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Feeding Strategies For Family Poultry Farming in Rural / Tribal Areas

G.Shyam Sunder, S.V.Rama Rao and M.V.L.N.Raju
Project Directorate on Poultry, Hyderabad .

Commercial poultry farming in India has undergone a perceptible transformation in the past four decades, enhancing the annual production to 34,000 million eggs and 630 million broilers respectively, making a steady growth of 10 and 15% annually. Despite this spectacular growth, the per capita availability is at a dis­mal level of 35 eggs and 800 g meat per head per annum. Strangely, a wide disparity in consumption between urbanites, semi urbanites and rural/tribal population exists. The average avail­ability of eggs in major cities is 170 while in villages it is around 9 eggs per annum. It is important to mention that nearly 75% of country's population living in rural/tribal areas has limited access and availability to the protein rich poultry produce.


Commercial poultry farming is capital in­tensive and is concentrated in and around urban and peril urban areas managed by resource rich people. It is obvious that all the resources are being utilized by this sector to sustain the growth of poultry industry. In contrast, the conventional free range and backyard poultry rearing remained less noticed. Their population also showed just a marginal increase from 63 to 73 million in 35 years and the egg production fluctuated in the range of 2280 to 3459 million per annum. Nevertheless, it contributes around 11 % to the national pool of production. Obviously, there is a bright scope for enhancing their role in improving the availability of eggs and meat. It is worth recording that commercial and rural poultry farming can coexist and compliment the nutritional and economical requirements of Indian population, as is evident in some of the Southeast Asian countries.

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The major input required for sustaining growth of commercial poultry is the availability of feed resources and the anticipated requirement of cereals is on increase from present 4.25 million tones to 32.0 million by 2015 AD. In contrast, the free range farming relies on low input costs in the form of kitchen wastes, sur­plus grain, insects, maggots, worms, tender leaves and all other food material available on scavenging, it is in this context that family poultry farming (FPF) concept is gaining impetus in Asian, African and Latin American countries quite rapidly. Even in developed countries, for reasons not related to poverty alleviation, poultry produce derived from extensive rearing is gaining momentum for considerations of being humane to birds.

Family Poultry Farming

The concept of family poultry farming is an accepted and adopted practice in tribal and rural areas since time immemorial. Small holder poultry is an appropriate system that makes best use of locally available resources and provides eggs and meat for the family. Keeping poultry represents a household savings, investment and insurance, as the value of bird increases over a time. On an average 15 rural chicken per house can provide enough chicken and eggs for the family. Poultry also serves as an efficient waste disposal system by converting leftover grains, kitchen wastes, insects, worms, maggots, fish, marine wastes etc. into valuable protein. A group of 15 chickens produce 1.0 to 1.2 kg manure per day. These aspects directly or indirectly contribute to village economy.

Feeding through scavenging

Birds under scavenging conditions pick­up farm produced grain like maize, jowar and millets to meet their energy requirement and depend upon, at least partially, on grains offered by flock holders in early part of the day. In addition birds scavenge to prey on insects, worms, larvae, snails, termites, maggots, marine wastes etc. to satisfy the protein, mineral and vitamin needs. However, a considerable diversity in climate, terrain, ethnic groups, socioeconomic status etc, significantly influences the feeding pattern in different geographical locations. Therefore, the sustainability of poultry depends upon the interplay between environment, local resources, agricultural practices and skills in poultry management.

It is important to know the quantity of scavenging feed available in a village and monitor the effects of season on it. Any gap between the scavenge able feed and the feed required has to be compensated with supple­mental feed. Under household conditions available feed ingredients are at times given in combination, which, invariably wilt be imbalanced and May in fact be deleterious, if the birds are restricted from scavenging. However, the importance of supplemental feed cannot be underestimated due to its direct and indirect effects on many aspects of production. A bird cannot certainly find all the nutrients needed for optimum production round the year. During dry season, poultry can quickly develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to scarcity of natural resources of feed and hence, offering supplemental feed becomes essential. There are no definite and reliable methods of estimating the scavenging feed resources quantitatively or qualitatively, to enable input-output relationship in this feeding system. Promoting use of unconventional feed resources such as termites, maggots and worms has been suggested as one of the alternatives for increasing the scavenging feed resource base. Other suggestion for increasing the scavenging feed resource is through integrating poultry and cropping.

