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Citation of this paper

Production potential and qualitative traits of indigenous chicken of Kashmir

S Iqbal and Z A Pampori 

Division of Veterinary Physiology, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of  Kashmir, Shuhama, Srinagar, Kashmir 190006, India



The present study was focused on exploration of quantitative and qualitative characteristics of indigenous chicken of Kashmir, being reared at an altitude of 1500 to 2000 metres above mean sea level. The local chicken of Kashmir is reared by the rural populace mostly in traditional free range scavenging system, however, in suburban areas it is also being reared in backyard / subsistence scavenging system.


51 villages were taken up for the study and 461 households rearing not less than 8 indigenous chickens were surveyed and interacted. 74% of cockerels reached maturity at an age of 5 – 6 months and 26 % within 7 – 7 month. 46% female chicken reached maturity at an age of 6 – 7 month, 42% at 7-8 month and 12% at 9-12 month. The live weights recorded in cockerel and pullet were 0.939 0.153 kg and 0.853 0.140 kg and in cock and hen were 1.820 0.25kg and 1.35 0.22 kg respectively, which differed significantly (P<0.01) between the sexes. The egg production recorded was low, 50- 60 eggs per year in the chicken reared under free range scavenging system whereas it increased to 75 to 90 eggs in the chicken reared under backyard scavenging system. Four cycles of broodiness were recorded per year in hens with an average duration of 12 to 15 days; the period of broodiness when the hen was brooding can extend up to a month. The hatchability of eggs was 77 to 81% and on an average 12 to 13 eggs were incubated per hen. The indigenous chicken of Kashmir was multicoloured; 55% chickens were having barred plumage, 35% black and 10% white. The eggs were mostly brown in colour with  an average weight 46.06 3.96g.The quality of egg was found good with hough unit 71, albumin index 0.071 and shape index 0.455. Mortality was recorded 41% from day one to one year mostly due to predation and New Castle disease. The losses however, were reduced in backyard scavenging system because of little health care.


The indigenous chicken of Kashmir was found to have high genetic variation, and can be introduced in mainstream agriculture to contribute to national economy as well as employment generation. This goal can be successfully achieved if managerial practices are improved and proper vaccination and health care is provided.

Key words: backyard, carcass characters, indigenous chicken, Kashmir, production, qualitative traits


Kashmir falls in the great north-western complex of the Himalayan ranges, at 34 o 30’ North and 76o East with an average altitude of 1850metres amsl. The population of indigenous chicken in Kashmir figures about 4.63 lac (17th Indian Livestock census 2003), reared in traditional free range scavenging or backyard system. These indigenous birds thrive on leftover human foods, kitchen wastes, broken rice or paddy, insects or worms and do not enjoy compound feeds or defined housing. The indigenous chicken, evolved through thousands of years of natural selection, are well adapted to the local climatic conditions, feed and management stresses, with better resistance to diseases. This husbandry system, characterised by low input and low out production system, provides food security, protein nutrition and women empowerment to the rural families besides elevating poverty in developing countries (Branckaert et al 2000; Guye 1998). Hybrid poultry breeding is away from the villages and organised poultry farming is difficult and cost consuming; besides have deleterious effect on rural economy and empowerment generation (Bikramjit 2000).


In developing countries like India, the major threat to genetic diversity is intensification of agriculture and indiscriminate/vicious cross breeding of local breeds with less adapted exotic germplasm to evolve highly productive breeds. We are foolishly squandering animal-capital for short-term gains, distorting the importance of local chicken adapted to local conditions and hampering the conservation of the local ecology. Livestock breeds are now recognized as a significant human heritage and its conservation as a conscious and organized activity is therefore a new important public agenda. Conservation of local breeds was realised when a high level policy decision was taken  in 1982  not to establish a single global data centre or a single cryogenic storage bank at FAO in Rome, rather it was recommended to establish regional and national data centres and gene banks in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Hodges (2002) expressed a view that the role of FAO was to build infrastructure to support activities close to where conservation will occur. Household poultry has been included in the FAO special programme for food security (FAO, 1997).In many developing Asian and African countries the village chicken production system has been included in the mainstream agriculture.  Realising the importance of sustainability and the conservation of indigenous genetic resources, present study was undertaken to explore the production potential and morphology of our local chicken as there was paucity of the relevant qualitative and quantitative data.


