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Backyard poultry farming - a boon to alleviate protein hunger in rural India

Dr. S.V. Rama Rao  M.V.Sc, Ph.D
Project Directorate on Poultry, Hyderabad .

The present high yielding poultry germplasm of both broilers and layers available in the world have been evolved from "Indian Red Jungle Fowl" (Galus galus) and Indian Game Bird "Aseel", which is known for its fighting nature. Both these birds are native of rural India . The present poultry industry is concentrating on high yielding germplasm for egg and poultry meat and catering the needs of urbanites and semiurbanites. At times, these products are available to the rural people at much higher price (about 10 to 40 %) than prevailing market price of these products. Interestingly the modern poultry industry is mostly depend on rural India for its feed ingredient requirements. The prices of these feed ingredients are much lower in rural segments of India compared to urban areas.

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The large expansion of commercial poultry farming in urban areas have created a wider gap in the availability of highly nutritious egg and chicken meat between urbanites and illiterate, malnourished rural / tribal people. Protein deficiency is a common phenomenon in the diets of rural peoples as their diets are predominantly based on cereals which contains high energy and low protein. By adopting the rural poultry farming, we can obviate the high incidence of protein hunger in the rural populations particularly in pregnant and feeding women and growing kids. The backyard poultry farming is more beneficial to small, marginal farmers, land less labourers, tribal and backward class peoples. Backyard poultry farming will generate petty cash for house hold requirement in addition to providing a balanced food with minimum inputs available in the rural areas. Feeding of the backyard poultry is made easy by using household wastes, farm products and green vegetation, besides free scavenging for waste grains and insects.

The high yielding birds are naturally lack of immunocompetence against the common poultry diseases, as much of the nutrients are diverted for growth and less is available for immunity. The intensive poultry population concentrated in relatively small area is always a constant threat for disease outbreaks quite often. Concentration of heavy poultry populations in a small area also causes environmental pollution. There are serious arguments for the large scale intensification of poultry rearing from the economical and environmental point of view.

The eggs and meat of birds reared in the backyard farming fetches higher premium due to high consumer acceptability even in the urban sectors where plenty of eggs and poultry meat from commercial units are available. In addition to the stable supply of high-quality animal food, backyard poultry production promotes income opportunities particularly for the weaker sections in the rural areas. The backyard farming will certainly improve the economic status of a majority of rural / tribal families from lower socio-economic groups in the rural / tribal areas. Backyard farming fulfill a wide range of functions - e.g. the provision of meat and eggs, food for special festivals, chicken for traditional ceremonies, pest control and petty cash, utilizing minimum inputs, minimum human attention, and causing less environmental pollution.

Having realized its potential a long term integrated research programme was initiated at several research centers of ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) including State Agricultural Universities to develop suitable germplasm for backyard / free range farming in these areas. This integrated programme includes breeding, nutrition and health management. Colored population with optimum body weight and reasonably good egg production was used as female line. The male line was developed with long shank length and higher immunity against sheep red blood cells. Sustainability of production under simulated conditions of backyard farming was studied with locally available feed ingredient. For attractiveness and easy acceptance in the rural / tribal areas, emphasis have been given to have a blend of various color combinations of plumage, which is observed in most of the native birds to ensure greater resemblance. Naked neck gene is also introduced in the commercial germplasm for easy adaptability in the coastal belt where these birds are exposed to high environmental temperature with high humidity. Under this programme few multicoloured germplasms (“Vanaraja”, “Giriraja”, “Gramapriya”, “Krishna J”) have been developed which can quickly adopt and thrive well in the backyard farming. The crosses are well received by the rural farmers and the production and survivability is highly satisfactory. The general immune status of the bird and indicators of stress (heterophyll : lymphocytes ratio) revealed that these birds are having high immunity and are less prone to environmental stress. The architecture of the bird along with high immune competence against common poultry diseases, makes these germplasm best suitable for backyard farming in rural / tribal areas. Due to its relatively lightweight and long shanks these birds are able to protect themselves from predators, which is otherwise a major threat to the birds in backyards.

