Livestock Research for Rural Development 25 (12) 2013 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Analysis of characteristics and improvement strategies of rural poultry farming in north western Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, India

V Sankhyan, S Katoch, Y P Thakur, K Dinesh*, S Patial and N Bhardwaj

Faculty of Animal Genetics and Breeding, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences CSKHPKV Palampur, India -176062
* Dairy Cattle Breeding Division, National Dairy Research Institute Karnal, India-132001


In the present study rural/backyard poultry farming in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India has been characterized for flock characteristics, production, constraints and improvement strategies using on farm investigation and personal interview through structured questionnaire. Survey was conducted in 285 households from three district of state adopting stratified random sampling technique. The predominant features of the system were traditional free range scavenging with occasional supplementation, conventional night shelter,  and sub-optimal management.

Survey revealed that the majority of farmers belong to medium sized family  and were educated up to primary level (30.8%). Most important reason for backyard rearing in this region of the country is egg production primarily utilized for household consumption. Mean average flock size was 9.44.6, whereas annual egg production ranged from 45 to 110. Farmers were using their indigenous wisdom for incubating eggs and the average hatching out ability and chick survival was 82.6 and 68.3% respectively. Marketing system is simple and direct and birds with particular plumage pattern used for religious ceremony fetch higher prices. Losses due to predators  were the major constraints followed by disease. Analysis of improvement strategies indicated that various agencies involved adopted multifaceted approaches resulting in strengthening of rural poultry farming and creation of demand for improved birds. The performance of Vanaraja, improved variety for backyard production and different crosses involving local birds, was satisfactory and they are well adapted to rural poultry farming.

It can be concluded that suitable package of practices for rural poultry farming addressing the important issues like diseases must be developed and effective extension message addressing suboptimal management must be incorporated in strategies for improvement in village poultry farming.

Key words: backyard poultry, flock characteristics, management, performance appraisal


Native chickens are known for some of their uniqueness such as they are good foragers, efficient mothers, and they require minimal care to grow. They are therefore most suited to raise under village conditions. Animal production in general and chickens in particular play important socio-economic role in developing countries (Alders 2004) In spite of their usefulness in village farming condition native chicken breeds are becoming extinct because of their poor commercial performance. Consequently, there is a need to define existing chicken populations and to develop improvement and conservation programs so as to benefit people living in rural areas.

In the small scale, chicken farming production in rural area is comparatively lower but backyard poultry contributes in the manner that they act as very good source of quality protein to landless and marginal farmers and supplement their income apart from providing quality protein for family consumption (Alders et al 2009). Backyard chicken farming is important component of socio- economy of rural agriculture and fulfils important functions in the livelihood of rural families, although these functions may differ in priority and importance from one community to other (Abdelqader et al 2007).

The people of Himachal Pradesh traditionally practice cattle, sheep and goat rearing and keep chicken as a source of supplementary income. Despite the large number of rural household having backyard chicken, organized scientific survey and study has not been done so far on backyard poultry production system. Therefore it is necessary, to obtain baseline data on the characteristics of production system and potential of backyard or local chicken with respect to performance. So the present study was undertaken with following objectives:

Materials and Methods

Selection of study area

The study was conducted in 285 households from different villages of three district of Himachal Pradesh India adopting stratified random sampling technique. For performance evaluation 200 chicks of each variety/cross were distributed to 10-12 farmers (20-25 chicks/farmer) for rearing under village production system under traditional management with their available resources. Farmers reared day old chicks with broken maize and wheat for initial period up to 15 days, thereafter free range scavenging with supplementation of kitchen leftovers and crushed grains were offered with ample drinking water.

Methods of data collection

The survey was conducted in the selected area and the data was collected through on farm investigation and personal interview using structured questionnaire. The schedule was prepared giving due weightage to relevant area with reference to the study which includes various facets of backyard chicken rearing such as breeding system, flock dynamics, housing, feeding management and marketing. Apart from this information on farmer’s profile and land use pattern were also recorded. Housing system, feeding system and different management practices followed were observed and evaluated directly whereas data on flock health and various production and reproduction parameters were provided by the farmer’s themselves. Prevalent diseases were identified by the farmers according to their local name and description of symptoms. Marketing data were collected from farmers and market system prevalent at village level was also identified. For performance evaluation of improved variety/crosses data regarding their body weights and production traits was collected through regular visit to farmer’s flock. Data collected was organized in MS Excel and statistical analysis for flock and production characteristics was performed using General Linear Model (GLM) procedure of Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and t-test (SAS version 9.2). Performance of different variety/ crosses was compared employing Tukey’s Kramer multiple comparison procedure.

