Livestock Research for Rural Development 9 (3) 1997

Citation of this paper

The keeping of poultry and pigs in the backyards of the urbanised areas of Iztapalapa (east of Mexico City) as a proposal for sustainable production

H Losada, R Pealing*, J Cortés and J Vieyra

Animal Production Systems Area, Departament of Biology of Reproduction.
Division of Biological and Health Sciences, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa. Av. Michoacán y la Purisíma. Col. Vicentina. Iztapalpa. CP 09340. México DF 1
* Researcher from UK sponsored by the interchange CONACYT-British Council.


A survey was done to characterise the keeping of poultry and pigs in the backyards of the urbanised areas of Iztapalapa at the east of Mexico City. The results demonstrate that backyard production is carried out within the vicinity of the house or habitation. The number of birds kept ranged from 1 to 110; the largest frequency was found within the value of 1-10 birds. In relation to the production of pigs, the number of animals was concentrated within the range of 1-5 pigs. The system of feeding of both species was based on the use of restaurant wastes, stale tortillas, maize, wheat grains and alfalfa. The objective of poultry and pig production was found to be fundamentally for subsistence use and for saving money for emergencies. The character of the system is discussed in terms of a proposal for its sustainability.

Key words: Mexico, backyard, poultry, pigs, family farm, house wastes


Iztapalapa, situated in the east of Mexico City, is one of the 17 delegations that make up the Distrito Federal. Despite the fact that the area was impelled to become an urban zone at the beginning of the 1950s, with the objective of promoting industrial development (Sanchez 1982), its population maintained strong cultural links with the agricultural tradition which is characteristic of our country. This phenomenon is most clearly illustrated by the persistence of farm animals within this zone (Losada et al 1992), in spite of the restrictions imposed by the authorities. One of the most popular systems of production is the keeping of poultry and pigs within the domestic space, and feeding them on wastes from the house and local food industries. The products of this system contribute to the family income, and to goods for human consumption which has been described by some researchers to be like a risk minimisation system for economic emergencies (Rivera et al 1993). Despite the importance of this type of production system as an urban agricultural model, the availability of information to enable us to understand this issue is restricted, and this absence of information has become a factor which limits its possible development. As an important part of development research, our group has been looking at urban systems of production based on low uses of external inputs that could be adapted as an alternative model of sustainable production for the city.

The objective of this present paper is to present a study of the system of backyard poultry and pig production in Iztapalapa.


The procedure used was that of collecting information direct from the backyard producers through a static survey (Arriaga et al 1993), designed to find out about the social, technological and commercial features of production. The survey technique was tried out, first, at a small scale before being used extensively. In the absence of reliable statistics about the number of producers and animals in the area, a method was applied that is similar to that used in compiling population censuses which is based on geostatistical areas (SPP 1978). Thus, the Delegation of Iztapalapa was divided into 20 areas, and the producers studied were chosen on the basis of these, with the objective of avoiding duplication and obtaining a representative survey.


The backyards were found from direct observation or from informants. In total, 453 questionnaires were applied, encompassing 8000 poultry birds and 846 pigs. This represents 20% of the birds and 7% of the pigs reported in the statistical source as 'household animals' (Anon 1979). Once the information was obtained, a process of analysis was carried out and the results were expressed as either mean of main trend or percentage of frequency (Daniels 1984). The study was carried out over a period of 5 months.


Social features of backyard production

In common with the situation in the majority of Mexico's urban animal production systems, the activities of Iztapalapa's backyard producers are carried out within the vicinity of the house or habitation. In the case of poultry, the management is largely the responsibility of the women and children, and represents only a secondary activity for men. The producers' objective is defined within a system of domestic economy, in which their direct contribution to family income is reduced. The main occupations of the poultry owners (see table 1) include domestic work, salaried work and various official positions.

As in other systems of production within Iztapalapa, the level of education of the producers is predominantly of primary and secondary level, and up to 16% of the producers were reported to be illiterate. The social features of pig production revealed that in 48% of cases, the activity was associated with the other systems of cattle and poultry production.

Technical features of backyard production

Type, breed and function of the animals

The distribution of species in Iztapalapa, evaluated by their frequency within the household, reflected that of the country as a whole, that is to say: chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese (in order of importance). The number of birds kept ranged from 1 to 110, with the largest frequency found within the value of 1-10 birds. The average ratio of birds to owner was 26:1, which indicates that the largest number of birds are in the hands of a small number of producers. The composition of the flock is made up mainly of young birds, followed by adult males and lastly by adult females - a composition associated with the sub-system of breeding. The breed and/or type of birds were found to be composed of native breeds (61%), farm birds (35%) and fighting birds (4%). The most common colours of the chickens (see table 2) were red and white; in the case of turkeys it was black; and for ducks and geese white predominated.

