Caleb Karuga with his poultry

 Poultry keeping has many benefits for small-scale farmers. But farmers need not keep chickens just for their own home consumption in terms of eggs and meat. They need to rear them to generate a reasonable income to improve their income. For a long time now, farmers with an eye on the market believe that one can only keep hybrid or exotic breeds for this purpose. Indigenous chickens, if well selected in terms of breed can bring much more income, if not better than the exotic breeds. One of the factors a farmer should look at when going into poultry production of either indigenous or exotic chickens is the cost of production and the market including prices of each of these breeds.

Advantages of indigenous breeds

Indigenous chickens have many advantages over exotic breeds. One advantage is that indigenous chickens can be fed on home-made feed rations and they can also be allowed to free range, therefore cutting down the amount of feed that the farmer has to give them. Unlike exotic breeds, indigenous are tolerant to many diseases, which reduces the veterinary costs. Although exotic breeds are highly productive in eggs and meat, the cost of keeping them including management is a big challenge to farmers. This makes indigenous chickens much more attractive to keep.

Recently, researchers have come up with more productive indigenous breeds such as the Improved KARLO Naivasha breed, which lays more eggs than ordinary indigenous breeds. An exotic breed such as the Leghorn can lay upto 300 eggs in a year, but the improved indigenous breed from KARLO can produce 220 – 250 eggs under good management. Below is a comparison of the gross profit margins between exotic breed and improved indigenous chicken breed, which can help farmers make a decision on which type of breed is more economical to keep.

 Causes of sudden drop in egg production

The laying cycle of a chicken flock usually covers a span of 12 months. Egg production begins when the bird reaches about 18 to 22 weeks of age depending on the breed and season. Flock production rises sharply and reaches a peak of about 90 percent at the sixth or eighth week from day they started laying. Production then declines to about 65 percent after 12 months of laying.

There are some instances where farmers have witnessed their flock suddenly dropping their egg production to even less than 40 percent before the 12 months laying period. There are a number of factors that can explain such scenarios including non infectious and infectious causes.

Non infectious causes for a sudden drop in flock’s laying capacities include improper nutrition where the flocks are not fed on a proper balanced diet to sustain maximum egg production over time. Inadequate levels of energy, protein or calcium can cause a drop in egg production. The nutrition imbalance may result into oviduct prolapsed which mainly occurs when a bird is too fat or an egg is too large and he bird’s reproductive tract is expelled with the egg. Prolapse causes permanent damage to the hen and is fatal in some cases.

Toxic levels of salt given to birds can also cause a sudden drop of egg production. Birds require a sensitive balance between necessary and toxic levels of salt. Excess dietary salt intake readily causes wet dropping and wet litter. In addition, Mycotoxins in form of moulds that are ingested by the birds especially the commonly known aflatoxin can reduce egg production instantly. They interfere with absorption of certain nutrients and also have some hormones which affect the laying cycle of the hens.
There are also management mistakes that can prove to be costly to a poultry farmer reducing the egg production capacity instantly. For instance if the flock is out of feeds and water for several hours then automatically their laying cycle is interrupted.

Inadequate day length and high temperatures also contribute to the inconsistent egg production. Hens need about 14 hours of day length to maintain egg production. The intensity of light should be sufficient to allow a person to read newspaper at bird level. High environmental temperatures pose severe problems for all types of poultry. Feed consumption, egg production, egg size and hatchability are all adversely affected under conditions of severe heat stress.

Infectious causes for a drop in egg production are mainly diseases and parasitical attacks. These may include Ector parasites like fowl mite, lice and fleas. Endo parasites include roundworm, tape worms, gape worms among others. Main diseases that result into a drop of egg production and some instances death of the hens include fowl pox, coccidiosis, infectious bronchitis, Newcastle, bird flu and fowl cholera.

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