Results and Discussion

Socio economic profile of farmers

The result of survey (Table 1) indicated that majority of farmers belongs to medium family size and are having education up to primary level. The annual income of most of the households engaged in rural poultry farming is less than 25000/annum, while few farmers also belongs to medium income category which was in accordance with earlier reports (Kumaresan et al 2008) Almost all family members participated in local chicken management and provided labour for chicken husbandry but majority of routine works such as cleaning, feeding, collection of egg were usually practiced by females, whereas males were generally involved in construction/maintenance of shelter and scavenging activities. In many cases children participated in various activities like provision of supplementary feed and water. The results were similar with earlier reports on involvement of females as major workforce in village chicken management (Mtileni et al 2012). 

Table 1. Socio economic profile of farmers in the surveyed area
Class % of total
     Young (up to 25) 14.4
     Middle (up to 35) 29.8
     Old (>35) 55.8
Family Size
     Small (3-5) 41.8
     Medium (6-8) 51.6
     Large (>8) 6.7
     Illiterate 8.4
     Reading and Writing 23.8
     Primary level 30.8
     Matriculation 21.1
     Secondary or Higher 16.1
Land Holding
     Landless 7.7
     Marginal 44.0
     Small 48.8
Annual Income
     Less than 25,000 54.7
     Up to 50,000 22.8
     More than 50,000 22.5
Purpose of rearing chickens

Village poultry farming is an important activity of rural livestock farming, although purpose may vary depending on several factors such as agro ecosystem and communities. The result of survey (Table 2) indicated that most important reason for backyard rearing in this region of the country is egg production, which is used primarily for household consumption, followed by source of income, eggs marketing and incubation purpose; the chicken produced were reared and sold. Similar purposes have also been reported by Dorji et al (2012), Kugonza et al (2008) and Simainga et al (2011). Not many farmers rear these birds for meat production and mostly male birds were slaughtered either for household consumption or selling purpose, but in few cases these birds are sold for religious ceremonies / function which fetch very high price.

Table 2. Farmers’ purpose of keeping village chicken
  Primary Secondary Tertiary
     Eggs 54 38 8
     Meat 12 14 74
     Dual 34 48 18
Egg production
     Self consumption 52 36 12
     Local market 32 16 52
     Brooding-Hatching 16 58 26
     Self consumption 18 66 16
     Meat marketing 61 34 5
     Selling for religious ceremonies 2 19 79
Flock structure

Local chicken flocks were dominated by the breeding hens, followed by growers and chicks, whereas breeding cock were least in number (Table3). Mean average flock size revealed in the present study was 9.4(4.6) which is in line as reported from different study from South East Asia (Kumaresan et al 2007 and Dorji et al 2012), but comparatively lower than those reported by Abdelqader et a (2007) in Middle East (Jordan), which may be attributed to regional/managemental difference. Farmers usually maintain or increase their flock size mainly by hatching eggs, whereas in few cases new birds were adopted. Similar practices have also been documented by Moges et al (2010) and Fentie et al (2013). Most of the farmers have two or three particular hens for brooding purpose, surplus chicks if produced were sold. Generally farmers were practising culling only in case of male birds; females were usually kept in stock as long as they are in production.

Table 3. Distribution of flock size and structure in surveyed area
Parameter Mean(SD) Median Range
Flock size 9.4(4.6) 8 3-35
Hens 4.9(2.5) 4 1-14
Cock 1.4(1.0) 1 0-6
Growers & Chicks 3.2(3.7) 2 0-20
Housing and feeding management practices

Response of farmers regarding housing and management practices is presented Table 4. Local chickens were reared predominately under free range scavenging system. During the day time bird freely scavenge in the area around the household and at night is provided a shelter in most of the cases (97.19%). Poultry houses consisted predominately of wooden material and is usually single storied. Kitchen leftover, insect, worms crop residues, grass and grains were mainly used as feed materials, although most of the farmers provided the supplementary feed, but the amount is unknown and variable in most cases. Corn was the most common supplement, followed by wheat, whereas very few used commercial feed. As far as water is concern, there is free access to it but the quality was poor due to unhygienic drinkers and unreliable water sources. The findings were similar to Mandal et al (2006).

Table 4. Response of farmer regarding housing and feeding management
Criteria % of total
     Present 97.2*
     Absent 2.8
     Permanent 6.0
     Temporary 94.0*
     Single 100*
     Double or multiple 0
Housing material
     Locally available 92.3*
     Standard material 7.7
Facility of light
     Yes 7.4
     No 92.6*
Feeding System
     Scavenging only 2.8
     Scavenging + local feed/kitchen waste 86.0*
     Commercial feed supplementation 11.2
Time spent in scavenging
     Less than 3 hour 10.9
     3- 6 hour 21.1
     6 hour 68.0*
     In Feeder 64.2*
     Ground 35.8
Feeding and watering Material
     Earthen 14.0
     Metallic 79.3*
     Improved plastic 6.7
Health management practices