In relation to the backyard production of pigs, the number of animals per unit of production was concentrated within the range of 1-5 pigs (more than 100 owners), although there were some producers who reported the presence of 66 productive animals. From the point of view of the type of animal present, castrated pigs and young and fattened sows represented the vast majority, followed by breeding sows, suckling pigs and sires. The type and/or breed was dominated by native or crossed (27%), Hampshire (20%), Duroc Jersey (17%), Landrace (6%) and Yorkshire (3%).

Housing and manure management of the backyard

The location for the breeding and maintenance of the birds included the yard (34%), the poultry house (26%), and both (36%). The poultry house, where one existed, was of simple construction - a rectangular structure with a floor of cement or earth, walls of wire mesh and/or wood, and roof of laminated board. The birds may be kept there permanently, or just during the night. The materials of the feeding trough included galvanised steel sheet, plastic or, in place of a trough, old kitchen crockery. In the case of drink dispensers, the use of bottles substituted proprietary dispensers. The information obtained from the producers indicated that the cleaning of the poultry house was incidental, and that the excreta, when it was collected, was either used as a source of organic fertiliser for house plants or removed, although some producers reported drying, grinding and selling it as a way of obtaining additional income. Creosote was used to combat unpleasant smells.

In the case of the pigs, the system of housing consists of the pigsty where the animals are kept permanently. The majority of the pigsties were found to be rectangular with a cement floor (93%), partition (73%) or solid wooden (24%) walls and a roof partially or totally of laminated board (85%). In the majority of cases, the feeding and water troughs were of cement, other materials included plastic or galvanised iron sheet. Depending on the number of animals and their function (fattening, breeding etc. ) the number of pigsties may be increased. The cleaning of the yard was carried out, on average, five times a week, and the majority of the producers threw away the excreta (84%), with only a small percentage using it as a form of organic manure for plants.

System of Feeding

The system of feeding of the adult poultry birds in Iztapalapa maintains a regional domestic link by making use of restaurant wastes (26%), stale tortillas (24%), maize (24%), wheat grains (20%) and alfalfa (11%). The feed of the young birds includes commercial concentrates, waste bread, vegetables, wheat and rice. The feed of the backyard pigs (see table 3) is based on products similar to those used for poultry.

Breeding Management

The criteria which determine the selection of birds for breeding (male and female) were given as: the body structure, the size of bird, and/or the live weight. These factors combined represented 90% of the determinants, the remainder being for breed and colour. In the case of native types, reproduction was reported as maintaining a seasonal cycle, with a laying period of twenty eggs followed by one of incubation period, thus guaranteeing the continuation of the system. The majority of the producers reported taking advantage of natural incubation, claiming an average of two incubations per year (66%) or more (34%). The number of eggs to hatch was within the ranges of 7-11 (40%) and 11-13 (31%).

Regarding the reproduction of the pigs, the identification of sows on heat was reported to be through direct observation of the vulva and by noting the restlessness of the animals. The approximate live weight at which the sows were mated for the first time was in the range of 79-90 kg. There was an average of two mounts. The mean litter size for first-time mothers was 6, and 8 or more for subsequent births. The majority of producers said they disinfected the umbilicus, detusked, vaccinated and castrated the piglets during the lactation period. The criteria for selecting breeding animals were based on a combination of physical features: body structure, colour, resemblance to certain types of pigs etc., while rejection was based on economic emergencies (60%) or age and associated low production (40%).

Sanitary management of backyard animals

The illnesses that occurred in the poultry demonstrated a seasonal pattern associated with humidity and low temperatures. The main diseases that affected the poultry included typhoid, catarrh, smallpox, Newcastle and diarrhoea. 40% of the producers claimed to vaccinate the birds against Newcastle. The treatment of diseases was based on home remedies (garlic, lime , onion (32%)), or the use of aspirin, or medicines specifically for poultry. The diseases affecting the pigs included pneumonia and diarrhoea. The majority vaccinate against cholera (94%), and take measures against internal parasites (88%). The use of specific pig medicines was preferred to the use of home remedies or human medicines.

Economic features of backyard production

The objective of poultry production was found to be fundamentally for subsistence use and for saving money for emergencies. Secondary functions of production included breeding for sport (fighting cocks) and for activities associated with magic (cleansings). A small percentage of producers said they sold birds and/or eggs for incubating purposes. The sale cost of these backyard birds was highest for the turkeys and lowest for the ducks, while the chickens occupied an intermediate position. The consumption of poultry occurred throughout the year (48%), although there was a significant percentage of producers who reserved consumption for celebrations (33%).

The sale of pigs in Iztapalapa has, as its final objective, the production of meat and associated products. The system is articulated in such a way that the type of commercialisation coincides with different productive periods. In this way, the producer generates income through the rent of stud animals, the sale of weaned piglets for breeding or fattening, the sale of fattened animals for slaughter (live weight 90-105 kg) and the sale of discarded breeding animals. The form of sale which predominates is by volume or by kilogram, directly from the owners' houses. The majority of buyers are individuals, with a small proportion of sales to butchers, markets and/or abattoirs.


