set (over 60 years old), majority of whom could remember vividly that there were no chickens in their areas when they were young. The same generation associate chicken with poverty and term them as livestock for the poor. 

Other reasons given for lack of interest in rearing chicken were cultural stereotypes, whereby the chicken is believed to be a “bird” or that one would have stomach problems when eating chicken. Constraints to chicken production such as predation, pests and diseases, lack of feeds, knowledge on chicken production and labour as most of the household members are involved in taking care of other preferred livestock species are contributing factors as well. More value is still put on other livestock including in allocation of labour. Some of the women interviewed were wiling to keep chicken but could not start off because their husbands would not allow due to cultural barriers.


In spite of the above, 42.8% of those interviewed said that chicken numbers in the study areas have been increasing gradually since their introduction although they could not give an exact period when chicken was introduced in the different study areas. Their perception is supported by Figure 1, which indicates the trends based on the time when the respondents started keeping chicken.




With reducing land sizes due to subdivision of group ranches chicken rearing is best suited to provide an alternative source of income to the pastoralists especially the vulnerable groups, youth and women, who do not own property and have limited skills for any conventional jobs. This would also reduce pressure on the already shrinking and degraded grazing land. The enterprise would also provide an alternative source of income and protein to the households especially, during the dry seasons when the larger livestock has been moved. Further, chicken keeping is a women affair in the district and therefore activities on chicken improvement programmes in the district should be gender sensitive if tangible outputs are to be achieved.



The authors acknowledge the funding support from GEF/GoK through the Desert Margins Programme (DMP) without which this work would not have been achieved.  We are grateful to the Director KARI and also KARI-Kiboko staff especially for their technical assistance. The cooperation from the Maasai community and the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development (MoLFD) extension officers is also recognized.



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Received 10 March 2010; Accepted 10 May 2010; Published 1 July 2010

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