Livestock Research for Rural Development 23 (12) 2011 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

The care and management of indigenous chicken in Northern communal areas of Namibia

N P Petrus, I Mpofu and E Lutaaya

Department of Animal Science University of Namibia
P.O. Box 13301, Windhoek, Namibia.


Indigenous chicken production in Namibia is one of the livestock sectors that have received very little attention in terms of research and veterinary extension services. Farmers themselves regard rearing of indigenous chickens as a secondary activity. The birds kept under the extensive management system live by scavenging for feed around the homestead. A survey was carried out to determine the extent to which indigenous chickens received care and extension management support.


Mixing with other livestock was observed in Oshana (42%), Ohangwena (36%), Omusati (86%) followed by Kavango (14%). It was also observed that there is extensive interaction between humans and their chickens, since chickens were seen scavenging all over the houses even in places where households’ food is prepared. Mortalities in chicks were highest (85%) followed by adults (40%).  There is lack of veterinary extension service in the rural areas visited and hence some farmers (14%) opted for the use of local herbs to treat their chickens whenever they felt sick or showing signs of ill health. The majority of farmers do not treat their birds (64%).

Key words: Diseases, mortality, poultry, scavenging, smallholder farmers


 In over 80% of the households in developing countries in Africa, Namibia in particular, keeping of chickens is characterized by the scavenging domestic fowl (Gallus domesticus). These so-called free-range or scavenging chickens though neglected are socially, economically, and nutritionally very important to the rural households. They are said to be appropriate in the rural areas especially due to the fact that they require minimum inputs which rural farmers can easily afford. Local chicken production therefore, contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation and consumers generally prefer its hard meat and palatable aroma and flavor. Indigenous chickens also play a crucial role in households headed by disabled people and those in ill health especially those affected and afflicted by HIV/AIDS (Haruna, 2001).  In communities where food shortages are common, chickens are kept to supplement the meals or to honor a guest (Nwagu, 2002).  Despite all these significant attributes there is no information that details the care and management of indigenous chickens in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs) of Namibia. The significance of this study can therefore, be seen in the desire to highlight the problems associated with the production of indigenous chickens among low resources rural farmers.

Materials and Methods

Location of the survey

This survey was carried out in the four regions of Northern Namibia Figure.1.0 to describe the village-based chicken care and management systems under rural conditions. Indigenous chickens are an integral part of the farming system in rural areas of many developing countries including Namibia and to date, there are no detailed studies conducted targeting the care and management of indigenous chickens. 

 Sampling design, data collection and analysis

A total of fifty two (52) households were surveyed using both purposive and random sampling methods in four administrative regions. The respective numbers in each region were: Omusati (n = 13), Oshana (n=13), Ohangwena (n=14), and Kavango (n =12). From the four regions, 175 chickens of mixed age groups were investigated.  Households were randomly selected through the assistance of agricultural extension technicians in their respective regions. A structured questionnaire was administered using face to face interviews to the fifty two households at their homesteads. Although questionnaires were written in English, farmers were interviewed in their vernacular languages. Data collected in the questionnaire included chicken management practices such as: housing, feeding, disease management and opportunities for improving indigenous chicken production. Numeric data were analysed for descriptive statistics using SPSS 2010 version 17.

Figure 1. Map of Namibia showing the four studied regions

Results and Discussion

Responses from the farmers during interviews revealed that indigenous chicken production has many and diverse problems confronting the development of this sector (Table 1). As detailed below, many of these problems were found to be common to all the regions visited.

Health status and disease management

 Farmers acknowledged that disease outbreaks were the biggest challenge to their flocks. Due to lack of simple veterinary knowledge, clinical symptoms were regarded as diseases themselves. Disease symptoms indicated were numerous and included, shivering, coughing, head swelling, diarrhea, sudden death, blindness and crouching. Some of these symptoms reported in current study are similar to what was documented by the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) (2004). Though the actual root causes of the diseases as reported by farmers are not known, the likely situation is that since the domestic birds are not reared in proper in housing, they sometimes mix with other animals as they scavenge for feed and this situation may create an opportunity for the spreading of disease pathogens between species. Through direct observation it was discovered that the animals that readily mix with chickens are pigs, cattle, goat and dogs.

 Mixing with other livestock was observed in Oshana (52% of the cases), Ohangwena (56% of the cases), Omusati (86% of the cases) followed by Kavango (16.6% of the cases). It was also observed that there is extensive interaction between humans and their chickens, since chickens were seen scavenging all over the houses even in places where households’ food is prepared and bedrooms. This again in a way poses dangers of exchanging disease pathogens between humans and domesticated birds. Mixing with wild birds was also witnessed during scavenging feeding system.