In aspect of health management (Table 5) very few farmers reported that they consulted veterinary institution regarding disease or other technical input. Very few farmers were practicing proper cleanliness and hygiene of waterer and poultry houses. Comparatively higher mortality was recorded in winter season in young and in monsoon in adult stock. Vaccination was not done for any disease and no specific disease was reported although as per the description of symptoms by the farmer NCD may be prevalent. Majority of mortality in chicks is due to cold stress/ heat stroke and in adult parasitic infestation is the most common ailments reported by the farmers. Regarding culling survey indicated that most of the farmers use indigenous knowledge of culling birds. Generally culling is not done so often but whenever it is practised major criteria were old age (40.1%), plumage pattern, considered unsuitable by farmer based on indigenous knowledge (34.5%), injury leading to disability (15.5%), surplus chicken birds usually cockerel (9.5%).

Table 5. Health management practices adopted by rural poultry farmers
  % of total
Seasonal mortality (young)
     Summer 16.8
     Winter 55.4*
     Monsoon 27.7
Seasonal mortality (Adult)
     Summer 17.2
     Winter 30.9*
     Monsoon 51.9*
Vaccination Followed
     Yes 0
     No 100*
     Yes 37.2
     No 62.8*
Treatment source
     Local 73.3*
     Veterinary aid 26.7
*Significant (P<0.05)
Production and reproductive potential of local chicken

Production and reproduction performance of local chicken were evaluated under existing management conditions at farmer’s level. The survey indicated that chicken free range scavenging system is used by farmers with minimum/limited input; however there is a wide range of management systems. Productive and reproductive parameters are presented in Table 6. There is a wide range of variability regards to egg production as revealed by the farmer and it varies from 45 to 110 with average around 77.1(14.2). Average age at first egg laying in surveyed area is 6.3(0.02) months. Adult male and female body weight were 1.2(0.03) and 1.8(0.05) kg respectively and there is comparatively more variation in adult male body weight vs. adult female body weight. The result of survey revealed that local chicken were exhibiting late maturity and production is also low, this is in accordance with earlier study conducted on local ecotype (Abdelqader et al 2007 and Dorji et al 2012). Regarding hatching out performance the local broody hens were only source of eggs incubation and brooding young chicks. The average hatch out ability and survival (up to 6 weeks) revealed in the present study was 82.6 % and 68.3% respectively which was in concordance with earlier reports of traditional farming in other regions (Fentie et al 2013 in Ethopia, Kusina et al 2010 in Zimbabwe and Wilson et al 2010). Majority of the farmers were using their own eggs for hatching purpose and selection of hatching eggs is generally based on indigenous knowledge and experience. Farmers usually do not keep records of flock performance or progeny and mostly they will prefer plumage colour/pattern for identification. Most of the farmers prefer black plumage hens of medium body weight for brooding purpose. Usually 1or 2 brooding hens are maintained in the farms for years and seldom they are sold.

Table 6. Production characteristics of local chicken of Himachal Pradesh
Variable Mean S.D Range
Adult female body weight (kg) 1.2 (0.03) 1.1-1.4
Adult male body weight (kg)) 1.8 (0.05) 1.7-2.1
Age at first egg (months) 6.3 (0.02) 5-7
Egg production (eggs/hen/year) 77.1 (14.2) 45-110
Number of clutches /hen/year 3.8 (0.6) 2-5
Clutch size/hen 9.4 (1.6) 7-15
Hatching out ability (%) 82.6 (2.8) 75-90
Survival (%) 68.3 (4.8) 60-75
Marketing system

Analysis of marketing system through survey (Table: 7) indicated that marketing system was simple and direct and in some cases involved the middle men. The study revealed that substantial amount of eggs produced was used for family self consumption, which serves as very good protein source. Particularly in summer the production increases, which may be attributed to increased day light and availability of crop residues. Good amount of eggs are sold from farmer household directly, most of the farmers mentioned that when eggs are directly sold, they fetch higher prices. Almost 85 % farmers reported that there was no problem in selling chicken & eggs in the village, attributed to the consumer preference for local chicken and eggs because of better flavour and deep coloured yolk. Generally farmers do not sell their female birds for meat. Only males were sold and few of them with particular plumage colour/pattern were preferred for religious ceremony, these birds can be sold at very high prices, almost two to three times than the normal chicken rate.

Table 7. Marketing characteristics of local chicken of Himachal Pradesh
Criteria Percentage, %
Marketing birds and eggs
Directly from household 78.6
Village market 21.4
Problems at selling eggs and meat
Occasional (season) 12.6
Routine 2.1
Never 85.3

The major constraints (shown in Table: 8) were those related with predators particularly dogs and cats, since under extensive system of management and mainly during scavenging birds became vulnerable to predator, particularly chickens and growers. Other constrains are diseases, lack of inputs on health services and improved germplasm. According to farmers, the marketing of eggs and chicken is not considered a problem, since the consumer has predilection towards backyard poultry and are even ready to pay higher prices, due to the prevalent belief in society about the nutritive value of this type of eggs.