Feed resources under free-range rearing

Availability of feed resources on exten­sive system of rearing exhibits considerable variability due to geographical, climatic and agricultural factors. However, the feed re­sources available to the weakest family in the community are; a) household wastes; b) natu­rally occurring organic material like worms, in­sects, maggots termites etc, c) crop surpluses and their by products; d) fodder material and Q) non commercial feed like grasses, herbs, algae etc.

Scavenging Feed Resource Base (SERB)

It is important to monitor the quantity of scavenge able feed available in a village season wise to assess the gap between re­sources accessible to the birds and their actual requirement to provide feed through supple­mentation. If the biomass of the flock exceeds carrying capacity of SFRB, some birds in the population, particularly the weaker ones will die. On the other hand survival will be more when SFRB is more than the requirement of flock. In some environments SFRB is relatively constant throughout the year and in some others SFRB will fluctuate with factors like seasonal rainfall, agricultural activities, environmental changes, rapid urbanization etc. The land area available for scavenging and the distance a flock can travel to scavenge will depend on flock size, feed availability, population density, agricultural activities, predators etc. In addition, behavioral studies have shown that some birds have better scavenging ability than others. If the capacity of SFRB and seasonal variations are known, efficient strategies for better scavenging resource availability can be evolved.

The crop contents can be utilized to de­termine the metabolically energy and protein components of scavenging feed resources. If the SFRB varies seasonally, the periods that have higher levels can be chosen to synchronies the hatching and rearing activities. Further, the anticipated reduction in SFRB can be determined and accordingly appropriate nutrients can be supplemented.

Feeding young chicks

Young chicks reared under extensive management system are vulnerable to weather extremes, predators, diseases, malnutrition and under nutrition, particularly during the initial period of 30 days of growth. Nutritional deficien­cies particularly those of energy, calcium and vitamins are common in birds reared under backyard farming conditions. A vitamin sis and protein deficiency predisposes the birds to dis­eases. An effective intervention is by rearing chicks under confined system associated with sound feeding schedule formulated using local feed ingredients during the initial part of rear­ing.

Nutritional needs of Vanaraja

Like other free range reared chicks, the success in raising Vanaraja chick’s ties to a great extent on minimizing the losses in early period of growth due to predation, mal nutrition, dis­eases and poor management. Visualizing the advantages of nursery unit in the initial stages of extensive system of rearing, the nutritional needs of Vanaraja chicks under confined system up to 6 weeks of age were examined in a series of feeding trials with cereals and feed ingredients that are either seasonally or regularly available in household.

Input cost on feed being the predominant factor, trials on formulating and testing diets containing low to moderate levels of energy, utilizing different cereals and cereal by products, were conducted, Vanaraja, a dual purpose bird developed by PD on Poultry through an inte­grated research approach of breeding, feeding, health cover and management was found to per­form well in confined system with diets contain­ing energy as low as 2400 kcal ME/kg. No sig­nificant decline in weight gain (595 g) at 6 weeks of age compared to those fed 2800 kcal ME/kg. Although the dry matter digestibility is signifi­cantly low with the former due to fiber content, the weight gain remained comparable suggest­ing optimum utilization of available nutrients,

A variety of cereals and cereal by prod­ucts were tried in feeding trials and found that Vanaraja chicks responded positively to the grains tested in confined system up to 6 weeks of age.

Research Priorities for sustainable FPF

Scientific intervention is required in the following areas to effectively provide sustain­able feeding systems.

a) Collection of reliable data on available feed resources and their documentation.

b) Identification and testing of alternate feed resources

c) Formulating and field testing supplemental feed after evaluating SFRB

d) Developing feeding schedules and models specific to a situation and location


Commercial poultry farming has pro­gressed impressively but is capital intensive with demanding input requirements. In contrast, free range system is a low input operation with low output results. However, these two rearing systems can coexist and compliment each other without competing for major inputs like feed in­gredients. Independently they can raise the economical and nutritional status of all sections of population.

Scavenging on naturally available food material along with moderate level of well bal­anced supplementation can sustain good productivity. However, locally available resources would hold the key for success in feeding prac­tices. Since naturally available food resources would hold the key for success in feeding practices. Since naturally available food resources vary widely with geographical, agricultural and ethnic considerations, data on SFRB should be collected for developing specific models for a given location under extensive system of rear­ing.

Dual purpose birds (Vanaraja, Giriraja and Grama Priya) developed with characteris­tic features suitable for free range system may be provided with low cost inputs in nurseries to deliver optimal performance in the household environment.