 Chicken movements through gifts could also be a way of spreading of diseases in the rural areas. Beside diseases, issues such ecto - parasites, lice in particular were mentioned by farmers in Omusati (46%) and Oshana (34%) and none in Ohangwena and Kavango regions. According the interviewed farmers, higher rates of infestation of ecto - parasite occurred during the rainy seasons. The study observed that houses constructed for chickens were too small and cleaning was difficult. Similarly, Zaria et al. (1993) reported that ecto-parasites of domestic fowls in Nigeria mainly, lice (Menacanthus straminen) were the major problem in rural areas.

Table 1: Management and challenges faced by indigenous chickens in their respective regions     (expressed in percentages of observations)



Number (%)

Mixing with other livestock









Ecto - parasites












-  No response

Types of interventions made by farmers

Farmers in the study areas treat their chickens using the indigenous knowledge they acquired over a long period of time and passed on between generations. However, this existing indigenous technical knowledge inherited from past generations was reported to have sustained the local poultry production system. Farmers regard traditional medicine as an indispensable source of veterinary protection for their indigenous poultry production systems. This agrees with what was reported by Okitoi et. al.,( 2007).

As a result, farmers in these regions depend on plant parts as herbal remedies for their indigenous chicken flock health management. For example, in the absence of modern drugs, farmers in the studied areas reported that they used traditional herbs (plant herbs) and in some cases others used human medicine as remedies in an attempt to control and treat the symptoms and or disease outbreaks. Farmers in all the studied regions consider the use of Ethano-veterinary medicine as sustainable, economical and culturally acceptable. This is because some farmers stated that there is no money involved to acquire the herbs; farmers get them freely from the bush.

According to famers the leaves were harvested, cleaned with water, and crushed before they were mixed with drinking water for chickens. These findings are in line with the reports by other authors including (Guye, 1999) in Senegal and by (Tamboura et al., 2000) in Burkina Faso. The effectiveness of herbs as a way of disease treatment was reported in Zimbabwe by Mapiye and Sibanda (2005). These two authors observed that rural farmers who used traditional medicine (herbs) in that country had large flock sizes in comparisons with those who did not use any form of treatment. Thus, the results of the current study together with those found in literature about the use of herbs is an indication that traditional medicines in some instances have potential to improve the health status of rural household flocks.

The types of herbs in developing countries used by rural farmers differ greatly from place to place. For example, (Kugonza et al.,2008) reported that farmers in Uganda make use of aloe vera, pepper and sisal leaves for  the treatment and control of indigenous chickens’ diseases . In addition Okitoi et al.(2007) reported that the use of herb plants like aloe vera, pepper, sisal and neem were the most used medicinal plants by rural farmers in Western Kenya.

Interventions reported and carried out by rural farmers in the study areas are presented in Figure 2. However, 7.9 % of respondent said that they intervene by slaughtering for home consumptions, 5.9% slaughter, sell the meat, and 3.9% intervene by the use of medicine from veterinary shops. It is also reported that some 3.9% of farmers in the study areas use leftover from their own or their children prescription in treating their chickens. The use of human medicines in the treatment of chickens was also reported by (Sofowora, 1993) who also discovered that that in most of the developing countries including Nigeria rely wholly or partly on traditional herbal medicine for treatment and control of animal and human diseases. However, 13.7% of the farmers make use of herbs that they get from the bushes. Those who did not intervene at all were the majority and accounted for 64 %. Musa, et al. (2008) reported that the major medicaments used by the rural chicken farmers for the treatment of rural chickens against Newcastle Disease (ND) in Nigeria are those from plant origin and they include mahogany (Khaya senegalensis) bark/roots (25.1%), wild garden egg (Solanum nodiflorum) (20.3%), bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina) (7.8%) and pepper (Capsicum frutescens), as the main sources of remedies. It was also revealed that 7.2 % of the respondents employed the use of white maggi (Monosodium glutamate), which they usually soak in water and administer to chickens orally for the treatment of Newcastle disease.