The germplasm developed for backyard farming has the following features

  • The colour pattern of the germplasm is more attractive than Desi hen. Because of coloured plumage these birds have camouflagic characters to protect themselves from predators.
  • They can thrive well under adverse environmental conditions like poor housing, poor management and poor feeding.
  • Broodiness is absent in the hens.
  • Nutritional value, aroma and taste of eggs and meat from these birds are similar to Desi hen.
  • Less fat content in meat of these birds makes it acceptable to even aged peoples.
  • These birds can thrive well and perform better even in adverse environmental conditions.
  • These birds are sturdy and resistant for most of the common poultry diseases because of its high immune competence.
  • These birds can perform well with diets high in crude fiber. It has better feed efficiency even with diets containing low energy and protein diets based on common feed ingredients available in rural / tribal areas like rice bran, broken rice, small millets (like foxtain mille, finger millet, pearl millet etc.).
  • At eight weeks of age males of these germplasm weighs about 1250 g with a feed conversion ratio of 2.2 under intensive rearing practice.
  • Mortality is less than 2.0 % up to eight weeks of age.
  • The eggs are heavier (55 to 63 g) and color of the eggs is brown or tinted, attractive and resembles that of Desi hen.
  • Fertility and hatchability of their eggs are 87 and 80 %, respectively, and the farmer can get more number of chicks from a these birds compared to a Desi hen by using broody hen.
  • It can perform better in backyard conditions by eating green grass and insects available in the fields.
  • The performance of Desi hens can also be improve by crossing them with males of germplasm developed for backyard farming.


The major reason for failure of earlier programmes on backyard farming is higher early chick mortality. Brooding and imminization programmes could not be adopted during earlier programme. Due to lack of facilities for scientific management of the chicks during the initial 4 to 5 weeks in the village conditions is the major hurdle for success of the backyard farming. Though these birds have better general immune competence they need to be protected against Newcastle disease. The earlier reports also indicated that the most of the early chick mortality was due to Newcastle disease (Bell, 1996; Rangnekar and Rangneker, 1996). Protecting the chicks with inactivated vaccine is the effective way to the control the disease in rural poultry production ( Bell ,1996). Realizing the importance of initial brooding and vaccination, the Project Directorate on Poultry (ICAR) has take initiative to supply the grown up chicks (about 4 to 6 weeks of age) to the rural / tribal populations either directly or through any non-govt. of govt. agencies after protecting the chicks with Marek’s and Newcastle diseases. This resulted in higher survivability up to 97 to 98 % under field conditions. In addition to following the prescribed vaccination schedule the farmers are advised to practice routine deworming of the birds at every 35 to 40 d interval.

The Project Directorate on Poultry conducted several training programmes for rural farm women to impart training on rearing practices of Vamnaraja. The training programme includes rearing practices of chicks, compound feed preparation, vaccination methods, water sanitation methods, deworimg and storage of eggs. At the end of training programme each woman was given with a unit of 8 females and 2 males.

Several research, extension, and non-government voluntary organizations are participation in training of rural peoples, growing and supply germplasm to the needy peoples. After initial four weeks brooding they can be let loose for scavenging in the backyards in villages.

The supply of the germplasm is channalised mainly as

  • Supply of day old chicks to the extension units / voluntary organization for brooding and subsequent distribution to the farmers.
  • Supply of grown up chicks (4 – 6 weeks of age)
  • Supply of hatching eggs

Vacciantion Schedule  

Age (days)





Marek’s Disease

0.20 mL



Ranikhet Disease (Lasota)

One drop

Eye drop


Ranikhet Disease (Lasota)

One drop

Eye drop


Ranikhet Disease (R2B)

0.50 mL

Eye drop


Feeding Schedule

Backyard germplasm can scavenge well for its feed in the fields. During the process of scavenging on grass fields these birds will have an access to insects, white ants, green grass, grass seeds, waste grains etc., thereby the supplemental feed requirement is much less than those reared under intensive poultry farming. Feed supplementation in the form of scratch usually given in the morning / or evening to develop habit to reach owner’s place for laying eggs and for night shelter. Depending on the availability of free range area and also the intensity of vegetative growth, the requirement of supplemental feed vary between 25 to 50 g / bird / day. These birds can also perform well on whole grain feeding under scavenging conditions. However, for better shell quality, shell grit or marble stone chips needs to be supplemented @ 5 - 7 g / bird / day during laying period.

Performance of Vanaraja in comparison to Desi fowl

Economic trait


Desi fowl

Body weight, g



Day old



Six weeks



Eight weeks (restricted feeding)



Forty weeks (restricted feeding)






Egg weight, g



28 weeks



40 weeks






Age at first egg, d



Egg production No.



280 d



500 d






Fertility, %



Hatchability, %



Survivability, % (up to 8 weeks)



Dressed weight, %