Livestock Research for Rural Development 29 (1) 2017 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Chicken diseases and their ethno-botanical treatments among the rural poor in southern Zambia, Africa

Michelo Syakalima1, Martin Simuunza2 and Victor Zulu3

1 North West University, Mafikeng Campus, Centre for Animal Health Studies, Private Bag X2046, Mmabatho, South Africa, 2735
Phone: +2718 389 2711; Fax: +2718 389 2748
2 University of Zambia, School of Veterinary Medicine, Disease Control Department, P.O Box 32379, Lusaka. Zambia.
3 University of Zambia, School of Veterinary Medicine, Clinical Studies Department, P.O Box 32379, Lusaka. Zambia


Village chicken production is widespread among rural farmers in Zambia because such chickens provide immediate proteins and cash to poor rural communities. Furthermore village chickens are very resistant to common diseases found in these rural settings so rearing them is sustainable. Most people in these communities have, over generations, learnt rearing techniques that include knowledge on managing the common chicken diseases. They have specific treatments for different diseases but unfortunately this information is kept and passed on informally along family lines and is rarely recorded. This study used Focus Group discussions (FGDs) to document some of the treatments they use for Newcastle disease, Diarrhea, Fowl pox, Wobbly legs, Worms, and Sneezing/coughing which are the notable diseases farmers commonly encounter. The study hopes to stimulate biomedical research in their usefulness and possible incorporation in the mainstream disease control strategies of the country.

Key words: ethnoveterinary treatments, village chicken, Zambia


Village chickens are widely recognized as an important part of national economies of developing countries and that they improve the nutritional status and incomes of many small farmers and landless communities (FAO 1982, 1987; Creevey, 1991; Mokotjo, 1990). These chickens are also relatively more widely distributed in rural Africa than the other livestock species. In the United Republic of Tanzania, a survey of 600 households in 20 villages showed that chickens were the only form of livestock found in most households (Collier et al 1986). Similar observations have been reported in the Niger (Abdou and Bell 1992), in Ghana (van Veluw 1987) and in Mali (Kuit et al 1986). From these surveys it was also recognized that village chickens are important sources of protein in the form of meat and eggs for home consumption [Mali (Kuit et al 1986); Ghana (van Veluw 1987); the United Republic of Tanzania (Kabatange and Katule 1989); South Africa (Cairns and Lea 1990); the Gambia (Andrews 1990); the Niger (Abdou and Bell 1992) and Côte d'Ivoire (Diambra 1990)]. These chickens do not only provide animal protein in rural households but chicken meat and eggs protein is of a higher biological value than that of red meat (Norman 1973). Chicken meat and eggs are reported to complement staple diets of rural Africa due to the higher nutrient concentration. In Zambia, village poultry production is also widespread and mainly based on the scavenging indigenous chickens found in virtually all villages and households (Annual Reports, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999).


Although village chickens are widespread, easier to keep and more resistant to diseases, they still succumb to major diseases of poultry such as Newcastle disease (ND), infectious bursal disease (IBD) or Gumboro, Marek disease (MD), fowl typhoid, cholera, mycoplasmosis and coccidiosis (Adene 1996). Fortunately, rural farmers have over generations passed on methods of treating these diseases unfortunately most of these methods are not recorded and are merely passed on informally. Poultry health programme development requires reliable information on the epidemiology of diseases, which is lacking in village chicken production systems (Pandey 1993). Disease surveillance is further limited by poor infrastructure and communication, as well as inadequate diagnostic facilities. It is therefore important that we document the diseases these farmers experience and the methods they use to treat or/and control these diseases in order to have options for country wide disease control strategies.


This paper documents the ethno-botanical treatments and their preparations as reported by the farmers themselves in the Southern Province of Zambia. It also documents the causes and disease signs from the rural farmers’ perspective.


Study areas:


The study was done in Choma, Kalomo, Monze and Sinazongwe districts of Southern province in the Republic of Zambia, Southern Africa. In each district approximately 60 rural farmers participated resulting in an approximate total sample size of approximately 240 farmers.