Materials and methods

The study was conducted in 51 villages of Kashmir valley (average temperature of 13oC, annual precipitation of 660mm to 1400mm and altitude range of 1500 to 2000metres above mean sea level) to explore the  indigenous chicken. The villages taken for study were randomly selected from all corners of the valley. 461 households in selected villages rearing not less than 8 local chickens were interacted. The data regarding dynamics and production of local chicken was collected through individual household survey, interviewing the member of the family involved in the rearing of chicken. Period between the two consecutive broodinesses was considered a clutch (Whittow 2000). Live weight of birds was recorded on spot with single pan balance. Qualitative or physical traits, feeding practices and housing conditions were observed and recorded on spot.


The fresh eggs were procured from the owners and analysed in the laboratory for qualitative and quantitative characteristics as per the standard procedures (Panda 1998). The various egg indexes were calculated (Winton and Barber Winton 2003). Albumen quality was assessed by determination of haugh unit (Haugh 1937). Twenty adult cocks and hens were purchased from the owners and were sacrificed by Halal method of slaughter. The chicken were scalded at 62-63oC and studied for carcass characteristic after properly de-feathering, singeing and washing (Panda 1998; Sams 2005). The data thus generated was analysed by standard statistical procedures (Snedecor and Cochran 1967).



The system of rearing for native chicken in Kashmir valley is presented in Table 1.

Table 1.  Characteristics of local chicken rearing systems in Kashmir


Traditional free range

Backyard or subsistence

Flock size



Key rearers

Majority of rural families

Few rural families but moderate number of suburban families

Feed resource

Scavenging and occasionally hand feeding

Scavenging and regular supplementation

Health care

Insignificant, no vaccination or medication.

Little, vaccination but no medication

Housing system

Night shelter provided as small and simple houses.

Besides night shelters, fenced backyards also provided.

Use of product

Home consumption

Home consumption and sale


Mostly old women and children

Mostly women and family

Egg production

50-60/ year

75-90/ year


High (predation and New Castle disease)

Moderate (primarily diseases)

Type of breeds


Mostly indigenous and few crossbreds

Only two rearing systems are in practice for indigenous chicken, one free range scavenging system, mostly practiced in rural areas with little sense of husbandry and the other backyard or subsistence system, mostly practised in suburban areas with fair sense of livestock husbandry.


In free range scavenging system of rearing, chicken are set free in the morning from simple night shelters and do wander in the village surroundings, feeding mostly on kitchen wastes, human leftover foods, worms or insects. Few of the households however, do provide handfeeding of broken rice or paddy or decayed grains. In the evening the birds are kept in small shelters with no proper ventilation or specification. In this rearing method the mortality is mostly due to predation by kites (Milvus migrans), stray dogs, cats, wild cats (Felis sylvestris), jackals (Canis aureus) and mongooses ( Herpestes edwardsi). The incidents of hunting by birds and animal predators occur more in the hamlets and villages near the forests. Health care is almost non existing and the most common disease that takes large toll of chickens, some times whole flocks in the locality, is New Castle disease locally referred as “Kokar Koon”. The egg production was low averaging 50 to 60 eggs per year.


In backyard or subsistence system of rearing, the chicken are set free for scavenging but are also supplemented with  feeds like crushed maize, broken rice and even green vegetables by the owners in fenced backyards. During bad weather the birds are retained in the separated, simple wire netted shelters during the day, too. Health care and husbandry practices are moderate, vaccination is being done but not routinely. The egg production in this system of rearing has been recorded in the range of 75 to 90 eggs per year. During the survey egg production has been reported as high as 120 eggs per year with continuous sequence of laying in the chicken reared by Gujjer and Bakerwal tribes of Kashmir; Bakerwal  tribe living a nomadic life.


