Part II: Poultry[edit | edit source]


Chickens, ducks, muscovies, geese, guinea fowl, quail, pigeons, and turkeys epitomize the concept of microlivestock. Throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America they are (collectively) the most common of all farm stock. In many - perhaps most - tropical countries, practically every family, settled or nomadic, owns some kind of poultry. In the countryside, in villages, even in cities, one or another species is seen almost everywhere; in some places, several may be seen together. Although raised in all levels of husbandry, these birds occur most often in scattered household flocks that scavenge for their food and survive with little care or management.

Their size bestows microlivestock advantages, including low capital cost, low food requirements, and little or no labor requirements. They are also "family sized": easily killed and dressed, with little waste or spoilage.

These poultry species help meet the protein needs of the poorest people in the world. Some are raised even in areas where domestic cattle cannot survive because of afflictions such as trypanosomiasis and foot-and-mouth disease. Some are maintained under conditions of intensive confinement - provided a source of feed is available - and can be produced in areas with insufficient land for other meat-producing animals.

In addition, these birds grow quickly and mature rapidly. (For instance, a chicken can, under proper conditions, reach maturity in 26 months.) They adapt readily to being fenced or penned much, or all, of the time. And, compared with the major farm livestock, their life cycles are short and their production of offspring is high. Thus, farmers can synchronize production to match seasonal changes in the availability of feed.

Although poultry contribute substantially to human nutrition in the tropics, it is a small fraction of what it could be. The meat is widely consumed and is in constant demand. An excellent source of protein, it also provides minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and iron, as well as the B-complex vitamins riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin. Nutritionally as complete as red meat, it is much lower in cholesterol and saturated fats. Poultry eggs are also important sources of nutrients. They are a renewable resource, easy to prepare, and are among the best sources of quality protein and vitamins (except vitamin C).

In spite of their numbers and potential, poultry are rarely accorded primary consideration in economic development activities. All in all, these small birds lack the appeal of large, four-legged livestock. Indeed, most countries have little knowledge of the contribution household birds actually make to the well-being and diets of their peoples. In some countries - even those where birds are widely kept - there is little or no poultry research or extension. And where such programs do exist they usually focus almost exclusively on the production of chickens under "industrial" conditions near cities (see sidebar, page 75).

Most developing countries now have these intensive chicken industries, in which birds are kept in complete confinement. However, these commercial operations provide food for people in the cash economy, not for subsistence farmers. Moreover, grain is sometimes diverted or imported to maintain these operations, perhaps causing food shortages, higher prices, or depleted foreign exchange. Thus, in this section we focus on other, neglected, aspects of poultry production.,

The neglect of poultry that scavenge around the rural farmhouses and in village yards is understandable. The birds are scattered across the countryside where extension programs are difficult to implement. Their presence is often so ingrained in traditional village life that they are taken for granted and ignored by the authorities.

Yet village poultry deserve greater attention. As converters of vegetation into animal protein, poultry can be outstanding. In fact, it is estimated that, in terms of feed conversion, eggs rank with cow's milk as the most economically produced animal protein, and that poultry meat ranks above that of other domestic animals.

Most Third World poultry flocks live a wary, half-wild existence, scrounging for insects, earthworms, snails, seeds, leaves, and leftovers from the human diet. From dung and refuse piles they salvage undigested grains, as well as insects and other invertebrates. Often the persons who care for them are women or children. Some keep the birds around the house, penning them at night for protection from predators and thieves.

This almost zero-cost production has, in spite of high losses, a remarkable rate of return. Any improvements that require the purchase of supplies cut severely into the profitability. The first step in improving the production of free-ranging poultry is vaccination against diseases (especially Newcastle disease, fowl pox, and Marek's disease) and a modest, supplemental feeding during times of seasonal scarcity.


Throughout modem livestock farming the trend is toward more intensive methods, and poultry specialists have set the pace. In many countries, since the 1920s, barnyard fowl have given way to egg and broiler factories. The old-fashioned chicken reared outside on corn stubbles for 5 or 6 months has been replaced by the broiler, mass-produced in controlled environment houses in 7 - 10 weeks.

As a result of this revolution in poultry raising, small farmers who once made a comfortable living from a few laying hens have been forced out of business. These economic changes have also forced poultry men to have larger and larger flocks to survive. The largest broiler-chicken companies even control their own breed development, feed production, house construction, slaughtering, and freezing, many even have wholesale outlets.

The rapid changes in poultry farming methods can be attributed to the application of advanced technology. The development of the incubator to replace the mother hen sitting her seasonal clutch of eggs was the first mayor step toward intensive poultry farming.

In addition, chickens were the first livestock to receive serious attention from geneticists. Before World War II, it was discovered that crossbreeding selected pure and inbred lines could result in dramatic increases in production. Hybrids tailor-made for egg or meat production quickly ousted the old pure breeds such as the Rhode Island Red White and Brown Leghorns, Light Sussex, and the various crosses among them. Chicken broilers made by crosses involving parents derived from Cornish and Plymouth Rock have supplanted all others.

This situation now prevails in most industrialized countries. The breeding of commercial stocks is in the hands of a few corporations for each commodity (white eggs, brown eggs, chicken broilers, turkeys) and each has national or even global distribution of its hybrid stocks.


Newcastle disease is endemic in developing countries and is a constant threat to poultry. Farmers dread this virus, first identified half a century ago in northern England that brings diarrhea, paralysis, and death to most poultry. It is severe, highly contagious, and can cause 100 percent mortality. When it strikes an area, farmers must kill all chickens - even healthy ones - to stop it from spreading.

Only Australia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland and some Pacific islands are unaffected. But, although the disease is not found in Australia, certain strains of the virus are present in Australian chickens. These strains are completely harmless, but Australian researchers have found that they induce antibodies that are effective against Newcastle disease.

In a joint project (funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research), scientists from Malaysia's University of Agriculture and Australia's University of Queensland* have put this to good use. They have produced a live culture of the harmless virus that farmers can spray onto feed pellets to vaccinate their birds.

Field tests of the new vaccine, carried out in Southeast Asia, have been extremely promising. Simply coating feeds with the virus seems to be enough to immunize some chickens, which then pass the immunity on to the others in the flock as well as to new hatchlings. In Malaysia, which has 49 million chickens and a population willing to pay a premium for tasty village poultry meat, one economist estimates that the vaccine might increase rural incomes by 25 percent.

Conventional vaccines must be stored under refrigerated conditions, which most villages lack. But the Malaysian workers made the Newcastle disease vaccine tolerant of heat. By selective breeding, they now have strains that resist 56°C for at least 2 hours. Thus, even in the tropics, the vaccine remains effective for several weeks without refrigeration. The researchers have also devised methods for coating the vaccine onto pelleted feeds. Because the virus can withstand heat, they use a machine designed for coating pharmaceutical tablets.

At this stage, the project is showing every promise of producing a cheap means of reducing Newcastle disease losses among chickens throughout much of the world. Already inquiries have come from other Asian countries and from Africa, and it is hoped that the vaccine may eventually benefit many countries.

5 Chicken[edit | edit source]


Chickens (Gallus gallus or Gallus domesticus)1 are the world's major source of eggs and are a meat source that supports a food industry in virtually every country. There may be as many as 6.5 billion chickens, the equivalent of 1.4 birds for every person on earth.2

No other domesticated animal has enjoyed such universal acceptance, and these birds are the prime example of the importance of microlivestock. Kept throughout the Third World, they are one of the least expensive and most efficient producers of animal protein.

To the world's poor, chickens are probably the most nutritionally important livestock species. For instance, in Mauritius and Nigeria more than 70 percent of rural households keep scavenger chickens. In Swaziland, more than 95 percent of rural households own chickens, most of them scavengers. In Thailand, where commercial poultry production is highly developed, 80-90 percent of rural households still keep chickens in backyards and under houses. And in other developing countries from Pakistan to Peru, a similar situation prevails.

Clearly, these chickens should be given far more attention. They represent an animal and a production system with remarkable qualities; they compete little with humans for food; they produce meat at low cost; and they provide a critical nutritional resource.

Scavenger chickens are usually self-reliant, hardy birds capable of withstanding the abuses of harsh climate, minimal management, and inadequate nutrition. They live largely on weed seeds, insects, and feeds that would otherwise go to waste.

Unfortunately, however, quantitative information about the backyard chicken is hard to obtain. Few countries have any knowledge of its actual contribution to the well-being and diet of their people. Notably lacking is an understanding of the factors limiting egg production, which is markedly low and perhaps could be raised dramatically with modest effort.




Chickens are so well known and ubiquitous that they need no further description. Varying in color from white through many shades of brown to black, they range in size from small bantams of less than 1 kg to giant breeds weighing 5 kg or more. Scavenger chickens tend to weigh about 1 kg.

