Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 (9) 2012 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Characterisation of family poultry production in Haa and Mongar districts of Bhutan

N Dorji and T Gyeltshen*

Department of Animal Husbandry, College of Natural Resources, Royal University of Bhutan


The objective of our study was to characterize village chicken production of rural Bhutan. Baseline information on flock size, utilization and management from a total of 68 households were administered using semi-structured questionnaires.

The visited households rear chicken for self consumption (83%), source of income (16%) and occasionally form as a part of gifts. Moreover, chickens were mainly owned by women indicating poultry production at household level. The households kept flocks ranging from 2 to 24 birds per household with an average flock size of 7.404.38. Majority of the surveyed households provide night shelter (68%) however, the loss of birds to predators was ranked first. Although, no village poultry producers formulate feed, 81% of them provide locally available grain and by-products and commercial feed mainly. The use of extension services was poor due to lack of awareness (71%) and poor services (5%).

These results demonstrated that there is an increasing need to explore and implement research findings to improve poultry production that will contribute to reduce poverty in Bhutan - a rural phenomenon.

Keywords: food security, predator, rural chicken, utilization


Livestock species are kept integrated with agricultural crops and have multiple roles sustainable livelihood (Randolph et al 2007) and linking the social and economical bonds of rural community. Among livestock, poultry is considered as the “entry point for poverty reduction” and “gateway to national food security” because it has potential in uplifting living standards, social bonds and family nutritional status by supplementing cheap protein particularly in rural community (Gueye 2009). Generally, rural poultry production is traditional/extensive system owned at household level characterized by small flock with minimum inputs (Kitalyi 1998). Family poultry is more popular in developing countries (such as Africa, Asia, Latin America and South Pacific) accounting to about 80% of total poultry production (Sonaiya 1990).

Bhutan is one of the fast developing South Asia with a vision to reduce poverty to 15% by 2020 and improving in poultry sector appears more promising as demonstrated in other developing countries (Mammo et al 2008). Poultry species, especially chickens are reared by Bhutanese farmers in varied agro-ecological zones characterized by small flock size and poor management practices (Nidup et al 2005). Chicken has socio-cultural and economic importance to play in sustaining the livelihood of rural Bhutanese. For instance, local chickens are slaughtered to please local deities, honour the guests, revive the health of women during pregnancy and after birth through poultry products and forms part of gifts (Nidup et al 2005; Nidup and Tshering 2007). Considering socio-economic roles of chicken, Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) initiated and formulated breeding policies and strategies to improve rural poultry production. RGoB distributed exotic breed’s cockerels and pullets for crossbreeding, for example.

Recently, farmers in Bhutan have taken a keen interest on poultry farming. But, there is minimum information documented regarding characteristics of rural poultry production, requiring for the study. Despite the initiation of poultry developmental strategies, less than 25% improved rural chicken could manage to account total chicken population in Bhutan (Livestock Statistics 2008). Therefore, the objective of this study was to investigate the existing status of poultry farming and characterize the poultry production system in two districts of rural Bhutan.

Materials and methods

Sample size and Data analysis   

A total of 28 and 40 households from Haa (Bji Geog, block) and Mongar (Mongar Geog, block) respectively were covered and collected randomly. Mongar and Haa are districts of Eastern and Western Bhutan, respectively. Districts are believed to be socio-economically, geographically and climatically distinct. Nevertheless, the farmer owns a few acres of land and they produce generally the agricultural and livestock products for meeting their daily household requirements.

Data on cultural and economic contribution aspects and important management practices affecting the chicken farming were collected through semi-structure questionnaires during the visits. The data were entered in Microsoft excel sheet. Descriptive statistics were used. 

Results and Discussion

Livestock and flock holdings

The highest number of livestock reared was poultry followed by cattle (Table 1). Chicken (Gallus domesticus) alone makes the poultry population in the study sites. Nidup and Tshering (2007) also reported few duck from the south contributes to overall poultry population in Bhutan. Among livestock species, the farmers ranked cattle first and chicken second based on their role. This finding indicates greater importance of cattle to the family serving as “living savings account”, besides use for milk and dairy products, draught power and manure to their agricultural fields (Randolph et al 2007).

In Mongar about 72% and 8% of the visited households keep only the local (68% of the total population) and exotic (32% of the total population) chicken respectively. The study also observed that the 20% of the sampled households owns both breeds. The observations in the study sites are in agreement with the findings of Abubakar et al (2007) who reported that the native domestic fowl predominates in rural chicken population. On the contrary, the farmers of Haa district were estimated with fewer native (24%) and more exotic (76%) chicken population. This may be associated to varying management practices, local factors such as topography, elevation, eco-zone and marketing (Ali 2012). 

