Livestock Research for Rural Development 23 (7) 2011 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Village chicken production systems in Zhombe communal area of Zimbabwe

T Mlambo, D T Mbiriri, T Mutibvu and M T Kashangura

Department of Animal Science, University of Zimbabwe,
PO Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe


Village chicken production plays a critical role in the livelihoods of rural households. A survey was conducted in August 2010 to determine and characterize the village chicken production systems in Zhombe, a communal area located in Kwekwe district of Zimbabwe. Twelve households from each of five randomly selected villages were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire. Data generated were analyzed using SPSS version 16. Thirty-five percent (35 %) of the households interviewed were headed by females.


The average age of bread winner was 46 years.  The sale of livestock and field crops were the main sources of income.  Chickens were ranked the second most important livestock species after cattle with a mean rank of 6.74 1.3 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 was the highest ranking and 1 was the lowest ranking. Flock ownership was dominated by women (58.3 %) and children (41.7 %). The free range backyard production system was found predominant (95 %) amongst households. Most of the farmers applied a combination of traditional and modern methods of disease control. The study also revealed interesting disease control methods like the use of paraffin, petroleum jelly and tobacco. About 62 % of the farmers indicated that they vaccinated their flocks against common poultry diseases. The study clearly showed that village chicken production was mainly affected by feed supply and disease outbreaks.  Efficient extension service provision was recommended for addressing poultry feed and health challenges.

Keywords: disease outbreaks, flocks, free-range, livelihoods household


Village chickens in Zimbabwe form an integral part of communal poultry production and almost every household in the communal areas owns this species of chickens (McAinsh et al 2004). These chickens are raised within a mixed crop-livestock farming system and they are used to meet multiple household goals. The degree of integration in smallholder farming differs depending on socio-economic factors, cultural and biological features within each system.


Various studies have shown that women and children own most chickens (Muchadeyi 2007). This gender bias implies some variation in the management of chickens in households headed by males or females. Village chicken production systems are based on the scavenging indigenous domestic fowl (Gallus domesticus), the predominant species in rural Africa. 


These chicken production systems are characteristically an indigenous part of farming systems with short life cycles, quick turn over and low inputs. The low returns to village chicken production in the rural areas can be attributed to insufficient empirical case studies, the use of conventional and sometimes inappropriate economic models to measure production and financial returns as well as failure to consider all uses (Mapiye et al 2008). This is also due to the chickens’ multiple non-cash outputs, such as manure, traditional purposes, home consumption, social obligations and status. The rural poultry population in Africa accounts for more than 60 % of the total national poultry population (Kitalyi 1998). Village chickens exhibit remarkable adaptation to local environments.


Reliance on rain-fed agricultural production systems exposes households to starvation and malnutrition due to seasonal fluctuations (Anderson 2003). This is offset by village chickens as they have shown ability to complement with other enterprises in the provision of meat and eggs for consumption. Considering the vital role village chicken production plays in household food security and nourishment, it is imperative that their production be studied. This will be useful in identifying possible areas of improvement and the strategic entry points. The objective of this study was to determine and characterize the village chicken production systems in Zhombe communal areas of Zimbabwe.

Materials and Methods

Description of site

The study was carried out in Zhombe communal area in the Kwekwe District of Zimbabwe. This communal area is sited 60 km from the town of Kwekwe. The area falls within Agro-ecological Region IV with a mean annual rainfall of 450 – 500 mm. Average temperatures are 22-30C and 10-16C in summer and in winter respectively.


Sampling of households


Five villages, namely; Mabhandi, Ndavenkulu, August, Mandebvu and Mabhebhe were randomly selected. The five villages were about 2 km apart. In each village, a total of 12 households were selected at random and assessed.


Data collection


The households were assessed using a semi-structured questionnaire. Rapid rural appraisal techniques were also applied. The data collected covered aspects such as house hold demographics, socio-economic factors, disease prevalence and control methods, crops grown, livestock kept and selection parameters for culling and breeding indigenous chickens.


Statistical analysis


The data were analyzed using SPSS version 16, with Pearson Correlation being used for correlation analyses.

Results and Discussion

Household demographics


The average age of bread winner was 46.0 16.8 which is contrary to other observations made in Zimbabwe. An example is Rushinga district where the average age of breadwinner observed was close to the dependent age group (Muchadeyi et al 2004). The proportion of households headed by females was 35 % which is a fairly high figure compared to observations made in similar studies in other districts (Muchadeyi et al 2004).  There was a high dependency on cropping and livestock as a source of income as compared to dependence on formal employment or home industries.

Main features of village chicken production


The chicken populations averaged 20.7 birds per household with a range of 2 -75 birds. In other districts in Zimbabwe, an average population of 17.5 birds and a range of 1-50 were observed (Muchadeyi et al 2004).  In Sudan, an average of 18.8 and a range of 6 – 35 per household were reported (Khalafalla et al 2000). The average populations in Zimbabwe and other African countries do not vary. This shows that production systems and levels are almost the same across the African continent. Village chickens may hold almost the same economic value across cultures in Africa.