The indigenous chickens of Asia are probably descended directly from the wild junglefowl. Those of West Africa are believed descended from European birds brought by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century; those of Latin America probably descend from Spanish birds introduced soon after the time of Columbus.



All countries have chickens in large numbers.


They are not endangered, but industrial stocks are replacing traditional breeds to such an extent that much potentially valuable genetic heritage is disappearing.


Although chickens derive from tropical species, they adapt to a wide variety of environments. The modern Leghorn, for example, is found from the hot plains of India to the frozen tundra of Siberia, and from sea level to altitudes above 4,000 m in the Andes. (There are, however, hatching problems at such high altitudes because of oxygen deficiency.) They also occur in desert countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has a vast poultry industry and even exports broilers. (However, the birds need shade and a lot of water where it is hot and dry.)


Chickens are omnivorous, living on seeds, insects, worms, leaves, green grass, and kitchen scraps.

A commercial bird may produce 280 eggs annually, but a scavenger may produce close to none. Commonly, a farmyard hen lays a dozen eggs, takes three weeks to hatch out a brood of chicks, stays with the chicks six weeks or more, and only then starts laying again.

Egg production depends on daylength. For the highest production rate, at least 12 hours of daylight are needed. The incubation period is 21 days. A hen can begin laying at 5 months of age or even earlier, but in scavengers it may be much later. The average weight of the eggs is approximately 55 g from industrial layers and approximately 40 g from scavengers. Hatching success from breeder flocks often exceeds 90 percent. Industrial broilers can be marketed as early as 6 weeks, when they are called "Cornish hens."


These passive, gregarious birds have a pronounced social (pecking) order. If acclimated, they remain on the premises and are unlikely to go feral. If given a little evening meal of "scratch," they learn to come home to roost at night.


Chickens have multiple uses. They were probably first used for cock fighting; later they were used in religious rituals, and only much later were raised for eggs and meat. Today, chickens can provide a family with eggs, meat, feathers, and sometimes cash.


In different parts of the world, people keep scavenging chickens in different ways. The managers are often women and children because they have more time to spend at home to feed the birds and repel predators. Some people leave the birds entirely to their own devices. Many house them at night. Others take the birds each day to the fields, where they may find much more food.

There are many ingenious local practices. In Ghana, for example, farmers "culture" termites for poultry by placing a moist piece of cow dung (under a tin) over a known termite nest. The termites burrow into the dung, and some can then be fed to the chickens each day. Because termites digest cellulose, this system converts waste vegetation into meat.

A ratio of 1 male to 10-15 females is adequate for barnyard flocks. Hens will lay eggs in the absence of a rooster - but of course the rooster is needed if fertile eggs are wanted.

Removing chicks stimulates the hen to lay more eggs. This results in more chicks being hatched, but it requires that the chicks be nurtured and fed until they are old enough to fend for themselves.


Chickens are everywhere; every culture knows them and how to husband them. They have been utilized for so many centuries that in most societies their use is ingrained. Unlike the case with pork and beef, there are few strictures against eating chicken meat or eggs.

The meat is high in quality protein, low in fat, and easily prepared. In many countries, the village chicken's meat is preferred to that of commercial broilers because it has better texture and stronger flavor. Even in countries with vast poultry industries there is a growing demand for the tasty, "organically grown," free-ranging chicken.

Chickens are more suited to "urban farming" than most types of livestock and can be raised in many city situations.

The birds are conveniently sized, easily transported alive, and, by and large, do not transmit diseases to humans.


Throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the problems of village chickens are mainly those discussed below.

High Hatching Mortality

Commonly, a hatch of eight or nine village chicks results in only two or three live birds after a few days. A survey in Nigeria, for instance, showed that 80 percent died before the age of eight weeks. Losses elsewhere are known to be similar. This is mostly because of starvation, cold, dehydration, predators (hawks, kites, snakes, dogs, and cats, for example), diseases, parasites, accidents, and simply getting lost - all of which can be prevented without great effort.

Chronic and Acute Disease

Poultry diseases can become epidemic in the villages because there are few if any veterinarians. Newcastle disease, fowlpox, pullorum disease, and coccidiosis, for example - all of which are endemic in the Third World - can destroy the entire chicken population over large areas. Lice and other parasites are also prevalent. Scavengers and industrial birds seem to show no differences in their tolerance for such diseases and parasites.

Low Egg Production

A survey in Nigeria showed that the annual production per hen was merely 20 eggs. Such low production is common throughout the Third World and is caused by a combination of low genetic potential, inadequate nutrition, and poor management. Villagers rarely provide nest boxes or laying areas, so that some eggs are just not found. Some birds have high levels of broodiness, and eggs accumulating in a nest stimulates this. There are indications, however, that some village chickens (for example, some in China) have quite substantial egg-laying potential when provided with adequate feed.3

Low Egg Consumption

In the tropics, many people choose not to eat eggs. Often this is because eggs are the source of the next generation of chickens; sometimes it is because of superstition. Further, eggs do not keep well because most are fertile and, exposed to constant tropical heat, undergo rapid embryo development.

Crop Damage

It is often necessary to confine the birds to protect young crops or vegetable gardens.


Unlike the situation with small cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs, there are few named and recognized breeds of Third World chickens. Yet, nearly every country has at least one kind of village chicken. These have survived there for centuries and are highly adapted to local conditions. In village projects, these unnamed chickens deserve priority attention before other types are sought from elsewhere.

Generally speaking, improving the production of scavenging poultry does not require sophisticated research. Instead, simple precautions are sufficient. These are discussed below.

Disease Control

At a national or regional level, the initial approach to increasing chicken production in tropical areas should be disease control. There are several outstanding instances of success in this endeavor. For example, the spectacular rise of poultry production in Singapore (from 250,000 birds in 1949 to 20 million in 1957) followed the control of Ranikhet disease. Village flock-health programs, carried out regularly by visiting veterinarians ("barefoot veterinarians"), might be the answer to some of the routine health problems. Today, a prime target should be Newcastle disease, for which there are good chances for success (see page 76).


The first step in chicken production at the farm level is improved management. With more care and attention, mortality can be greatly reduced. Because incubating and brooding hens must spend the night on the ground, they are extremely vulnerable. Even modest predator controls can be highly beneficial. Building crude and inexpensive nest boxes and constructing a simple holding area around them can substantially raise production by ensuring that more chicks survive.


Although little known to most people, the red junglefowl has contributed more to every nation than any other wild bird. It is the ancestor of the chicken.

Given its descendants importance worldwide, the neglect of this bird is baffling. If the cow's wild ancestor, the aurochs, had not become extinct in the 1600s, it would now be worth millions of dollars as the ultimate source of cattle genetic diversity. Yet the world's chicken industry remains virtually unaware of the origin of its source of livelihood.

Like the aurochs, the red junglefowl has a wealth of wild genes, and it deserves more recognition and protection. For one thing the modern chicken - selectively bred in the temperate zone - is highly susceptible to heat and humidity; the junglefowl, on the other hand, is not. It inhabits the warmest and most humid parts of Asia: Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Thailand, and most of Southeast Asia. It may also be resistant to various chicken diseases and pests.

This is not a rare species. Throughout the wide crescent stretching from Pakistan to Indonesia, junglefowls are still seen in the wild, especially in forest clearings and lowland scrub. Although they are a prized bag for hunters, they survive by fast running and agile flying. They are sometimes sold in village markets, but can easily be mistaken for domesticated chickens, which in this region are often very similar. The wild junglefowl, however, has feathered legs, a down-curving tail, and an overall scragginess.

Junglefowls should be under intensive study. They are easy to rear in captivity and do well in pens, even small ones, as long as they are sheltered from rain and wind. One drawback is their craze for scratching unless provided plenty of space they promptly tear up all grass and dirt. Another is that junglecocks are violent fighters and must be kept apart. (Cockfighting is probably a major reason why they were initially selected, and thus their aggressiveness is perhaps the reason we have the chicken today.)

These highly adaptable creatures live in a variety of habitats, from sea level to 2,000 m. Most, however, are found in and around damp forests, secondary growth, dry scrub, bamboo groves, and small woods near farms and villages. They are amazingly clever at evading capture and thrive wherever there is some cover.

Other junglefowl species might also provide useful poultry. They, too, can be raised in captivity with comparative ease, as long as the cocks are kept apart. Perhaps they might be tamed with imprinting and could prove useful as domestic fowl, especially in marginal habitats. They are everywhere considered culinary luxuries and their meat commands premium prices. Moreover, several have colorful feathers, giving them additional commercial value. These other species are:

- La Fayette's Junglefowl (Gallus lafayettei). Avery attractive bird of Sri Lanka, it is little known in captivity, and only in the United States are there any number in captivity.