Table 1. Livestock species holdings in the study area

Livestock species









Mean SD1



Mean SD1




6.96 4.21


























Small ruminants







1 Standard deviation

Flock characteristics

The flock sizes varied largely from 3-65 in rural Africa (Kitalyi 1998), 10-30 in South America and 5-20 in Asia (Sonaiya and Swan 2004) which is based on the objective of chicken farming such as for home consumption, income generation and/or cultural roles. Similarly, the flock size in our study varied from 2-24 as observed in Asia (Sonaiya and Swan 2004). The study further found that the average chickens in Haa and Mongar were comparable (Table 1) but higher than National Animal Census record of four birds per household during 2000 (Nidup and Tshering 2007). The growing acceptance among Bhutanese farmers for poultry farming in sustaining their livelihood may be the reason. However, our study revealed that the average birds reared was comparatively lower than South Gezira district of Sudan (Ali, 2012) and Muheza district of Tanzania (Swai et al 2007) explained by differences in the land availability and its utilization (Ali 2012), seasons and habitat (Ajuyah 1999).

The native cock and hen number in the flock ranged from 1-3 and 1-7, respectively. The native cock serves in maintaining the chicken population and to serve as farmer’s “alarm clock”. On the other hand, the exotic hen in the flock ranged from 2-15. The number of households keeping either of these indicates the preference and the objective of the farming. For instance, exotic birds are preferred for better performance while native chickens are characterized by broodiness affecting the production traits (Eltayeb et al 2010). The average number for adult (2.75 2.55) and grower (3.46 3.17) from the current study were slightly higher than those reported in Muheza district (Swai et al 2007). Interestingly, the average chicks from our surveyed sites was comparatively lower than Swai et al (2007) findings implying low flock productivity (Mtileni et al 2009). The other reason could be because the farmers are reluctant to rear chicks for the lack of skills and labours, allocation of time and resources to other agricultural and major livestock activities.  

Table 2. The average number of chicken by age, breed category and sex

Age category

Native birds

(mean SD1)

Exotic birds

(mean SD1)


(mean SD1)







Young chicks

3.00 2.65




2.75 2.55


2.36 1.00

1.29 1.04

7.40 5.41


3.46 3.17


3.10 1.70

1.10 0.31

6.60 3.49


5.33 3.29

1 Standard deviation

Source and ownership of birds

The main mode of acquiring birds was from neighbour and Regional Poultry Breeding centre in Mongar and Haa respectively as the latter district’s chicken population comprises largely of exotic (76% of total chicken population).

The ownership of the chickens was shared among all the family members. However, the major portion of chicken ownership was women in our study (Figure 1). This finding is according to studies previously attempted in Africa (Abubakar et al 2007; Okitoi et al 2007; Mtileni et al 2009 and Ali 2012). This possibly indicates that the chicken keeping is at household level and meant for self consumption and/or alternate source for household income (Kugonza et al 2008; Simainga et al 2011). Men were involved with larger flock corresponding to Guye (2005), Kugonza et al (2008) and Mtileni et al (2009) report.  Typically the time allocated for looking after the chickens were shared among family members. However, the type of production system determines the time allocation.

Figure 1: Chicken ownership by gender categories

Management practices
Household labour, marketing and decision making

Generally, the labour for the management and decision making are shared among all the family members (Kugonza et al 2008) but it may vary from one place to another based on objective of poultry farming. Typically, women were involved for managing, marketing and decision making on the family poultry along with her daily household activities as reported in other developing countries (Kitalyi 1998; Guye 2005; Ali 2012). However, women consults men usually make combine decision on selling and buying of the poultry products.  


In Mongar, the shelter provided to the birds was mainly constructed by men (44%). Similarly, 69% of poultry shed was constructed by men in Haa. On the other hand, majority of cleaning and repairing of shed was associated with women (in Mongar and Haa, about 36% and 54% of the total surveyed households, respectively) in our study. About 92% of the sampled poultry keepers providing housing to their birds include night shelter only (68%) and day and night shelter (24%). The finding in the Vhembe, Mopane, Kgalagadi and Alfred-Nzo districts also supports that the night shelter predominates the housing types (Mtileni et al 2009). This result reflects the farmers are aware on the importance of housing their chicken (Swai et al 2007; Natukunda et al 2011). However, most of the chicken sheds were either ‘poor’ quality or birds were kept along with other livestock particularly cattle in Haa that was similarly described in Zambia (Simainga et al 2011) and Uganda (Byarugaba et al 2002). Respondents also do not have proper storing and disposing method though droppings are used to enrich their field. It may be because of small flock size, lack of construction materials and/or attention to other major livestock activities (Natukunda et al 2011).  Those households not providing night protection to their birds in this study either mentioned that it is not necessary to provide shelter or own less number of birds. These results partly inform bird mortalities to predators, thieves and bad weather due to improper housing (Kugonza et al 2008; Mtileni et al 2009; Natukunda et al 2011).  Therefore, to improve the housing quality through proper education and campaign was suggested.   

