Livestock Research for Rural Development 17 (10) 2005 Guidelines to authors LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Constraints and opportunities of village chicken production systems in the smallholder sector of Rushinga district of Zimbabwe

C Mapiye and S Sibanda*

Department of Agriculture, Bindura University of Science Education. P. Bag 1020, Bindura, Zimbabwe
*Department of Animal Science, University of Zimbabwe, P.O Box MP 167, Mt Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe


The study was carried out from March 2001 to February 2002 at Kamanika Ward in Rushinga District of Mashonaland Central Province in Zimbabwe. The objective of the study was to determine the effect of ownership patterns, gender, housing, health and feeding systems on village chicken production. Seventy-two households were selected using stratified random sampling based on sex of the household head and flock size.

On average, each household had a flock size of 30 ± 6 chickens. Chickens that received full feed supplementation had highest flock sizes, hen and chick numbers. Poled and raised housing type yielded highest flock sizes. Large flock sizes were obtained under those farmers that gave traditional medicine to their chickens. About 40.5 % of deaths recorded were due to predation, 30.2% due to disease, 8.8% due to accidents, 8.6% due to parasites and 12.9% due to unknown causes. Although 88% of the households were male-headed, women owned 95% of the chickens. Female-headed households had higher chicken flock sizes and lower mortalities than male-headed households. Women dominated in feeding (43.5% of the households), watering (51.2%) and cleaning (37.2%). Men mainly dominated in shelter construction (60%).

Housing, feeding and health systems were identified as opportunities, and predation, diseases and chick mortality as constraints to the expansion of village chicken production. Adequate disease control, reduction of chick losses, improvement of husbandry practices and implementation of gender sensitive projects were recommended.

Key words: Feed, flock size, housing, mortality, village chickens


Development of semi-intensive enterprises, particularly village chicken production, can be a useful way of helping to meet the nutritional, income, employment and gender needs of the rural population (Kusina and Kusina 1999). Despite the fact that village chickens are present in almost every household in Zimbabwean communal areas, their contribution to farm household and rural economies is not proportional to their high numbers due to low productivity levels and poor management systems (Shumba and Whingwiri 1998). Poor reproductive performance, poor growth rates, diseases, mortality, predation and lack of organised markets are some of the major constraints in smallholder chicken production (Muchenje and Sibanda 1997). These have been compounded by the use of adaptable, but low performance breeds and shortage of feed resources (Kusina and Kusina 1999).

With the increase in population and rural urban migration, less emphasis on developmental issues is being directed towards the poor and economically inactive women, children and old aged who are the majority in rural areas (Bradley 1992). Although it is recognized that women and children are responsible for village chicken production, control and access to benefits may not be exclusive to them (Kitalyi 1998). Explicit integration of women's concerns in the village chicken production systems can allow for a broader perspective in identifying the needs, constraints and opportunities for women. However, before that is done there is a need to understand the current constraints and opportunities within the existing production systems. Such information may assist in the development of gender sensitive and relevant near-term target specific technologies for the smallholder sector farmers in Zimbabwe. The objective of this study was therefore, to determine the effect of ownership patterns, gender, housing, health and feeding systems on village chicken production in Rushinga District of Zimbabwe.

Materials and Methods

Study site

The study was carried out in three randomly selected villages of Kamanika Ward in Rushinga District of Mashonaland Central Province in Zimbabwe. The study area lies between latitudinal lines 16o 30l and 16o and 45l and between longitudinal lines 32o 00l and 32o 45l. It is in agro-ecological zone IV, characterized by low rainfall (450-500mm), high temperatures (18-30 oC) and short growing periods (100-140 days).

Sampling of households

Seventy-two households were selected using stratified random sampling based on the sex of the household head and flock size. Farmers who possessed village chickens and were keen to take part in the study were considered. This sampling procedure was used to divide households into six groups which are male- or female-headed with flock sizes of 5-10, 11-20 and > 20 chickens. Each household was regarded as an experimental unit.

Data collection

The data was collected using structured questionnaires and participatory rural appraisal techniques. The data collected include: flock size, flock composition, type of housing, feed offered, health provision, eggs produced, flock mortalities, ownership, gender and labour involved in chicken production. The data was collected from March 2001-February 2002.

Flock composition

Flocks were divided into chicks, cockerels, pullets, hens and cocks and the number in each category was recorded.

Type of housing

Housing was classified by material used for construction and bedding and the height of housing base from the ground.

Feed system and health provision

Households were classified into three classes based on feeding system namely: Zero supplementation, partial supplementation and full (100%) supplementation. Information was recoded on whether the farmer gives any medicine to birds in poor health. The households were divided into 3 categories: zero, partial and 100% health provision.

Eggs produced and mortalities

The total number of eggs produced by an individual hen on average per year was recorded. The average number of chickens that died, age group and cause of death were recorded.