- Gray or Sonnerat's Junglefowl (Gallus sonnerati). A native of India, this colorful bird produces feathers that are used in tying the most prized trout and salmon flies. Demand is so great that certain populations have declined, and since 1968 India has banned all export of birds or feathers. Nonetheless, there are several hundred in captivity in various countries.

- Green Junglefowl (Gallus varius). This is yet another striking bird. The cock has metallic, greenish-black feathering set off by a comb that merges from brilliant green at the base to bright purple and red at the top. Native to Java, Bali, and the neighboring Indonesian islands as far out as Timor, it is found particularly near rice paddies and rocky coasts. This species, too, can be raised without great difficulty, and there are at least 90 in captivity in various parts of the world.


Improving poultry nutrition is also of prime importance. There are no quantitative data on the quality of a scavenging chicken's diet. Surveys are badly needed so that appropriate, low-cost supplements can be devised.

Chances are that the diet for chicks of scavenging poultry is almost always deficient in available energy. Minimal supplementation in the form of cereals or energy-rich by-products can greatly improve both egg and meat production. However, caution must always be exercised and the supplements given only to chicks. Overfed adults will give up scavenging and stay around the owner's house, without really producing much more meat or eggs.

Genetic Improvement

Although it seems attractive to replace the scrawny village chicken with bigger, faster-growing imported breeds, it is a process fraught with difficulty. Exotic breeds lack the ability to tolerate the rigors of mismanagement and environmental stress. Many cannot avoid predators, as a result either of being overweight or of having a poor conformation for flight. The local birds, however, probably have a genetic potential that is much higher than can be expressed in the constraining environment. Thus, the environmental constraints should be tackled first.

However, the village birds may have a feed-conversion efficiency that is far less than ideal because they are adapted to a scavenging existence. Modern breeds imported into Ghana, for instance, showed a feed-conversion efficiency of less that 3.5:1 (weight of food eaten: growth and eggs), but the local birds had efficiencies of 11:1.4


The need for preserving genetic variability is greater in poultry, especially in chickens, than in any other form of domestic animal. North America, for instance, which years ago had 50 or more common breeds, now relies on only 2 for meat production, and the others have been largely lost. Conservation of germplasm has become a matter of serious concern, and the saving of rare breeds in domestic fowl should not be delayed.


Early European explorers of South America were surprised to discover an abundance of unusual chickens that laid colored eggs and had feathers resembling earrings on the side of the head. While the origin of this bird - commonly called the araucanian chicken and classified as Gallus inauris - is debatable, scientists generally agree that it is pre-Columbian. There is archeological evidence that this bird is native to the Americas. It is reported to have occurred in Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Peru, and Easter Island. It still occurs in the wild in southern Chile and on Easter Island.

The araucanian has been called the "Easter-egg chicken" because it lays light green, light blue, and olive colored eggs. It lays well and has a delicious meat. In areas such as southern Chile the eggs are preferred over those of normal chickens because of their flavor and dark yellow yolk. This unusual bird has a high degree of variability; however, specimens of similar genetic background have been grouped to create "breeds" such as the White Araucanian, Black Araucanian, and Barred Araucanian. These are homozygotes and breed true.

The araucanian has been the subject of much public interest,. clubs dedicated to its preservation have been formed in the United States, Great Britain, and Chile. Its possible exploitation as a backyard microlivestock deserves serious consideration.

6 Ducks[edit | edit source]


Domestic ducks (Anas platyrhynchos)1 are well known, but still have much unrealized promise for subsistence-level production. Although a major resource of Asia, where there is approximately one duck per 20 inhabitants, they are not so intensively used elsewhere. On a worldwide basis, for instance, they are of minor importance compared with chickens.

This is unfortunate because ducks are easy to keep, adapt readily to a wide range of conditions (including small-farm culture), and require little investment. They are also easily managed under village conditions, particularly if a waterway is nearby, and appear to be more resistant to diseases and more adept at foraging than chickens.

Moreover, the products from ducks are in constant demand. Some breeds yield more eggs than the domestic chicken. And duck meat always sells at premium. A few recently created breeds (notably some in Taiwan) have much lower levels of fat than the traditional farm duck. This development could open up vast new markets for duck meat, especially in wealthy countries, where consumers are both concerned over fat in their diet and eager for alternatives to chicken.

Ducks are also efficient at converting waste resources - insects, weeds, aquatic plants, and fallen seeds, for instance - into meat and eggs. Indeed, they are among the most efficient of all food producers. Raised in confinement, ducks can convert 2.4-2.6 kg of concentrated feed into I kg of weight gain. The only domestic animal that has better feed conversion is the broiler chicken.

Raised as village birds and allowed to forage for themselves, ducks become less productive but become even more cost effective because much of the food they scavenge has no monetary value.




Several distinctive types have been developed in various regions. Most have lost the ability to fly any distance, but they retain a characteristic boatlike posture and a labored, waddling walk. The Indian Runner, however, has an almost erect stance that permits it to walk and run with apparent ease.

Domestic ducks range in body size from the diminutive Call, weighing less than I kg, to the largest meat strains (Pekin, Rouen, and Aylesbury, for example) weighing as much as 4.5 kg. For intensive conditions, the Pekin is the most popular meat breed around the world. In confinement it grows rapidly - weighing 2.5-3 kg at a market age of 78 weeks. In addition, it is hardy, does not fly, lays well, and produces good quality (but somewhat fatty) meat.

The Khaki Campbell breed is an outstanding egg producer, some individuals laying more than 300 eggs per bird per year.

The Taiwan Tsaiya (layer duck) is also a particularly efficient breed. It weighs 1.2 kg at maturity, starts laying at 120-140 days, and can produce 260-290 eggs a year. Its small body size, large egg weight, and phenomenal egg production make Brown Tsaiya the main breed for egg consumption in Taiwan. More than 2.5 million Brown Tsaiya ducks are raised annually for egg production.2


The domestic duck is distributed throughout the world; however, its greatest economic importance is in Southeast Asia, particularly in the wetland-rice areas. For example, about 28 percent of Taiwan's poultry are- ducks. In parts of Asia, some domestic flocks have as many as 20,000 birds. One farm near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, rears 40,000 ducks.


Although ducks are abundant, some Western breeds are becoming rare. Indigenous types are little known outside their home countries and have received little study, so their status is uncertain.


These adaptable creatures thrive in hot, humid climates. However, during torrid weather they must have access to shade, drinking water, and bathing water.

Ducks are well adapted to rivers, canals, lakes, ponds, marshes, and other aquatic locations. Moreover, they can be raised successfully in estuarine areas. Most ocean bays and inlets teem with plant and animal life that ducks relish, but (unlike wild sea ducks) domestic breeds have a low physiological tolerance for salt and must be supplied with fresh drinking water.


Ducks search for food underwater, sieve organic matter from mud, root out morsels underground, and sometimes catch insects in the air. Their natural diet is normally about 90 percent vegetable matter (seeds, berries, fruits, nuts, bulbs, roots, succulent leaves, and grasses) and 10 percent animal matter (insects, snails, slugs, leeches, worms, eels, crustacea, and an occasional small fish or tadpole). They have little ability to utilize dietary fiber. Although they eat considerable quantities of tender grass, they are not true grazers (like geese), and don't eat coarse grasses and weeds at all. Sand and gravel is swallowed to serve as "grindstones" in the gizzard.

When protected from accidents and predation, ducks live a surprisingly long time. It is not unusual for one to continue reproducing for up to 8 years, and there are reports of exceptional birds living more than 20 years.

Despite large differences in size, color, and appearance, all domestic breeds interbreed freely. Eggs normally take 28 days to incubate, brooding and rearing is performed solely by the female.

Depending on breed, a female may reach sexual maturity at about 20 weeks of age. Most begin laying at 20-26 weeks, but the best egg- laying varieties come into production at 16-18 weeks and lay profitably for 2 years.


It is generally well known that ducks are shy, nervous, and seldom aggressive towards each other or humans. Skilled and enthusiastic swimmers from the day they hatch, they spend many hours each day bathing and frolicking in any available water. However, most breeds can be raised successfully without swimming water.

Although wild ducks normally pair off, domestic drakes will mate indiscriminately with any females in a flock. In intensively raised flocks, I male to 6 females, and in village flocks, 1 male for up to 25 females, results in good fertility.

Most domestic ducks, particularly the egg-laying strains, have little instinct to brood. If not confined, they will lay eggs wherever they happen to be - occasionally even while swimming. To facilitate egg collection, some keepers confine ducks until noon.