Figure 2. Intervention by farmers in %

Treatment of indigenous chicken diseases was based mostly on concoction of plant materials where farmers mixed different plants or single plant parts depending on the knowledge of the individual farmer. The amounts of ingredients contained in these plants used as medicines were not analyzed hence dosage levels were not known. This means that birds may be receiving over dose or under dose. This observation is similar to that of Okitoi et al., (2007) who reported that farmers in Western Kenya did not know the amounts of ingredients contained in concoctions given to birds and that treatments were not for any specific disease. In most cases, they were offered in drinking water irrespective of whether the birds were sick or not.

The present study also found out that ash was used as means of eradicating ecto – parasites from chickens. Farmers did not also consider the age when giving the concoctions therefore, what is given to the adult chickens is also applied to chicks. These specific interventions made by farmers in the study areas could in a way be blamed for the high mortality rate farmers experienced in their flocks. The use of traditional medicine by farmers in the study areas may be due to its low cost, easy availability and ease of application compare to modern veterinary medicine.

The unavailability of drugs and lack of veterinary services in the rural areas  contributed to low utilisation by farmers in the treatment of their sick chickens. However, more interventions are needed and the Ministry of Agriculture Water and Forestry of Namibia should pay more attention to subsistence poultry farming in general and consider it as one of the programmes that would ensure food security and income generation in the rural community.

Currently, the provision of both extension and veterinary services on issues concerning poultry husbandry and health respectively is lacking in the rural areas.  However, the only consolidated intervention that exists in the areas is that of diseases and it is only geared toward large and small stock animals. Farmers also need to be informed and educated on the dangers of eating sick animals as it was pointed out as one of the intervention. Farmers in this situation can easily be exposed to zoonotic diseases which are transmitted from sick animals to healthy humans such as anthrax.

Inadequacy of extension services and veterinary support

Based on these results one can conclude that there is lack of modern veterinary knowledge by rural farmers as far as rural chickens are concerned. It is also possible that high disease levels were probably enhanced by exposure of chickens to the natural environment, interaction between different chickens within and among flocks such as flock contacts during scavenging, uncontrolled introduction of new stock from relatives and sale of live chickens from the markets or from neighbours. Farmers never isolated sick chickens from the healthy ones. Disease situation was made worse by the absence of vaccination program and general lack of adequate disease diagnostic and control extension services. It is therefore, recommended that a close coordination between extension and veterinary services as well as rural farmers takes place for adequate supply of essential inputs including training facilities, flock health programs and proper system of marketing. Farmers benefit through the supply of animal protein and other socio- cultural activities. This cannot be underestimated, therefore, there is a need for the improvement of the sector in terms health control and general husbandry practices. It is clear that greater productivity and profitability will result from such interventions.  Although disease condition was mentioned as one of the important factors that affect indigenous chickens in rural areas, there was a problem in identifying the real causes of diseases that led to the chicken deaths in the present study. This is so because farmers only described symptoms they observed in their chickens.

Constant availability of feeds and weather conditions

Lack of feed had detrimental effects on rural chicken production in all the regions visited. Farmers explained that lack of feeds is more severe during dry season and thus when chickens depend on their owner for survival.  The observation is consistent with what was reported by Rashid et al. (2005), who reported that during dry season there is a huge shortage of chicken feed due to the absence of insects and green material including grasses.


Predation was the other economically - important constraint to village chicken production system of the study areas. Halima et al. (2007) also reported predation as one of the major constraints to village chickens production in North-West Ethiopia. According to Bell and Abdou (1995), large proportion of village birds were being lost due to predation in some African countries. Kusina et al. (2001) also reported that chicken predators were prevalent in Zimbabwe. The predators included wild cats and snakes especially pythons.

Mortality due to poor chicken management

According to the respondent farmers and visual observation in various villages, production losses due to poor chicken management especially feeding and watering were prevalent. The study took place during the dry season when green grasses or insects which chickens presumably feed on were scarce. Chickens were seen scavenging, scratching and picking from the bare ground. Water containers were empty. It is concluded that poor feeding and water supply were  contributing factors to mortality among chickens in rural areas. Respondents also indicated the age at which most of their chickens die. Mortalities of chicks were highest (85%) followed by adults (40%). Farmers explained that mortality was highest in the chicks, especially during the first and second weeks of their life. Based on the ways which chickens are reared in rural areas, high mortality rates of chicks could have resulted from starvation because chicks as early as a day old were left to scavenge together with their mothers. In this situation, young chicks do not have enough experience and competency in searching for feed.