Feeding provision

Quantity and quality of feed significantly affect the performance of chicken particularly the chicks (Kugonza et al 2008). Majority of the visited households (92% and 64% of the farmers in Mongar and Haa, respectively) supplements with grain and by-products and commercial feed mainly (Figure 2). In South Africa, household wastes ranked highest feed source to the chickens (Mtileni et al 2009) contradicting to our study. The types of cereals cultivated in an area determine the grains and by-products provided to the chicken (Abubakar et al 2007). On contrary, the availability of commercial feed depends on the distance from the place of manufacturing. In Bhutan, the only commercially feed manufactured is Karma feed which is located in southwest of the country. The commercial feed is the important feed source in Haa (Figure 2) but the main concern for the farmers is the cost. Therefore, it is very necessary to explore and review alternate feed resources in Bhutan. Moreover, farmers need to be familiarized on importance of proper feed resources storing against the rodents, insects and other microorganisms that can damage and has potential to produce toxins which may prove fatal to the animal and consumers (Ali 2012).

Many farmers in developing countries often underestimate the importance of water which is as equally important as the feed. In this survey, most of the interviewed farmers do not provide water (especially, Mongar district) likely due to lack of awareness.

The feeding is done usually in the morning before releasing to scavenge and evening as the chicken returns to their shed similar to the farmers of Uganda feeding practice (Byarugaba et al 2002). No proper feeder and drinker were used, particularly in Mongar district which was also reported in Transhumant families of Sudan (Ali 2012).    

Figure 2: Type of feed supplementation to chickens

Health care and mortality

The main factor that may compromise the chicken sustainability and productivity is mortality (Kugonza et al 2008). The poor nutrition, lack of proper shelter and inadequate health control are responsible to bird’s mortality (Abubakar et al 2007; Simainga et al 2011; Ali 2012). During the interviewing session, farmers were asked to state if they maintain record especially mortality. About 93% of the surveyed households do not keep note on the mortality of their birds. However, almost all respondents reported that they encounter different cause for mortality and the main cause were predators and unknown reason for all age birds (Figure 3). The loss of birds to predation was also ranked highest in African countries (Byarugaba et al 2002; Simainga et al 2011; Ali 2012).

The result of this survey further revealed that about 82% of the households interviewed did not experience any disease contradicting to the claim made by Kugonza et al (2008), Mtileni et al (2009) and Simainga et al (2011) in their study. But, watery diarrhea was often observed, for instance. This statement informs that the farmers do not have necessary knowledge to identify the diseases. Those farmers encountering disease treat usually through ethnoveterinary medicine (75%), practice isolation (17%) and both ethnoveterinary and conventional drugs (1%).

The inadequate use of extension services was associated with lack of awareness on importance of extension services (76%) and poor extension services (10%). In addition, illiterate, lack of awareness on identifying diseases and/or lack of proper attention to their birds are major factors that might attributed the farmers in this study to not seek any veterinary and extension services (93%).

Figure 3: Ranking chicken age group with cause for mortality

Poultry products and its importance

The visited households revealed that the poultry products (eggs and meat) of native chickens were preferred because of better quality such as taste, leanness and flavour. Abubakar et al (2007) mentioned that native chickens freely scavenge around the homestead and premises forcing to do lot of exercise scavenging on various diets including grains and by-products, kitchen wastes, worms and insects. This probably explains the good poultry product quality of native chicken.

Results from current study indicated that the primary purpose for keeping chicken was for egg. It was also observed that there are two main objectives namely for family consumption and sale to generate income when surplus (Table 3). This was in line with Kugonza et al (2008) and Simainga et al (2011) report. The eggs were also used during ceremony and to present gifts (Kperegbey et al 2009) to neighbours and the temple. However, Nidup et al (2005) mentioned that in the southern part of the country, live native birds are used to make offerings during cultural and religious functions. This probably will continue and will ensure the existence of native chicken diversity in Bhutan.

Table 3. Priorities of keeping chickens (egg) and role to households (in percentage)











Home consumption





Income (sale)










Other (Gift)







We would like to thank Sonam Phuntsho and Nidup Dorji of 19th Diploma Batch for their assistance and the farmers of Haa and Mongar Districts for their valuable time. 


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Received 16 August 2012; Accepted 17 August 2012; Published 3 September 2012

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