The quantitative characteristics of indigenous chicken of Kashmir are presented in Table 2.

Table 2.  Quantitative traits of indigenous chicken of Kashmir




Age at maturity

6-7 months (46%)

7-8 months (42%)

9-10 months (12%)

5-6 months (74%)

7-7.5 months (26%)

Live weight at maturity , kg

0.853 0.14a

0.939 0.15a

Live weight of adult, kg

1.350 0.22b

1.820 0.25b

Eggs per clutch (laying between two broodings)

12-18 (15 average)


Clutch per year

4 (75%)

5 (25%)


Laying sequence

Alternate (78%)

Continuous (22%)


Laying time

Forenoon (90%)

Afternoon (10%)


Duration of brooding

12-15 days (82%)

30 days (18%)


Eggs under hen (Incubation capability)

12-13 (84%)

15-17 (16%)





Incubation season

Feb – March and

August - September


Values in the parenthesis indicate prevalence %age

The values within a row having the same superscripts do no differ significantly (P<0.01) from each other

Males reached maturity at an early age than the females and similarly the males were significantly (p<0.01) heavier than the females both at maturity as well as adult stage (about 2 years of age). The average annual egg production was as low as 50 to 60 eggs, however, reported better in the chicken reared in better managerial conditions with an average of 75 to 90 eggs per year. During the survey it was learnt that the broodiness in hen if minimized could yield more eggs, which could be achieved by simply changing the location and bedding of the hen at brooding. The incubation and hatching of eggs in the temperate climate of Kashmir takes place mostly in the spring months of March and April and the autumnal months of September and October.  It may be pertinent to point out that the vernal and autumnal equinoxes fall in these two periods in the northern hemisphere.  Thus the longest spells of broodiness of local hens and the hatching of eggs happen when the variation between the duration of the days and nights is less.


The physical characteristics of Kashmiri indigenous chicken are presented in Table 3.

Table 3.  Physical Characters of indigenous chicken of Kashmir


Plumage colour





Ear lobe colour

Naked neck


Barred 55%)

Black (35%)

White (10%)

White (65%)

Yellow (35%)

Yellow (51%)

Black (21%)

Dark slate (28%)

Single (71%)

Rose (20%)

Pea (9 %)

Always red

White (91%) Red (9%)


Values in the parenthesis indicates prevalence %age

Majority of local chicken are multicoloured but some are pure black and pure white, whereas few are naked necked. The birds are active, take short flights and do fight. The peculiar feature in the most of hens is presence of feather cap (Plate 1).

Plate 1.  Photographs of indigenous chicken of Kashmir

The qualitative and quantitative characteristics of eggs were studied and are presented in Table 4.

Table 4.  Qualitative and Quantitative measures of indigenous chicken egg


Hen egg

Egg weight, g

461 0.48; (Large +50g = 4%);

(Medium 45– 52g = 73%); (Small 38-44g = 23%)

Shell weight, g

4.63 0.56

Shell thickness, mm

0.36 0.03

Shape index


Albumen index


Yolk index


Haugh unit


Egg colour

Brown (77.1%); White (22.9%)

Values in parenthesis indicate prevalence %age and with * are calculated values, where as others are mean SE

Majority of the eggs (73%) have weight more than 45 g and fall under class “medium” as per the Indian weight classification of eggs (Winton and Barber Winton 2003). Other parameters of the egg like albumin index, yolk index, shape index and shell thickness recorded in present study were well within the international standards. However, the more liking for the egg of the indigenous chicken because of its brown colour, deep yellow yolk and taste fetched fairly good price as compared to white eggs.


The sacrificed indigenous birds were evaluated for carcass characteristics, presented in Table 5.