The types of work done, sex and age of the person involved in the work on chickens were recorded.

Data analysis

The data was analyzed using PROC MEANS and PROC FREQ of SAS (2000) to give descriptive statistics. The GLM procedure (SAS 2000) was used to analyze for the effect of management systems on productivity parameters.

Results and Discussion

On average, each household had a flock size and flock mortality of 30 ± 6 (mean ± standard deviation) and 2 ± 1 chickens, respectively. The flock size was mainly composed of chicks (15 ± 5). Muchenje and Sibanda (1997) reported a range of 10-40 for flock sizes of village chickens in Sanyati and Nharira smallholder communal areas. On average village chickens laid and incubated 10 ± 2 and 8 ± 1 eggs/clutch, respectively. Average egg weight was 52.2g ± 2. These results concur with findings of Faranisi (1995) in Sanyati where average egg weights for the un-supplemented chickens were 48g with annual production of 34 eggs laid in 2-3 clutches.

Feed provision

About 6.2 % of the households practiced zero supplementation, 96.6% partial supplementation and 0.2% always provided supplementary feed to their chickens. Most of the farmers (95.5%) produced their own supplementary feeds and 4.5% used purchased feed. The supplementary feeds used were maize and maize residues (47.5% of the households), small grains (12.9%), sunflower (0.2%), household waste and maize-small grain combination had the highest contribution (39.2%). The portion that comes as grain supplement varied with seasons and activities such as land preparation, sowing harvesting and threshing. The different feeding systems implemented significantly influenced flock size, hen and chick numbers (P< 0.05). Chickens that were fully supplemented (100%) had highest flock sizes, hen and chick numbers (Table 1). In general, well-fed chickens have high growth rates and are very fertile and less prone to diseases and parasites (Dessie and Ogle 1996). These results indicate that feeds and feeding system are a potential for intervention since the majority of the farmers practiced supplementary feeding with locally produced feed.

Table 1 The effect of feeding system on flock size, hen and chick numbers

Feeding system

Flock size

Hen numbers

Chick numbers

Zero supplementation

20 3a

4 0.6a

7 2a

Partial supplementation

26 3b

5 0.3a

11 1b

Full supplementation

30 6c

9.0 1.9b

25 8c

ab Least square means  with the same superscript within a column are not significantly different (P > 0.05)

Housing provision

All farmers provided housing to their chickens. This indicates that farmers were aware of the importance of housing and hence there is need to educate them to build proper housing structures so that they realise more benefits. There was a wide variety of housing in the area of study: brick and litter type of housing (31% of the households), brick and raised (4.2%), poled and littered (29.2%), poled and raised (15.5%) and brick and fenced (20%). Brick and litter types were the most popular houses because farmers felt that they provide more warmth and security from both thieves and predators than other housing types. The type of housing had a significant (P< 0.05) effect on the flock size, hen and chick numbers (Table 2). Poled and raised housing yielded highest flock sizes and this was attributed to the ability to provide adequate ventilation and protection from diseases, predators and parasites. Such houses are also easy to clean, well drained and facilitate frequent removal of droppings thus reducing susceptibility to diseases and parasites. Since poled and raised housing gave highest flock sizes there is a potential for farmers to improve housing using locally available resources and skills. Proper housing must not only provide an environment that moderates environmental impact but must provide adequate ventilation for birds to lay eggs in nest boxes, as well as to feed and sleep in comfort and security (Katie 1990). The construction of proper housing using cheap, durable, locally available resources and skills can go along way in improving village chicken production (Kusina and Kusina 1999). Lack of adequate housing can partly explain chicken mortalities and thus good housing is therefore, a prerequisite for any viable and sustainable chicken project.

Table 2 The effect of housing type on flock size, hen and chick numbers

Housing type

Flock size

Hen numbers

Chick numbers

Brick and raised

27 3b

5 1a

14 3a

Brick and littered

23 4a

5 1a

12 4a

Poled and raised

33 4c

7 1b

17 3b

Poled and littered

30 4c

6 1b

18 3b


27 3b

5 1a

14 3a

ab Least square means with the same superscript within a column are not significantly different (P > 0.05)

Health provision

Farmers responded differently in times of disease occurrence. The majority (79%) did nothing, 14.4% gave traditional medicine, 4.8% used modern medicine and 0.9% used human related medicine. Lack of response by the farmers was attributed to lack of cash to purchase veterinary medicine and shortage of veterinary and extension services. The wide use of traditional medicine was due to its low cost, local availability and easiness of application. Large flock sizes were obtained with those farmers that gave traditional medicine to their chickens. This indicates that traditional medicines do work and have the potential to improve the health status of village flocks. Hence, there is a need for research to determine their chemical properties, concentrations and mode of application.