As a meat source, ducks have major advantages. Their growth rate is phenomenal during the first few weeks. (Acceptable market weights can be attained under intensive management with birds as young as 6-7 weeks of age.) Yet, even in older birds, the meat remains tender and palatable.

Eggs from many breeds are typically 20-35 percent larger than chicken eggs, weighing on average about 73 g. They are nutritious, have more fat and protein, and contain less water than hen's eggs. They are often used in cooking and make excellent custards and ice cream. Eggs incubated until just before the embryos form feathers produce a delicacy known as balut in the Philippines. Salted eggs are popular in China and Southeast Asia.

Feathers and down (an insulating undercoat of fine, fluffy feathers) are valuable by-products. Down is particularly sought as a filler for pillows, comforters, and winter clothing.

Ducks have a special fondness for mosquito and beetle larvae, grasshoppers, snails, slugs, and crustaceans, and therefore are effective pest control agents. China, in particular, uses ducks to reduce pests in rice fields.3 Its farmers also keep ducks to clear fields of scattered grain, to clear rice paddy banks of burrowing crabs, and to clear aquatic weeds and algae out of small lakes, ponds, and canals. This not only improves the conditions for aquaculture and agriculture, it also fattens the ducks.


In Southeast Asia, droving is a traditional form of duck husbandry, much as it was in medieval Europe. The birds are herded along slowly, foraging in fields or riverbanks as they march to market. The journey might cover hundreds of kilometers and take as long as six months.

This process, however, is generally declining, and most ducks are raised under farm conditions where they scavenge for much of their feed. Throughout Southeast Asia, ducks have been integrated with aquaculture.

Ducks can be raised on almost any kitchen wastes: vegetable trimmings, table scraps, garden leftovers, canning refuse, stale produce, and stale (but not moldy) baked goods. However, for top yields and quickest growth, protein-rich feeds are the key. Commercial duck farms rely on such things as fish scraps, grains, soybean meal, or coconut cake. Agricultural wastes such as sago chips, palm-kernel cake, and palm-oil sludge are being used in Malaysia.4

Ducks have a very high requirement for niacin (a B vitamin). If chicken rations are used, a plentiful supply of fresh greens must be provided to avoid "cowboy legs," a symptom of niacin deficiency.


Of all domestic animals, ducks are among the most versatile and useful and have multiple advantages, including:

- Withstanding poor conditions;

- Producing food efficiently;

- Utilizing foodstuffs that normally go unharvested;

- Helping to control pests; and

- Helping to fertilize the soil.

Also, they are readily herded (for instance, by children).

Excellent foragers, they usually can find all their own food, getting by on only a minimum of supplements, if any. Raising them requires little work, and they provide farmers with food or an income from the sale of eggs, meat, and down.

Ducks can grow faster than broiler chickens if they have adequate nutrients. Like guinea fowl and geese, they are relatively resistant to disease. They also have a good tolerance to cold and, in most climates, don't need artificial heat.


Many species of ducks adapt readily to captivity; it is surprising, therefore, that only the mallard and the muscovy have been domesticated so far. Several wild tropical species seem especially worth exploring for possible future use in Third World farms, Because of the year-round tropical warmth, their instinct to migrate is either absent or unpronounced, and the heavy layer of fat (a feature of temperate-climate ducks that consumers in many countries consider a drawback) is lacking. Moreover, because of uniform daylength, they are ready to breed at any time of the year. Candidates for domestication as tropical ducks include:

- Whistling ducks (Dendrocygna species). These large, colorful, gooselike birds are noted for their beautiful, cheerful whistle.* They are long-necked perching ducks that are found throughout the tropics. By and large, they are gregarious, sedentary, vegetarian, and less arboreal than the muscovy - all positive traits for a poultry species.

The black-bellied whistling duck (D. auturunalis) seems especially promising. It is common throughout tropical America (southwestern United States to northwestern Argentina) and is sometimes kept in semicaptivity. Occasionally, in the highlands of Guatemala, for instance, Indians sell young ones they have reared as pets. When hand reared, the birds can become very tame. ** They eat grain and other vegetation, require no swimming water, and will voluntarily use nest boxes. In the wild, they "dump" large numbers of eggs so that even if substantial numbers were removed for artificial hatching, the wild populations should not be affected.

- Greater wood ducks (Cairina species). The muscovy (C. moschata) was domesticated by South American Indians long before Europeans arrived (see page 124). Its counterparts in the forests of Southeast Asia and tropical Africa are, however, untried as domesticates. The white-winged wood duck (C. scutulata) is found from eastern India to Java. Hartlaub's duck (C. hartlaubi) occurs in forests and wooded savannas from Sierra Leone to Zaire. Both are rare in captivity, but might well prove to be future tropical resources. Both are strikingly similar to muscovies in size and habits, being large, phlegmatic, sedentary, and omnivorous.


Predators are the most important cause of losses in farm flocks. Ducks are almost incapable of defending themselves, and losses from dogs and poachers can be high. Locking them in at night both protects the birds and prevents eggs from being wastefully laid outside.

Ducks do suffer from some diseases, mainly those traceable to mismanagement such as poor diet, stagnant drinking water, moldy feed or bedding, or overcrowded and filthy conditions. Of all poultry, they are the most sensitive to aflatoxin, which usually comes from eating moldy feed. They are also susceptible to cholera (pasteurellosis) and botulism, either of which may wipe out entire flocks. Duck virus enteritis (duck plague) and duck virus hepatitis also can cause severe losses.

If not carefully managed, ducks can become pests to some crops, especially cereals.

As noted, ducks tend to be extremely poor mothers and can be helped by using broody chicken hens or female muscovies as surrogate mothers.

Major limitations to large-scale, intensive production are mud, smell, and noise.

Defeathering ducks is much more difficult than defeathering chickens because of an abundance of small pinfeathers and down feathers.


These birds already function so well that no fundamental research needs to be done. Nonetheless, there are a number of topics that could improve their production.

For example, different types of low-cost systems need to be explored and developed. These must be low-input systems since cash is a limiting factor for most subsistence farmers. One possibility is the integration of duck and fish farming.

A survey of all breeds is needed to determine their status and likelihood of extinction.

One need in countries that already have ducks is to encourage the consumption of duck meat. Indonesia, for instance, has 25 million egg-producing ducks, but little duck meat is consumed.

Research on economically significant diseases is needed.

7 Geese[edit | edit source]

Brown Chinese Geese

Although geese (Anser spp.) were one of the first domesticated animals, they have yet to receive the level of commercial or industrial exploitation of chickens or even ducks. Thus, their global potential is far greater than is generally recognized today.

Domestic geese are easily managed and well suited to small-farm production; they are among the fastest growing avian species commonly raised for meat, and they have immediate application in many developing countries.

These birds are especially appropriate for providing farmers a supplemental income. With little extra work they supply nutritious meat, huge eggs, and rich fat for cooking, as well as soft down and feathers for bedding and clothing. Moreover, their strident voices sound the alarm when strangers or predators approach. They are especially well suited to aquatic areas and marshy lands and are completely at home in warm shallow waterways. Nevertheless, they can thrive away from water. In fact, wherever pasture is available geese readily adapt to captivity.

Geese are grazers, and can be raised almost exclusively on pasture. They are excellent foragers, and on succulent grass can find most or all of their own food. With their powerful bills they pull up grasses and underwater plants and probe soil and water for roots, bulbs, and aquatic animals. Their long necks make them adept at gleaning weeds from hard-to-reach places - such as fence rows, ditches, and swampy areas that baffle larger livestock. They will also feast on vegetable trimmings, garden and table leftovers, canning refuse, and stale baked goods. Like other poultry, they pick up shattered grains of rice, wheat, barley, and other crops, which can reduce the bothersome problem of weeds volunteering in subsequent years.

Geese are available worldwide. In most climates, they require little or no housing. Given reasonable care and protection from predators, mortality can be extremely low.




Domestic geese come in an assortment of colors, sizes, and shapes. There are two main types, however. Descendants of the wild greylag goose (Anser anser) make up the domestic breeds common in North America and Europe, including the Embden, Toulouse, Pilgrim, American Buff, Pomeranian, Sebastopol, and Tufted Roman breeds. These are generally best suited to temperate climates. On the other hand, descendants of the wild "swan goose" (Anser cygnoides) make up the geese of Asia, including the Chinese and "African" types. These breeds seem better suited to hot climates.

In addition to these, many European and Asian countries have their own local breeds and types, and there are even several wild species that show some potential for captive production.

With their long legs and webbed toes, geese are equally at home walking or swimming. Avid walkers, they march long distances to find forage, but return home at dusk. Accomplished and graceful swimmers, geese are able to take to water soon after they hatch. Despite their large size, some domestic breeds - especially the leaner ones - have retained the ability to fly.