Data collection:


The research was a participatory epidemiological study conducted in two phases.  The first phase was a pre-study exploratory rapid rural appraisal (RRA) and the second was a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). The pre-study survey was conducted to familiarize the researchers with the study areas and to identify key informants and entry points.


The PRA methodology facilitated a rapid overview of chicken health problems in the study areas and how they are treated using open ended questions. This was achieved by directly asking the farmers what chicken health problems were occurring or had occurred. Focus group discussions (FGDs) were used to build definitions of each problem. Once the description was received, clarifying questions were asked. After a number of interviews had been completed, consensus definitions (in vernacular) of important chicken health syndromes and their treatments were determined. After the FGDs in-depth interviews were done with key informants identified from the groups to further validate the information.


All data was recorded by hand and in some cases using a tape recorder.


Plants used to treat named diseases and their preparation:


Refer to Table 1 below for a list of diseases, the plants and preparations they use for their treatment.

Table 1. The commonly used plants to treat named chicken diseases including their mode of preparation and administration




Local names Botanical name

1. Newcastle


Cactus spp.

Chop, pound and add to drinking water

Tati and Mpili pili

Aloe genus and chillies (Capsicum frutescenes)

Crush, mix the two and put in drinking water


Peltophorum africanum

Crush bark and add to drinking


Piliostigma thonningii

Grind the fruit and add to drinking water

Mutamba (Maabo)

Strychnos spinosa

Grind the leaves and add to drinking water


Kigelia Africana

Crush the fruits and soak into drinking water


2. Fowl pox


Cassia Abbreviata/Singueana, Trema Orientalis

Chop and pound the stalks of


Capsicum frutescene

Crush fruit, mix with donkey faeces in drinking water


Kigelia Africana

Crush fruit and soak in drinking water


Rinchosia spp

Crush roots and put in drinking water


Julbernardia globiflora

Pound bark and add to drinking water


3. Paralysis
(Wobbly legs)


Swartzia madagascariensis

Pound fruits, soak the mash into water then spray the birds and surrounding areas

Tobacco leaves

Nicotiana tabacum

Pound leaves and soak in water then spray in the sleeping or resting places of birds


4. Coughing/


Cassia Abbreviata/Singueana, Trema Orientalis

Pound the bark and soak it into drinking water


Aloe genus

Crush and add to drinking water



pound and soak into drinking water


5. Diarrhea


Cassia Abbreviata/Singueana, Trema Orientalis

bark is pounded and added into drinking water


6. Worms


Cassia Abbreviata/Singueana, Trema Orientalis

Crush the bark and soak it in drinking water


Julbernardia globiflora

Crush bark mix with chilies and add to drinking water

Mususu and Musamba

Terminalia sericea and Brachystegia longifolia

Crush stalks or barks and soak in drinking water

Farmers descriptions of the diseases, causes, other treatments and control for named diseases


Newcastle disease


The farmers believe that the disease is predisposed by a number of factors such as: people carrying chickens and moving from one place to another; chickens pick up the disease from the environment when feeding on the soil/sand; that the disease is common during very hot or cold weather when birds are stressed; that starvation also had an influence on the disease. They mentioned the most prominent sign of the disease is seeing chickens just drop dead from tree branches where they sleep at night. Other signs mentioned were coughing, salivation and dullness. As for treatments other than plant based ones mentioned above; adding lime to drinking water; adding potassium permanganate to drinking water; and soaking donkey faeces into the drinking water were said to be commonly used by all farmers in the areas investigated. To control the disease from their flock, the farmers said they do the following: restrict movement of people and chickens from affected areas; treatment of flocks when disease is noticed in or around the flock using methods above; banning mixing or exchanging of birds when the disease breaks out; reducing the number of cockerels in flock because they believe that they move around a lot and transport disease from other households or even villages; cleaning housing very thoroughly especially during outbreaks.