Another factor that might lead to high mortality among young chicks is the inadequate nutrients to meet the chicks’ requirements for maintenance, resulting in chicks’ with low physical defensive mechanisms, weak and under-developed immune system. The results in the current study are similar to the findings of Mwalusanya et al. (2002) who recorded a survival rate of 59.7% in village chicks (1-10 weeks old) in Morogoro, Tanzania. Guye (1998) attributed losses, especially chicks, to several factors, among them low protein and energy levels in the feed they consumed. He also noted low hatching weight of chicks, high ambient temperature and other associated factors.



The authors would like to thank the indigenous chicken farmers in all the regions visited for answering the questionnaire Mr Samuzala is also acknowledged for his technical assistance and  Dr E. Musaba for constructive ideas and encouragement.


Bell J G and Abdou I 1995 Dynamics of village poultry production in the Keita region of Niger. Nigerian Journal Animal Production. 22: 141-144.

Guye E F1999 Ethanoveterinary medicine against poultry diseases in Africa village. World’s Poultry Science 55:187-198.

Gueye E F 1998 Village egg and fowl meat production in Africa. World Poultry Science Journal 54:73-86.

Halima H, Neser F W C, Tadelle Dessie, de Kock A and Van Marle-Koster E 2006 Studies on the growth performance of native chicken ecotypes and RIR chicken under improved management system in Northwest Ethiopia. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 18, Article #76. Retrieved June 06, 2010, from

Haruna M, Cambaza A, Alemao L, Maxihuza G, Joaquim M, Manganza G, Namaneque A , Lobo O and Alders R 2001 Community base Experience in  Controlling New Castle Diseases in Rural Areas of Mozabmbique to Achieve Food Security, Poverty Alleviation and HIV/AIDS Mitigation, Mozambique. AUSAID Southern Africa Newcastle Disease Control Project (SANDCP).

Musa U, Abdu PA, Dafwang I I,  Katsayal U A, Edache J A  and Karsin P 2008 Ethnoveterinary remedies used for the management of Newcastle disease in some selected local government areas of Plateau State Nigeria. retrieved 15-11- 2010.

Kugonza D R, Kyarisiima C C and Iisa A 2008: Indigenous chicken flocks of Eastern Uganda: I. Productivity, management and strategies for better performance. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 20, Article #137.

Kusina J, Kusina N T and Mhlanga J 2001 A survey on Village Chickens Losses: Causes and solutions as perceived by Farmers. In: SADC planning workshop on Newcastle Disease control in village chickens. Proceeding of an International Workshop in Maputo Mozambique, 6 – 9 2000. pp 148 – 155. retrieved 12-07 -2005 

Mwalusanya N A, Katule A M, Mutoyoba S K, Mtambo M M A, Olsen J E and Minga U M 2001 Productivity of local chickens under village management conditions. Tropical Animal Health and Production34(5), 405-416

Nwagu B I 2002 Production and Management of Indigenous Poultry Species.  A Training Manual in National Training Workshop on Poultry Production in Nigerian National Animal Production Research Institute, Shika, Zaria. 10 – 26pp

Okitoi L O, Ondwasy H O, Obali M P and Murekefu F 2007 Gender issues in poultry production in rural households of Western Kenya. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 19, Article #17. Retrieved June 14, 2011, from

Mapiye C and Sibanda S 2005: Constraints and opportunities of village chicken production systems in the smallholder sector of Rushinga district of Zimbabwe. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 17, Article No. 115.

Rashid M M, Islam M N, Roy BC, Jakobsen K and Lauridsen C 2005 Nutrient concentrations of crop and gizzard contents of indigenous scavenging chickens under rural conditions of Bangladesh. LivestockResearch for Rural Development 17(2) 

Sofowora D 1993 Medicinal plants and traditional Medicine in Africa. John Wiley and Sons, New York, Pp.102

Sonaiya E B and Swan S E J 2004 Manual Small Scale Poultry production technical guide. Food Agricultural Organization, Animal Production and Health Series No. 1.

SPSS 2010  Statistical Package for the Social Sciences version 17.   

Tamboura H H, Swadongo L, Kabora H and  Yameoga S M 2000 Ethnoveterinary medicine and indigenous Pharmacopoeia of Passore Province in Burkina Faso .Ann NY Acad.916:259-64 (available at & db=PubMed &list uids=1193630&dopt+abstract)

Zaria T, Sinha P K, Natiti L S and Nawathe D R 1993 Ectoparasites of domestic fowl in an arid zone. African network of rural poultry development, Newsletter, 3:7.

Received 29 July 2011; Accepted 5 November 2011; Published 1 December 2011

Go to top