Geese are found worldwide, but goose farming is nationally important only in Asia and Central Europe.


Domestic geese are not threatened, although much local variation among the breeds is being lost.


Most geese adapt well to hot climates - as long as some shade is available. Their waterproof feathers help them adapt well to high rainfall regions. They also tolerate extreme cold. (For instance, in Canada, geese are wintered outdoors in subfreezing temperatures, with merely 'e simple shelter from wind.)

For tropical developing countries, the Chinese type, which is widely kept in Southeast Asia, is especially promising. Smaller than most geese (although ganders can weigh over 5 kg), they are the best layers, the most active foragers (making them economical and useful as weeders), the most alert and "talkative," and they produce the leanest meat. Some European breeds, such as Embden and Toulouse, have also been used in the tropics with notable success.


Today's domestic geese are descended from two species: the greylag (Anser anser) and the swan goose (Anser cygnoides). These were domesticated in Europe and China, respectively. Their domestication occurred in ancient times, long before people knew about genetics, microorganisms, veterinary science, or behavior modifications such as imprinting. Today, armed with such knowledge, more geese may be amenable to domestication. Most of the 15 other wild species adapt to captivity. Compared to most birds, geese spend much time walking and swimming and are less inconvenienced by pinioning (removing the tip of the wing). Thus, they can be kept outdoors rather than in cages.

Both of the ancestors of today's domestic geese are native to the northern temperate zone. Two more wild species that might make useful domesticates are:

- Canada goose (Branta canadensis). North America. People feeding these birds in city parks and wildlife refuges are causing many local flocks to develop. These birds no longer migrate. They are increasing in numbers each year and are well on the way to de facto domestication.

- American swan goose (Coscoroba coscoroba). Southern South America. Although most closely allied to swans in shape and physiology, this bird resembles a muscovy (see page 124) in size and behavior. Its calm disposition, as well as its attractive red feet and bill that accent its white plumage, have made it much sought as an ornament for parks.


In its diet, the goose utilizes large quantities of tender forage. It can break down plant-cell walls and digest the contents. Although it has no crop for storing food, there is an enlargement at the end of the gullet that serves as a temporary storage organ. Sand and small gravel are swallowed to aid the gizzard in grinding hard seeds and fibrous grasses. Research has shown that geese can digest 15-20 percent of the fiber in their diet, which is 3-4 times the amount that other poultry species can digest.

The natural diet consists of grasses, seeds, roots, bulbs, berries, and fruits, normally supplemented with a little animal matter (mainly insects and snails) picked up incidentally. Most feeding takes place on land. They characteristically feed for prolonged periods, even at night.

Females may lay for 10 years or more. It is generally believed that reproduction is best in the second year and that it remains good until the fifth year. Geese outlive other types of poultry; life spans of 1520 years are common.

The eggs incubate in 27-31 days. The incubation time is more variable than in most poultry species, perhaps because geese have not been subjected to the selection pressure that is imposed by artificial incubators.


One of the most intelligent birds, the goose has a good memory and does not quickly forget people, animals, or situations that have frightened it. While personalities and habits vary among individual specimens, there are common behavioral patterns, such as the pecking order, that allow individuals to live peaceably together.

Unless conditions are crowded or there are too many males, geese normally live harmoniously both with themselves and with other creatures. The bond between male and female is strong. Changing mates is difficult, although most geese will eventually accept a new mate after a period of "mourning."

Geese nest on the ground and prefer the water's edge, but they adapt readily to man-made nesting boxes. The gander usually stands guard while the goose incubates the eggs. He then assists in rearing the goslings. Most geese become irritated if intruders approach their nest or goslings, and will even attack people and large dogs.


As previously noted, these birds provide meat, eggs, fat, and down. The meat is lean, flavorful, and of outstanding quality. The fat accumulates between the skin and the flesh and can be rendered into a long-lasting oil. The eggs are large and taste much like chicken eggs. The "down" (the small, fluffy feathers that lie next to the body of adult birds) is the finest natural insulating material for clothing and bedding, and can fetch a premium price. Worldwide markets exist for both down and other goose feathers. In France, in particular, some geese are raised for their livers (foie gras).

Geese can control many types of aquatic weeds in shallow water as well as grass and some types of palatable broad-leaf weeds on the banks of lakes, ponds, and canals. They can also be used as lawn mowers" and "weeders" among cotton, fruit trees, and other crops (see sidebar).

Elongated necks not only allow geese to reach many different foods, they also help them keep a watchful eye on the surroundings. With their exceptional eyesight they can see great distances, and the position of the eyes gives them a wide field of vision. Geese are among the most alert of all animals, and strangers cannot calm them into silence. In the high Andes, in Southeast Asia, and in many other locations, they replace guard dogs. In Europe, they are used to guard whiskey warehouses and sensitive military installations.


Methods of caring for adult geese vary according to climate, breed, and people's experiences and needs. Overall, however, the birds cause little trouble and require little expense. They range freely without restriction, feeding themselves and returning home of their own accord. They have strong flocking instincts and can readily be herded from one area to another.

Like all young poultry, goslings are fragile. The highest mortality is caused by predators. Until the goslings are 6-10 weeks old, it is prudent to confine the parents and their young at night in a secure pen or building.

Geese are the only domestic fowl that can live and reproduce on a diet of grass. They cannot remain healthy on coarse dry fodder, but when grass is succulent they need little else other than drinking water. Many legumes also make excellent goose forage.

In the tropics, eggs can be laid year-round. The production seldom exceeds 40 eggs per year, although with feed supplement and simple management, the Chinese breed may yield more than 100 eggs. Geese go broody quickly. To break up broodiness, the goose can be confined for 4 6 days away from, but in sight of, the ganders.

Goslings grow rapidly and can reach market size as early as 10-12 weeks; most geese, however, are marketed at 20-30 weeks of age, when they may weigh from 5 to 7 kg, depending on type and breed. Some young birds (also called green or junior geese), force-fed for rapid growth, are marketed at 4-6 kg when they are 8-10 weeks old.

If fed a good diet to maximize growth and if slaughtered at, say, 10 weeks, the Embden, Chinese, or African will have a carcass low in fat. However, the carcass normally has much more fat than other poultry.

Geese must have a constant supply of reasonably clean drinking water during daylight hours. Although swimming water is not necessary, it promotes cleaner and healthier birds because they find it easier to care for their plumage.


Geese of the tropics have seldom if ever been considered for domestication, but they might provide poultry of considerable value. Presumably they are more heat tolerant and lack the layers of subcutaneous fat (which the ancestors of today's geese needed for warmth in the Arctic). They might thus produce lean birds that would fetch premium prices because excessive fat is the major drawback of today's commercial geese. Examples of tropical species that might be domesticable are:

- Egyptian goose (AIopochen aegyptiacus). Found throughout the African tropics, this bird is already partly domesticated. However, it is bad tempered and quarrelsome and, so far, this has limited its utility. It has therefore been kept only under semidomestication, without intensive breeding.

- Nene (Branta sandvicensis). A native of the Hawaiian Islands, this is one of the most endangered species on earth. So few specimens are in existence that farming enterprises cannot now be envisaged. Yet, should this bird prove amenable and suitable, the possibility of an economic future could boost efforts to build up its now meager populations.

- Bar-headed goose (Anser indicus). India and Central Asia. These smallish geese are handsome, dainty, and have a musical horn-like call. They have distinct black bars across the nape, which gives them their popular name. Hand-reared specimens breed well in captivity. Despite heavy hunting they are still abundant.

- Northern spur-winged goose (Plectropterus gambensis gambensis). Tropical Africa (Senegal to Zimbabwe). This large bird is a ground nester, but it has long bony spurs on the wings that enable it to easily protect its eggs and young from predators.

- Semipalmated (magpie) goose (Anseranas semipalmata). Australia and New Guinea. One of the most aberrant and primitive of all waterfowl, this long-legged sturdy-billed bird has only partially webbed feet. It perches high in trees and has a loud ungooselike whistling call.


Because geese relish grasses and shun most broad-leafed plants, some enterprising U.S. farmers in the 1950s began using them to rid cotton fields of grassy weeds, which are difficult to kill with herbicides. The geese were put into the fields as soon as the crop came up. A brace of birds kept an acre of cotton weeded; a gaggle of 12 would gobble as many weeds as a hard-working man could clear with a hoe.

This method of clearing fields was so effective that by 1960 more than 175,000 geese honked their way across the carefully tended farmland, mainly in the Southwest. Seven days a week, rain or shine, the feathered field hands slaved uncomplainingly from daybreak to dusk, even putting in overtime on moonlit nights. Many toiled so diligently that they worked themselves out of a job.