Table 8. Constraints faced by farmers
Constraints Rank, %
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Predators 48 31 21 - -
Diseases 26 34 26 14 -
Health service 14 27 33 26 -
Marketing - - - 26 74
Improved breed and other inputs 12 8 20 34 26
Current improvement strategies

Various government agencies were involved in promoting poultry production especially the backyard poultry production system in the state, these includes state Animal Husbandry department, Mid Himalayan Watershed development project and the Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University (HPAU), Palampur. These agencies adopted multifaceted approach by providing improved germplasm developed specifically for rural poultry production system, technical inputs and organization of training for poultry rearers. Similar efforts and tools are being utilized in other slow growing poultry state as reported by Kumaresan et al (2008) in subtropical hill agro- ecosystem of North- Eastern Mizoram state.

Analysis of various scheme revealed that chicks of low input technology especially developed for backyard poultry farming are supplied to strengthen rural poultry farming. After the inceptions of different village poultry scheme in 2003 more than 2 million chicks are distributed by different agencies until date and training is imparted to around 2500 beneficiaries. There is establishment of 350 backyard units (200 chicks per unit) annually to strengthen village level poultry farming (Department of Animal Husbandry, HP 2011). Year wise analysis of production and distribution of chicks (Figure 1) indicated that there is an increased demand for low input birds developed for village poultry farming and traditional system of rearing is being strengthened.

Figure 1. Chicks distribution for backyard farming by state Animal Husbandry Department
Performance of improved variety and crosses under backyard conditions

In the present study the performance evaluation of Vanaraja -a dual purpose variety for backyard poultry- developed at Project Directorate on Poultry, Hyderabad (Rao et al 2009) and the crosses of Native chicken (N) of state with Dahlem Red (DR) and Rhode Island Red (RIR) was recorded under backyard condition at farmer’s flock to assess their suitability for introduction in to rural farming system. Performance of different birds reared under traditional system is presented in Table 9.

Table 9. Production performance of Vanaraja and crosses under traditional backyard management system
Parameter Genotype performance
Vanaraja NxDR* NxDIR*
Body weight, kg
     20 week 1.9 (0.03)a 1.3 (0.04)b 1.3 (0.03)b
     40 week 2.3 (0.02)a 1.6 (0.02)b 1.5 (0.03)b
Age at first lay, months 5.6 (0.1)a 5.1 (0.08)b 5.4 (0.08)ab
Average egg production
     40 weeks 31.1 (1.1)a 39.6 (1.4)b 35.6 (1.4)ab
     52 weeks 61.8 (2.2)a 71.3 (2.7)b 67.6 (2.0)ab
     Annual 119 (2.4)a 138 (3.1)b 131 (1.8)b
Egg weight, g
     32nd week 51.8 (0.3)a 45.0 (0.4)b 45.2 (0.4)b
     52nd week 54.3 (0.2)a 49.6 (0.4)b 48.7 (0.3)b
* Native, N; Dahlem Red DR; Rhode Island Red RIR
Means in the same row without common letter differ significantly P<0.05
Values in parenthesis are standard error estimates

Analysis of production performance of different genotypes shown that Vanaraja birds were comparatively heavier in body weight and produced heavier eggs during the period studied than crosses of native birds with Dahlem Red and Rhode Island Red. However, egg production of crosses was better than the Vanaraja genotype. In general, the performance of crosses including Vanaraja birds, was found satisfactory, in comparison to local poultry breeds, and these birds are well adapted to local agro-climatic conditions under traditional system of production.

Shortfalls in current improvement strategies

Most important constraint of poultry improvement programs is the lack of any systemic approach in the selection strategies for indigenous chicken that encompasses all ecotype/native chicken population in the state. Efforts directed towards this aspect are in the first stage of development and positive results could be obtained in the near future.

There is paucity of Non Government Organization directing its efforts for socio–economic development through promotion of backyard poultry in the rural area of state as its primary or secondary objective. Success of all these strategies for improvement of rural poultry farming although depends on many factors but local people participation and uses of locally available resources are important one. It is quite evident that the local/native chicken germplasm should be used as a basal germplasm in the breeding programme for sustainable chicken production in the state.



The present study is carried under All India Coordinated Research Project on Poultry breeding and the authors acknowledge Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Project Directorate on Poultry Hyderabad for financial support. The authors are also grateful to the farmers and the village representative for their valuable time and cooperation.


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Received 10 October 2013; Accepted 25 October 2013; Published 1 December 2013

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