Fowl pox


The farmers believed that the disease was commonly seen when: chickens were seen eating pumpkins and water melon shells together as a group; lived in dirty houses especially during very hot weather, and when there is faecal contamination of drinking, feeding and sleeping places. This could be related to the stress and cross-contaminations among the birds. Mosquitoes and bites from fleas were also suspected by some farmers because the disease was much more common when these vectors are widespread. As for the clinical signs commonly associated with the disease, farmers mentioned lumps and sores on the face; swollen eyes; lack of appetite; and dullness. Alternative treatment other than plants mentioned above included applying Kerosene or used oil on faces of affected birds; and adding donkey faeces to drinking water.


Paralysis (Wobbly legs)


The disease was also common at all sampled sites and farmers believe the disease is caused by blood sucking ticks/mites/insects. The main sign of the disease that the farmers associated with the disease was lameness i.e. walking with a wobbly gait, weak legs, walking on knees and birds becoming paralyzed. They treat the disease by rubbing the skin with different types of detergents to kill the ticks/mites/insects that are known to cause the disease. They also massage the legs with a salt (sodium chloride) solution. They recommended slaughtering of affected animals; clearing of the stacks/barks where ticks/mites/insects may lodge; spraying the housing with plants mentioned in the treatment; and proper cleaning of the housing and surrounding as a way of controlling the disease.


Coughing /sneezing


Most farmers attributed coughing to: starvation, drinking dirty water, cold weather, presence of worms, and too much dust. Treatments and control measures were exclusively those mentioned in table 1.




Among the many causes mentioned most farmers attributed diarrhea to: poor or even lack of good feed, dirty drinking water, and infections. Treatment for the condition is commonly that which is mentioned in table 1. As for controlling the disease; good feeding, clean water and clean housing were recommended.




Worms were also another common condition mentioned by most chicken farmers. They associated worm infections with dirty drinking water contaminated with faeces from different livestock as well as from poor feed. Treatments and control were exclusively those in table 1.

Discussion and conclusions

From the outset it should be mentioned that these are the actual practices the interviewed farmers use to treat their chickens. No attempt has been made to edit the information and furthermore no effort has been made to verify whether these methods are effective or not using biomedical means. The researchers did this for two reasons: firstly their main objective was to initiate the process of documenting the practices as they are done by the farmers without any modification so as to understand the farmers’ reasoning behind the methods they use; secondly it is hoped that by documenting these practices effective scientific verification of their actual efficacy will be stimulated. The fact that the methods used were common across villages was another reason not to try and edit or re-adjust what had to be recorded.


Some plants were observed to treat many conditions such as the Mululwe (Cassia Abbreviata/Singueana, Trema Orientalis). This may point to the fact that it contains many compounds that are effective to different symptoms or it may just be that they alleviate symptoms that are found across illnesses such as pain and are therefore not specific treatments to any one particular disease. This is therefore one of the areas that requires further investigation.


Unfortunately, it was not possible to find botanical names for all plants that were given to researchers. This ultimately affected the number of plants that could be added to this write-up. Efforts are being made to find botanical names for all plants and these will be added in future reports.


Knowing how farmers describe diseases and the causative agent is a very important aspect for veterinarians since they always have to get history of diseases from farmers and thus trying to understand the farmers’ perspective would be very important in the diagnosis of the disease and also in treatment and control. Most treatments and control options are based on natural remedies and the resources required are found in abundance in each community. It is for this reason that most communities use this knowledge to manage diseases. The costs of these treatments are manageable and in most cases they are free. Where payment is required, a barter system is commonly used which is very convenient as each party gives what they can comfortably provide /afford. It is therefore important to invest in the verification of these medicinal plants and seek their inclusion in national poultry disease health management strategies in order to improve health and sustainability of health programs.


This work was made possible by funding from CARE International, Zambia. We also want to acknowledge the cooperation and support from the traditional farmers in our study sites.


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Received 12 July 2016; Accepted 16 November 2016; Published 1 January 2017

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