The most dominant production system was the backyard system with provision of shelter at night. At least 95 % of the farmers assessed used the backyard production system with the birds being allowed to scavenge during the day and housed at night. The remaining 5 % used the extensive free range system where no housing was provided at all. The birds were attracted back to the homestead by provision of supplementary feeding at sunset. This supports observations by Kitalyi (1998). The cock to hen ratio was 1: 3. This ratio does not differ much from 1:4 observed in Sudan by Khalafalla et al (2000). A high selection intensity on hens could explain the low cock: hen ratio. Lack of knowledge to measure selection parameters results in uncontrolled culling of hens. The mean ranking of the reasons why farmers cull their birds was done on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being highest rank and 1 the lowest rank. Table 1 shows the observations made:

Table 1: Mean rankings of reasons for culling of hens





Hen size




Hen colour




Hen health




Hen body conformation




Age of hen




Fertility of hens




Mothering ability for hens




Chickens were ranked second most important livestock kept (Table 2). Village chicken production requires little to no inputs thus even poor families can afford to rear them. This would explain their high ranking in this survey and also other studies by Pedersen (2003); Maphosa et al (2005) and Muchadeyi et al (2005). They are a form of quick off-takes thus play a major role in the livelihoods of the farmers (Muchadeyi 2007). Sixty-five percent of the respondents kept village chickens for sale.

Table 2: Mean rankings of livestock kept by the farmers

Livestock Species




Std. Deviation





















Guinea Fowl










Flock ownership and management profile

Ownership of village chicken is generally attributed to women and children (Kitalyi 2000). In this study women owned most of the chickens followed by children (Figure 1). Men owned the least number (3.3 %) of chickens. This is contrary to findings by Khalafalla et al (2000) in Sudan where men as a single entity owned most chickens compared to children.

Figure 1:
Ownership of poultry amongst farmers

In households where housing was provided for, about 67 % indicated that children were responsible for the cleaning of the fowl run. Some researchers have categorized chickens as part of the household in cases where they share housing with humans (Kitalyi 1996; Williams 1990). In such cases, women were responsible for cleaning.


Feeding management


Ninety percent of the farmers provided supplementary feed to their flocks. Other researchers observed the same trend with the type of supplementary feed given varying with the time of year or season (Muchadeyi et al 2004; Pedersen 2003). The most dominant feed given to the birds was maize (Figure 2), which alone does not meet all the nutritional requirements of birds especially protein. This is because maize is relatively low in crude protein (CP). However, this is not regarded as a major constraint as the birds get some protein from scavenging on insects, snails and leguminous grains (Muchadeyi et al 2004;).


Where shelter was provided for, supplementary feed was used as a tool to attract the birds to shelter at sunset. Feeding was mostly done by children and women whilst men contributed minimally (40 %). This is in agreement with findings in Sudan (Khalafalla et al 2000).  The feeders used were made of cement, worn out tyres, plastic and steel plates and wooden troughs and even then, few farmers provided these. There was a positive correlation (0.02) between number of chickens and type and frequency of supplementation indicating that giving quality supplements increased production. All households indicated that they watered their birds. However, the water troughs were accessible to all forms of livestock compromising on quality and quantity.

Figure 2:
Various feed supplements provided by farmers

The provision of housing is still at a rudimentary stage with little importance being attached to the type of housing (Muchadeyi 2007). Those farmers that provided housing did so to reduce thefts at night. Studies in South Africa and Sudan also revealed security as the main reason for providing housing at night (Swatson et al 2002; Khalafalla et al 2000). The type of housing varied from wooden to brick structures. In a few cases steel cages were observed. A significant number of farmers have resorted to sharing their households with chickens at night.


Animal health


Of the households that indicated that their flocks were vaccinated, 61.7 % reported that Government facilitated the vaccination programs and only 35 % had the knowledge of which disease was vaccinated against. In this case, it was Newcastle disease. The lack of knowledge on which disease was vaccinated against affects the farmers’ willingness to be involved in the vaccination programs. This also shows the effect of Newcastle disease as a major constraint in village chicken production as also indicated by Pedersen (2003) in Sanyati. Studies on village chicken production in Sanyati showed that 18 % of the mortality was a result of diseases and 17 % was due to external parasites (Pedersen 2003). The positive correlation (0.224) between vaccination and number of chickens per household shows that mortality due to diseases is high. This observation is also supported by Pedersen (2003); Muchadeyi et al (2004) in Rushinga and Muchadeyi (2007) in Zimbabwe. It was observed in this study that provision of housing had no impact on the prevalence of diseases as evidenced by a negative correlation between provision of shelter and disease occurrence. Disease epidemiology is largely due to interactions of birds at household and village levels including exchange and sale of birds among villagers.


Most of the farmers applied a combination of traditional and modern methods of disease control (Figure 3). It was interesting to note that most of the smallholder poultry producers used water purification tablets to treat drinking water given to birds. Paraffin, petroleum jelly (vaseline) and teramycin (a tetracycline) were also used as disease control measures by some farmers. However, success of some of these control practices cannot be measured and their applications differ with the resources available in a particular village. Vaseline was used to treat eye infections. Paraffin was applied to control external parasites. Teramycin, an antibiotic, was dissolved in water and administered orally.

Figure 3:
Type of disease control methods used




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Received 29 April 2011; Accepted 23 May 2011; Published 1 July 2011

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