Various health provisions practiced by farmer significantly (P< 0.05) affected chick mortality. Chicks have a weak and under-developed immune system. This exposes them to diseases more than adult birds. Chick mortality was highest in the flock group with chickens greater than twenty and treated with modern veterinary medicine. Diseases spread faster in large flocks compared to smaller flocks (Dessie and Ogle 1996). This was also attributed to lack of financial resources to maintain large flocks, lack of knowledge by the farmers on the use of modern veterinary medicine and lack of proper medicine storage infrastructure.

Flock mortality

Highest flock mortalities were recorded from March to July 2001. This was mostly due to an increase in predation levels caused by shortages of predator feed and lack of vegetation cover to protect chickens from predators such as eagles and hawks. Diseases and parasites contributed markedly to high flock mortalities recorded during the rainy season (November to February). These conditions promote vector survival and multiplication and lowers bird's resistance to infection and infestation. An increase in mortality in December (festive season) was chiefly due to chicken consumption.

About 40.5 % of deaths recorded were due to predation, 30.2% due to disease, 8.8% due to accidents, 8.6% due to parasites and 12.9% due to unknown causes. Predation was mainly due to the effect of "Karombo" (30.7% of the predation cases) (Karombo is a small animal in the cat family that preys on chickens), followed by eagles and cats with 22.6% and 21%, respectively. The most prevalent diseases were eye diseases (27.6%), diarrhoea (25%) and respiratory related diseases (20%). Chicks (63.4% of the affected groups) and hens (11.1%) were the most affected age groups. Chick high mortality levels were attributed to their weak immune system and physical defense mechanisms. High disease levels were probably due to exposure of chickens to the natural environment, interaction of different entities, within and among flocks such as flock contacts during scavenging, uncontrolled introduction of new stock, contact through exchange or sale of live chickens or movement between households and villages.

Ownership patterns

Although 88% of the households were male-headed, women owned the bulk of the chickens, with an overall ownership of 69%. About 45% of the women were involved in decision-making concerning chicken production. Children owned a number of chickens but without outright ownership. Most of it was done to develop children's responsibility. Flock size and mortality were significantly (P< 0.05) influenced by the sex of the head of the household. Female-headed households had higher chicken flock sizes and lower mortalities than male-headed households. Ownership and sex of the household head influences decision making and household access to food on a daily basis (Kusina and Kusina 1999). Thus, two households owning equal number of chickens can be in different situations, depending on the actual structure of ownership and decision-making within the household.

Gender roles in village chicken production

Women dominated most of the activities around village chicken production. Women dominated in feeding (37.7% of the households), watering (51.2) and cleaning (37.2%) (Table 3). In addition to shelter construction (60% of the households), men were also dominant in the treatment of chickens (40.5%). Woman dominated activities that were done on a daily basis because, more frequently, men were not at home being involved in extramural activities. Boys dominated girls in all village chicken activities. Parents dominated children in all the work concerning village chicken production.

Table 3: Participation of different gender groups in village chicken production


% of households involved in the activity

% Involved in the activity







Whole household








Providing water














Shelter construction







Cleaning fowl run







Conclusions and Recommendations


Bradley F A 1992 A historical review of women's contributions to village chicken production and the implications of village chicken development process. In: proceedings of the 19th World Village Chicken Congress, Amsterdam, Neartherlands, 24-28 September 1992. pp 693-696.

Dessie T and Ogle B 1996 Studies on poultry production systems in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, MSc Thesis, Department of Animal Nutrition and Management.

Faranisi A T 1995 Village chicken breeding in Zimbabwe. In: Proceedings of International Symposium on Livestock Production Through Animal Breeding and Genetics. Harare. Zimbabwe.

Katie T 1990 Free ranging village chicken, Farming Press Books. Ipswich, UK.

Kitalyi A J 1998 Village chicken production systems in rural Africa. Household food security and gender issues. FAO, Animal production and health paper 142 Rome, Italy.

Kusina J F and Kusina N T 1999 Feasibility study of agricultural and household activities as they relate to livestock production in Guruve District of Mashonaland central Province with emphasis on village chicken production. Household Agricultural Support Programme Report, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Muchenje V and Sibanda S 1997 Informal surveys report on village chicken production systems in Nharira-Lancashire and Sanyati farming areas. Unpublished.

Shumba E M and Whingwiri E E 1998 Prospects for increased livestock production in communal areas: An agronomist perspective. In research and extension for livestock in communal area farming. Henderson Research Station, 10-18 February 1988.

Statistical Analytical Systems (SAS) 2000 SAS/STAT User's guide, Release 8.1 Edition SAS Institute Inc, Cary, North Carolina, USA.

Received 29 May 2005; Accepted 2 August 2005; Published 1 October 2005

Go to top