Table 5.   Slaughter characteristics and yields of indigenous chicken of Kashmir


Live weight, g

De-feathered weight, g

Dressed weight, g

Dressing,  % age


1720 0.04

1525 0.03

1206 0.02

70.1 0.66*


1253 0.02

1126 0.02

799 0.02

63.8 1.59*

Values within the same column with * differ significantly (P<0.01) from each other

The scalding temperature of 62 - 63oC and average time of 80 to 90 seconds for a male and 50 to 55 seconds for a female was found optimum to loosen the feathers. Present study revealed significant difference (p<0.01) in the dressing percentage of cock and hen. There was significant difference (P<0.05) in blood yield as % of live weight between two sexes; however no significant difference was found in feather yield as % of live weight between cock and hen.


Development in third world has focused on introducing exotic high yielding breeds rather than understanding the production potential of village chickens. The substantial increases in egg production and chicken meat production can be attained through improved management and disease control to reduce the large number of bird losses. It is established fact that egg production being under genetic control, is drastically reduced if hen is not fed properly, provided good housing or protected from diseases (Wethli 2003). The egg production reported in present study from the indigenous chicken was as low as 50-60 eggs per year. However, these finding were simulating the production potentials reported in the native chicken of South Africa (Swatson et al 2003) or Chitral, Pakistan (Farooq et al 2004). Chick mortality accounts for high losses in village chicken production systems. Therefore, management factors that would have a positive impact on chick survival and egg production can be exploited to increase output from the village chicken flocks.

The egg quality determinants reported in present study were simulating the values recorded for the eggs of improved laying hens by Panda (1998) and Winton and Barber Winton (2003). The average egg weight recorded in present study was not too low as per the Indian weight classification of eggs. The carcass characteristics recorded in present study were comparable to the reports of Merkley et al (1980) and Musa (2006). Moreover, the local chickens were preferred over broilers because of its taste and flavour and fetched thrice the amount for broilers in the market. This preference for the local chicken has been acknowledged by Kondombo et al (2003).

The rearing of indigenous chicken by rural populace is generally considered low input and low output production system (Branckaert et al 2000; Guye 1998). However, rearing of local chicken with improved management, proper vaccination and disease control and selection of good ones has yielded good results in tribal areas of Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh as reported by Kumatkar (1999) and Ravikumar et al (2002). Similarly in Bangladesh (Saleque and Mustafa 1996) or in South Africa (Sonaiya et al 1999) or in China (Sharma et al 2002), native chicken production has been potentiated by improved management and health care.

Currently there is a major global thrust on genetic preservation and biodiversity because continued cross-breeding programmes in rural poultry, which do not consider gene preservation aspects, would lead to erosion of the indigenous germplasm (Bessei 1987). Farooq et al (2004) reported that even mixed rearing of exotic birds with local chicken resulted in non-broodiness problem which has adversely affected the hatching performance of local chicken. The importance of rural poultry in national economies of developing countries and its role in improving the nutritional status and incomes of many small farmers and landless communities has been recognized by various scholars and rural development agencies in the last two decades (FAO 1982, 1987; Bembridge 1988; Mokotjo 1990; Creevey 1991). Native chicken of Kashmir as understood from the present study exhibits high genetic variation and its rearing can emerge as an important component of rural development that can generate employment, augment rural economy, besides providing nutritional security at low inputs. This goal can be achieved as in countries like China or South Africa, provided proper sense of livestock husbandry and planning prevails in administrators as well as community and a strategy needs to be developed to preserve local breeds which is likely to be more sustainable over the long-term than reliance on external genetic resources



The authors acknowledge with thanks the help rendered by the Vice-Chancellor and Director Research of S K University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology- Kashmir. The authors are thankful to the villagers whose cooperation made present study possible. Thanks are due to the staff members who cooperated in present study in remote and hilly areas.



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Received 3 May 2008; Accepted 8 August 2008; Published 6 November 2008

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