The geese cleared the fields more cheaply than hoe hands. They left the crop untouched and ate only the succulent young weeds. They did not damage crop roots (as hoes or tractors can), and they were safe and selective, unlike many herbicides. On top of all that they spread fertilizer for the farmer, and ultimately provided him meat for the market.

Eventually, farmers found that geese could be used to weed nearly all broad-leafed crops: asparagus, potatoes, berry fruits, tobacco, mint, grapes, beets, beans, hops, onions, and strawberries, for example. Geese were used in vineyards and fruit orchards to eat both weeds and the fallen fruits that could otherwise harbor damaging insects. They were employed in fields producing trees for the forest industry and flowers for florists shops. Some growers turned goslings loose in cornfields to consume the "suckers" (cone, after all, is a grass) as well as the grain left on the ground. This eliminated the problem of corn as a weed when different crops were later planted in those fields.

In the 1970s when cotton acreage dropped and herbicides selective for the troublesome grasses were developed, the use of geese declined. But today, some organic farmers are returning to the practice. From February to June in the Pacific Northwest, fields are resounding once more to the old-fashioned racket of White Chinese geese.


Mature geese are independent creatures. When kept in small flocks and allowed to roam the farmyard or field, they require less attention than any other domestic bird with the possible exception of guinea fowl. In areas where grass is green for much of the year, they can be raised on less grain or concentrated feed than any other domestic fowl.

Durability is one of their most attractive features. Along with ducks, geese seem to be the most resistant of all poultry to disease, parasites, and cold or wet weather. They also do well in hot climates as long as drinking water and deep shade are available.

Growth is not only rapid, it is also efficient. If managed properly, goslings can produce I kg of body weight for every 2.25-3.5 kg of concentrated feed consumed.

Geese are not usually thought of as prolific layers. However, as noted, some strains of the Chinese breed will yield well over 100 eggs per goose per year. At 140-170 g per egg, that compares favorably with the output of laying chickens.



These birds are messy and their loud trumpeting is often irritating. However, unless they have been teased or mistreated or if they are nesting or brooding young, they are not aggressive. But kilo for kilo, they are stronger than most animals, and a harassed or angry adult can express its displeasure effectively with powerful bill and pounding wings.

Excessive concentrations of geese on ponds or along creeks encourages unsanitary conditions, muddies water, hastens bank erosion, and destroys plant life. Where sanitation is poor, salmonellosis can devastate geese and be transmitted, via meat and eggs, to humans. Coccidiosis and gizzard worm are other infections.

Defeathering geese is more difficult than plucking chickens because there are two coats (feathers and down) to remove.

In some situations, geese may need a diet supplement (such as grain) if they are grazing vegetation exclusively. A balance must be struck: too much supplement and they will quit foraging and become too fat; too little and they grow slowly and may suffer malnutrition.

Geese are not fully mature until two years of age. Their overall reproductive rate, therefore, is lower than that of other poultry.


Poultry researchers worldwide should begin studies to clarify the role that geese could play in helping to feed Third World nations. Studies might include:

  • Management practices for tropical areas;
  • Breeding and management for increased egg production;
  • Incubation techniques;
  • Nutrition supplementation (for example, vitamins, minerals, energy, specific amino acids) needed by grazing geese;
  • Physiology of digestion and reproduction;
  • Clarifying the inheritance of various traits;
  • Genetic selection for specific meat, eggs, growth factors, or disease resistance;
  • Comparative studies of the relative efficiency (especially of feed utilization) of the various types and breeds for specific climates in underdeveloped countries;
  • Weeding tropical crops with geese; and
  • Studying diseases and cross-infection with other birds.

8 Guinea Fowl[edit | edit source]


For Third World villages, the guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) could become much more valuable than it is today. The bird thrives under semi-intensive conditions, forages well, and requires little attention. It retains many of its wild ancestor's survival characteristics: it grows, reproduces, and yields well in both cool and hot conditions; it is relatively disease free; it requires little water or attention; it is almost as easily raised as chickens and turkeys; and it is a most useful all-round farm bird.

The guinea fowl's potential to increase meat production among hungry countries should be given greater recognition. The birds are widely known in Africa and occur in a few areas of Asia, but they show promise for use throughout all of Asia and Latin America and for increased use in Africa itself. Strains newly created for egg and meat production in Europe - notably in France - show excellent characteristics for industrial-scale production. Also, many semidomestic types in Africa deserve increased scientific assessment as scavenger birds.

Meat from domestic guinea fowl is dark and delicate, the flavor resembling that of game birds. It is a special delicacy, served in some of the world's finest restaurants. Several European countries eat vast amounts. Annual consumption in France, for example, is about 0.8 kg per capita.'

Guinea fowl also produce substantial numbers of eggs. In Africa, these are often sold hard-boiled in local markets. In the Soviet Union, they are produced in large commercial operations. In France, guinea fowl strains have been developed that not only grow quickly but lay as many as 190 eggs a year.

Outside Europe, virtually all guinea fowl are raised as free-ranging birds. These find most of their feed by scratching around villages and farmyards. Their cost of production is small, and they yield food for subsistence farmers. In Europe, on the other hand, most are raised in confinement, with artificial insemination, artificial lighting, and special feeding. In the main, this is to produce meat for luxury markets.

Guinea fowl production is beginning to increase all over the world. During the last 20 years, for example, many of Europe's chicken farmers and breeders, wishing to diversify, have switched to this bird. The United States is now studying ways to establish industrial production, and both Japan and Australia are increasing their flocks. Nonetheless, there is still a vast untapped future for this bird.


Worldwide. This species is robust and resilient and adapts to many climates.


Guinea fowl are somewhat larger than average scavenger-type chickens: adults weigh up to 2.5 kilograms. They have dark-grey feathers with small white spots. Their heads are bare with a bony ridge (helmet) on top, which makes them look something like vultures. The short tail feathers usually slope downwards.

The chicks, known as "keels," resemble young quail. They are brown striped with red beaks and legs. The sexes are indistinguishable until eight weeks of age. After that, the males' larger helmets and wattles and the cries of the different sexes can be identified. Both sexes give a one-syllable shriek, but females also have a two-syllable call.

Like the chicken, the guinea fowl is a gallinaceous species and possesses the characteristic sternum with posterior notches and a raised "thumb."

Among domestic types are pearl, white, royal purple, and lavender. Pearl is the most common, and is probably the type first developed from the wild West African birds. Its handsome feathers are often used for ornamental purposes. The white is entirely white from the time of hatching and has a lighter skin.



Europe dominates industrial production. France, Italy, the Soviet Union, and Hungary all raise millions of guinea fowl under intensive conditions, just as they raise chickens. Elsewhere, guinea fowl have become established as a semidomesticated species on small family farms. Native flocks are found about villages and homes in parts of East and West Africa, and free-ranging flocks can be seen in many parts of India, notably Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Madhya Pradesh. During the slavery era, they were introduced from Africa to the Americas to be used for food. In Jamaica, Central America, and Malaysia, the birds have reverted to the wild state and are treated as game.


Guinea fowl are abundant; in most places even wild populations are not threatened.


Guinea fowl are native to the grasslands and woodlands of most of Africa south of the Sahara where they occupy all habitats except dense forests and treeless deserts. Being native also to temperate South Africa, they appear to have an inherent adaptability to both heat and cold. However, in cool climates, regardless of daylength, they will not begin egg production until temperatures exceed 15°C.


Guinea fowl accept many foods: grains, leaves, ant eggs (for which they will tear anthills open), and even carrion.

Normally, they lay their first egg at about 18 weeks of age. Unlike many wild birds, which produce a single clutch a year, guinea hens lay continuously until adverse weather sets in.2 Free-range "domestic" guinea hens lay up to 60 eggs a season. And well-managed birds under intensive management lay close to 200. The eggs weigh approximately 40 g. Shells are stronger than those of chickens and are usually brown, but can be white or tinted.

The guinea hen goes broody after laying, which can be overcome by removing most of the eggs. A clutch of 15-20 is common. The incubation period is 27 days.


These birds never become "tame," but neither do they leave the premises. Although they stray farther than chickens do, they always return. They like to hide their eggs in a bushy corner, often in hollows scratched in the ground. They can fly, although even in the wild they do not fly far. They prefer to roost on high branches and (unless pinioned) can be hard to catch during the day.

Although wild guinea fowl live in groups, they are monogamous by nature and tend to bond in pairs. However, in domestication a single male may serve four or more females.