The information obtained from the present study shows that the backyard production of poultry and pigs within the urban environment constitutes an important economic and cultural activity which has stood the test of time, despite the legal restrictions imposed by the metropolitan authorities.

The backyard poultry farming of the area represents an activity popular amongst the population with ,scarce economic resources linked to an agricultural tradition. The composition of the flock, as in other regions with a similar climate, shows a species distribution related to socio-economic, cultural and environmental factors. Chickens represent the majority (87%) of the flock, in comparison to turkeys and ducks which make up 8% and 5% of the total population respectively (a ratio of 7:1). The reasons for this lie in the lower market prices of chickens, their undemanding management, and the general acceptance of their products (eggs and meat). In contrast, turkeys maintain high market prices, their availability is predetermined to specific times of year related to religious festivals, they demand a more complicated programme of breeding management, and the use of their eggs is restricted (associated more with magic than with consumption). Nevertheless, they maintain their presence in the backyard, justified by the capacity of the female turkeys to incubate both her own eggs and those of hens, and is therefore used as an 'incubator' (Lozano 1982).

The environmental limitations of the zone are directly reflected by the relatively insignificant presence of ducks and geese. The area now lacks lakes or bodies of water due to the urban modifications to what was once one of the original zones of chinampas (Rojas 1983). In relation to the systemisation of production of backyard poultry, the dominant sub-system included the complete cycle. It is characterised by the presence of male and females guaranteeing the continuation of the model. The production of eggs (for subsistence use and for sale), meat from special types of birds (eg: fattened chickens), and sport (derived from the fighting cocks that represent a direct link with the agro-cultural tradition of the zone) make up the collateral sub-system..

The model of backyard pig production in Iztapalapa maintains particular characteristics, which have been adapted to the conditions imposed by urbanisation. In view of the existing spatial restrictions within the zone, pig production has been orientated towards the production of meat, and collaterally speaking has been aimed at obtaining economic resources for emergencies. This surmise has been confirmed by an analysis of the sub-systems of the area. The dominant sub-system is that of reproduction, which involves the presence of sows and sires (the latter being owned or hired) for the production of piglets, and their sale, when weaned, for fattening or further breeding. In addition to the sub-system of fattening, castrated pigs are acquired by local producers, to be sold at an average live weight of 100 kg. Based on this information, it could be surmised that the causal factor of the producers' defined objective of fattening, is centred on the restrictions in physical space, which has pushed the producers towards a particular system.

With respect to the factors previously discussed - regarding aspects related to animal type, sub-system distribution, a simplified management based on a low use of inputs - the backyard model of Iztapalapa constitutes an alternative system. It is of interest for its potential development as a sustainable production system, able to satisfy the need for goods for human consumption and able to reduce to a minimum the problems of pollution associated with 'technification'. This proposal is supported by the growing demand from the developed countries for 'organic' products, and also by the increasing legal restrictions in some of these countries against animal exploitation (eg: battery hens). All this has stimulated the search for models such as that demonstrated by the backyard agricultural production of Iztapalapa.

Another aspect within the concept of sustainablility worth mentioning is that, in a manner similar to that of milk production within the urban zone (Losada et al 1996), the restrictions in the use of space which push production towards a pre-defined objective, is compensated for by a close relation with the technified systems of neighbouring zones, which are used like tributaries with direct repercussions on productivity. In accordance with the data obtained from this study, the background production of poultry and pigs shows clear characteristics of 'overflow technology', stemming from neighbouring technified systems - such as the use of specialised breeds for meat production, the use of commercial concentrates, and preventative health management in order to prevent diseases and parasites. On the other hand, the model has maintained its own distinctive features, such as the use of non-conventional feeds (stale tortilla and bread, scraps etc.), which directly reflects an urban form of production that has been able to adapt itself to the conditions imposed by the city, and which, like other systems in this environment, has developed a new technology based on the recycling of domestic and industrial waste. In this sense, it is clear that in the short term research ought to focus on obtaining an understanding of the functional structure of backyard agriculture and on looking for adaptations that would increase its productive efficiency.

An example of a similar production system exists in Cuba, where the use of food waste has generated a complex technical development that involves the dehydration of the waste, and its distribution to small producers (D.Grande, 1997, personal comunication.). This has been recognised by international organisations as an 'environmentally friendly technology'. With these types of ideas, it is clear that sensitivity on the part of researchers and authorities is vital for their success in the immediate future.


The authors wish to thank the students of the Animal production option who helped with the field work, the authorities of the Universidad Autónoma metropolitana MAutonomous Metropolitan University) for facilities given to the research and the producers in the Delegation of Iztapalapa for facilitating the collection of information.


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Received 14 June 1997

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