As noted, guinea fowl are valuable sources of both meat and eggs. They can also be used to control insect pests on vegetable crops.3

Guinea fowl are good "watch animals"; they have fantastic eyesight, a harsh cry, and will shriek at the slightest provocation. Their agitation on sighting dogs, foxes, hawks, or other predators have saved the lives of many a chicken, duck, and turkey. They are brave and will attack even large animals that threaten them.4


Guinea fowl can be kept in confinement using the methods for raising battery chickens. In this system, breeding stock are housed in cages and artificially inseminated. It gives the best egg production and fertility but requires housing, equipment, and skilled labor.

These birds can also be kept in a semidomestic state in and around the farmyard. In such cases they are penned until they are 12 weeks old. Unaccustomed to foraging for natural food, they constantly return to their artificial food supply. Eventually, however, they learn to subsist by scavenging.

The birds have been called "the worst parents in the world," and are almost incapable of looking after their keets.5 Because the females are such indifferent mothers, the eggs are best hatched in incubators or under other birds, to avoid the keets' being lost by their natural mothers. In many African countries, eggs are hatched under chickens.

Keets are often kept indoors until they are 3-4 weeks old to protect them from predators and wet weather. Sexual maturity can be delayed to as late as 32 weeks of age by holding the birds in windowless housing and controlling the lighting. This improves egg size and hatchability and reduces early mortality.


The earliest reference to guinea fowl can be found in murals in the Pyramid of Wenis at Saqqara in Egypt, painted about 2400 B.C. Aviaries were quite fashionable at the time, and wealthy landowners maintained guinea fowl within their walled gardens. A thousand years later, by the time of Queen Hatshepsut (about 1475 B.C.), the junglefowl (the ancestor of the chicken) had arrived, and from then on it was raised on a substantial scale. Records of this period refer to "walk-in" incubators, constructed of mud bricks and heated by cameldung fires. The largest could hold up to 90,000 eggs (mainly from junglefowl but some from guinea fowl) and hatching rates of up to 70 percent were claimed.

By 400 B.C., guinea fowl were well established on farms in Greece. Later, they rose to importance in ancient Rome. Pliny the elder (in his Natural History, published 77 A.D.) stated that they were the last bird to be added to the Roman menu and that they were in great demand, both eggs and flesh being considered great delicacies. The emperor Caligula offered them as sacrifices to himself when he assumed the title of deity.

The guinea fowl then died out in Europe but was reintroduced by the Portuguese navigators returning from their African explorations in the late 1400s. They gave it the name pintada or "painted chicken" and this changed to pintade in French, while the name "Guinea fowl" (fowl from Africa) stayed in English, and gallina de Guinea in Spanish. Coincidentally, guinea fowl and turkeys were both introduced to England between 1530 and 1550, and the English, smitten with the original French misnomers, were left sorting out "Ginny birds" and "Turkey birds" for the remainder of the century. Both birds were adopted with great enthusiasm, and within 150 years they had utterly displaced the peafowl and swan as the major table birds for festive occasions. Adapted from R.H.H. Belshaw, 1985 Guinea Fowl of the World


Compared with the farmyard chicken the guinea fowl's advantages are:

- Low production costs;

- Premium quality meat;

- Greater capacity to utilize green feeds;

- Better ability to scavenge for insects and grains;

- Better ability to protect itself against predators; and

- Better resistance to common poultry parasites and diseases (for example, Newcastle disease and fowlpox).

Surprisingly, this semidomestic bird, which has been farmed for centuries, retains the characteristics (feather morphology, hardiness, social behavior) of its wild ancestor - even when subjected to the most modern intensive-rearing methods employing battery cages and artificial insemination. Thus, it thrives under semicaptive conditions and needs little special care. The birds forage well for themselves and do not require much attention; their meat is tasty and they produce substantial numbers of eggs. Unlike chickens, they don't scratch to get insects out of the soil, so they are less destructive to the garden.


In backyard production the guinea fowl is supreme, but when produced intensively it costs more to raise than chickens. In Europe, for instance, day-old keets cost about twice as much as day-old broiler chicks. (The major reason is that guinea fowl produce fewer hatching eggs and require a longer feeding period.) Guinea fowl are also more expensive to feed. Their feed conversion (for meat production at the marketing age) is about 3.3-3.6 as compared with a broiler's feed conversion of 1.8-1.9. Moreover, guinea fowl take about twice as long to reach marketable size: they are marketed for meat at age 12-14 weeks, compared with 7-8 weeks for the broilers. Therefore, the selling price of guinea fowl in the Western world is up to twice that of broilers.

Guinea fowl are nervous and stupid. They can be difficult to catch' and when panicking they can easily suffocate their keets.

They are susceptible to some of the common diseases of chickens and turkeys. Salmonella is the most prevalent, but others are pullorum disease, staphylococcus, and Marek's disease.


The domesticated guinea fowl is descended from just one subspecies of the family's seven known species and numerous subspecies. Some of the others may also have promise as poultry. They, too, generally occur in flocks in bushy grasslands and open forests in Africa. All feed on vegetable matter such as seeds, berries, and tender shoots, and on invertebrates such as slugs. They rarely fly except to roost. They acclimatize well are easy to maintain in captivity, and can survive long periods away from water.** Their disposition is tame and nonaggressive, and they mix well with other birds.

Wild subspecies closely related to the domestic guinea fowl that might make future poultry in their own right include the following:

- Gray-breasted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris galeata). This subspecies is the principal ancestor of domestic guinea fowls. It is found throughout West Africa and probably has many valuable genetic traits. There is much variation in the size and other characteristics among the various individuals. People along the Gambia, Volta, and Niger rivers have long traditions of breeding these birds.

- Tufted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris meleagris). This subspecies is quite large and has black plumage thickly spotted with white dots. It is the probable ancestor of the birds reared in ancient Egypt and in the Roman empire (see page 120). Hill farmers in the southern Sudan sometimes breed them in captivity.

- Mitred guinea fowl (Numida meleagris mitrata). Probably the most popular game bird in East Africa, this type has a bright blue-green head and red wattles. It was once a common sight in the wild but it has now been decimated by overhunting. It is now most numerous in the Masai lands of Kenya and Tanzania. It has been kept in a semidomesticated form in Zanzibar for several centuries. Zoos and aviaries around the world have imported it, and it has bred well for them.

Wild guinea fowl that are different species from the domestic one but that are still worth considering as potential poultry include the following:

- Black guinea fowl (Phasidus niger or Agelastes niger). This bird of the tropical rainforests of West and Central Africa is the size of a small chicken. It has sooty black plumage, a naked head, and a pink or yellow neck. It is seldom hunted because the meat tastes dreadful but this is probably because of a particularly pungent fungus they eat in the forest. Raised on fungus-free forages, these birds are probably very palatable.

- Crested guinea hen (Guttera spp.). Three species. These strange-looking birds have a thick mop of inky black feathers above their black, naked faces. Widely distributed in the thickly forested areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Unlike the other species, they prefer the rainforest. They have a musical trumpeting call. At least one species has bred well in Europe. For example, a flourishing colony has been established in the Walsrode Bird Park in Germany.

- Vulturine guinea fowl (Acryllium vulturinum). The largest of all guinea fowl, this species is found in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, and East Africa. One of the most striking looking of all birds, its head is bare and blue, its body black with white spots, and its breast bears long bright cobalt-blue patches on either side. This has been reared as an aviary bird in both Europe and America and might make a useful domesticate.


Agencies involved in international economic development should undertake guinea fowl assessment trials, evaluations, and coordinated introductions to stimulate programs for small farmers and for industries in dozens of countries.

Breeders have been working to improve guinea fowl only since the 1950s. There is a need for more information on growth rate, health, egg production, feed conversion, body weight, carcass yield, laying intensity, fertility, hatchability, and egg weight - especially under free-ranging conditions.

Husbandry research should also be directed towards feeds and feeding systems for growing and breeding stock. Other efforts are needed to increase the hatchability of eggs under natural conditions (under guinea hens or surrogate mothers), and to identify the best lighting regimes (both sexual maturity and rate of lay are influenced by changes in daylength).

The guinea fowl that has become an important domesticated bird throughout the civilized world is descended from just one of seven known species in the family. These birds generally occur in flocks in bushy grasslands and open forest in Africa and Madagascar, and some of the others may also have promise as poultry (see sidebar opposite).

9 Muscovy[edit | edit source]


The muscovy (Cairina moschata), a unique ducklike species of the South American rainforest, belongs to a small group of waterfowl that perch in trees. In poultry science, however, it is normally grouped with domestic ducks for lack of a better classification.

Except in France, Italy and Taiwan muscovies have received little modern research. But their promise can be judged from the fact that they account for 50 percent of the duck meat consumed in France - about 60,000 tons per year - and they are often consumed in Italy and Taiwan as well.

For Third World subsistence farming, muscovies have excellent possibilities. There is probably no better choice for a meat bird that requires minimal care and feed. Tame, quiet, and able to forage for much of their keep, they are inherently hardy, vigorous, and robust. They have heavily fleshed breasts and are highly prized for their meat, which is dark, more flavorful, and less fatty than that of common ducks. An average muscovy gives more meat than a chicken of the same age, and it also survives hot, wet environments better. In addition, muscovies are better parents than the domestic duck. Females are probably the best natural mothers of any poultry species, as measured by their success at incubating their eggs and caring for their young.

All in all, this bird deserves more attention than it has received so far in Third World livestock projects. Dispersed around the warm and hot regions of the world, muscovies already exist in small numbers in backyards and villages, much like the domestic chicken in previous centuries. Despite a lack of research, the present unimproved stocks are already impressive meat yielders. Used more widely and more intensively, they could contribute much to poor people's meat supplies.

Crossing the muscovy with the common duck produces a hybrid that combines many of the advantages of both. This cross, known as "mulard," or "mule duck" in English, is raised in France for its liver and meat and is produced in quantity in Taiwan (see sidebar, page 132). It, too, has a major future role.


Muscovies are suitable for use almost anywhere that chickens can be kept. Moreover, their tropical ancestry and inherent robustness give them an advantage in hot and humid climates.


Although a muscovy somewhat resembles a goose, it is one of the greater wood ducks of tropical South America. It was domesticated in pre-Columbian times, most likely in the rainforests of Colombia. Related wild types, looking very much like the muscovy, still occur in South American wetlands, particularly mangrove swamps.

Males have mature live weights of 5 kg and females about 2.5 kg. Both have broad and rounded wings. The adults have patches of bare skin around the eyes, rather than feathers. Much of this is covered in "caruncles," which superficially resemble warty outgrowths. The feet have sharp claws. Both sexes raise a crest of feathers when alarmed.

There is much color variation among the various muscovy populations including types that are called white, colored, black, blue, chocolate, silver, buff, and pied.2 The most common types (they are not considered breeds) are the white and the colored. The white produces a cleaner looking carcass, but the colored is the most popular meat type in France. Its plumage is an iridescent greenish black, except for white forewings.


The native range of the muscovy's probable wild ancestor covers much of Central America and northern South America. The domestic form also occurs over most of Latin America - from southern Chile to the northern limits of traditional culture in lowland Mexico - including the Caribbean, where it was present shortly after Columbus landed.3 The birds can be observed among the domestic fowl in the high Andes, for example, and are feral in southern coastal areas of the United States.

Carried across the Atlantic, probably in the early 1500s, the domesticated muscovy spread quickly in Europe, and thence to North America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Today, it finds favor with the food-loving French as "canard de Barbarie," and France has the greatest concentration of muscovies in Europe.

Down the centuries the muscovy became popular in tropical Asia (especially the Philippines and Indonesia) and in China and Taiwan. Throughout Indonesia (where it is known as "entok") it is popular with villagers for incubating eggs from ducks, geese, and chickens. It is now spreading into Oceania, and has recently gained particular favor in the Solomon Islands.

Muscovies are also known in Africa and can be found in many villages, especially in West Africa.


Not endangered.


Wild muscovies occur mainly along tropical jungle streams, but domestic muscovies are found in many environments from the heat of Central America to the cold of Central Europe. They also tolerate dry conditions, but they thrive best where climates are both hot and wet.


Muscovies utilize high-fiber feeds better than chickens and common ducks, and eat larger quantities of grass. They also consume other green vegetation and readily snap up any insects they can find. If quality forage is available, only a small daily ration of grain or pellets is required for them to reach peak production.

Muscovy females normally hatch and raise large broods efficiently. It is not unusual to see them with a dozen or more fragile ducklings in tow - many of them adopted from other species. They bravely protect their young and have been known to beat off cats, dogs, foxes, and other marauders.

Normally, muscovies are healthy and live and breed for many years. They suffer few diseases, especially when free ranging. However, they seem to be more susceptible to duck virus enteritis (duck plague) than common ducks.



While appearing to be slow and lethargic, muscovies can be quick and agile when one tries to catch them. Females are strong fliers and readily clear a standard fence. Males frequently become so ponderous that they cannot get airborne without an elevated perch or the aid of a strong wind. Although they forage over a larger area than chickens, they generally neither decamp nor wander as far as common ducks.

Domesticated muscovies are either solitary or live together in small family groups, but sometimes in winter they flock together on bodies of water. They swim and dive well.

These birds seldom make loud noises. A drake's voice resembles a muffled "puff"; females are almost mute. However, both can hiss or make a soft sound not unlike that of sleigh bells.

The muscovy is polygamous (a young male will try to mate with almost any fowl, including chickens). Mating can occur on land or in water. Males are pugnacious and tolerate no opposition. Because of this, they do not do well in close confinement.


The muscovy is a voracious omnivore that is particularly fond of insects. For years, some Canadian farmers have sworn that a few muscovies took care of all fly problems on their farms. In 1989, Ontario biologists Gordon Surgeoner and Barry Glofcheskie (see Research Contacts) decided to put this to the test.

Starting with laboratory trials, the entomologists first put a hungry five-week-old muscovy into a screened cage with 400 living houseflies. Within an hour it had eaten 326. Later, they placed four muscovies in separate cages containing 100 flies each. Within 30 minutes over 90 percent of the insects were gone. It took flypaper, fly traps, and bait cards anywhere from 15 to 86 hours to suppress the populations that much.

Moving to fleld tests, the researchers placed pairs of twoyear-old muscovies on several Ontario farms. Videotapes showed the birds snapping at houseflies and biting flies about every 30 seconds and being successful on 70 percent of their attempts. With that efficiency, they achieved 80-90 percent fly control in enclosures such as calf rooms or piggeries. The birds were given only water and had to scavenge for all their food. Females seemed to eat about 10 percent more flies than males, and individuals of any age between eight days and two years were equally effective.

The birds fit the practical needs for farmyard fly control. They stayed close to piglets and calves, to which flies are particularly attracted. They even snatched flies off the hides of resting animals without waking them up. On one farm, the birds huddled between sleeping piglets and were accepted by the sow lying beside them. This was noteworthy because most fly-catching devices (chemical, electrical, or mechanical) must be kept far from animals.

To the Canadians, the economic advantages are clear. A 35-cow dairy needs $150-$590 worth of chemicals for controlling flies during the fly season; muscovy chicks, on the other hand, cost less than $2 each, eat for free, and can be sold for a profit of 200-400 percent.

The researchers point out that employing muscovies does not eliminate all need for insecticides, but it reduces the amounts required. And muscovies are biodegradable, will not cause a buildup of genetic resistance, and taste better than flypaper. Indeed, their meat is excellent, and the naturally mute birds seldom make any noise.

Reportedly, muscovies are kept in some houses in South America to control not only flies, but also roaches and other insects.


The muscovy is generally raised only for its meat, which is of excellent quality and taste. In stews it is hard to distinguish from pork; cured and smoked it is similar to lean ham.4 The fat content is low.

Muscovy eggs are as tasty as other duck eggs, and a muscovy female can supply a large number if she is kept from sitting.

These birds are useful for clearing both terrestrial and aquatic weeds.5

Down feathers are used, like those of other ducks, in clothing and comforters.


Muscovies may be raised like common ducks. An ideal grouping is one male to five or six females.

Except in Taiwan, France, Hungary, and a few other European countries, they exist predominantly in small flocks in farmyards and village ponds. However, they can be reared under intensive conditions in a shed or pen that is well lighted and equipped with low roosts and bedding. Under such conditions, they may be fed diets recommended for rearing common ducks or given coarse feeds, including whole grain. If chicken rations are used, fresh greens must be provided to avoid "cowboy" legs, a symptom of niacin deficiency.

Although they thrive in areas where there is abundant water, they do not require access to swimming water. They prefer to nest under cover and will use nesting boxes. A normal clutch size is 9-14 eggs; however, clutches of up to 28 can occur. There may be 4 clutches annually, and (when the hen does not have to brood the ducklings) some muscovies have laid 100 eggs in a year.6

The egg weight, which increases with the female's age, ranges from 65 to 85 g. The eggs require 33-35 days to hatch, a week longer than the common duck's. Hatching success of 75 percent or more is common.

Compared with domestic ducks early growth is slow, which is perhaps why muscovies have not enjoyed wider industrial use. However, after the slow period they grow rapidly and, because they forage on a broader range of vegetation than common ducks, they can scavenge a large proportion of their diet at little or no cost.

When raised intensively, females average 2 kg and males 4 kg at 11-12 weeks of age. Females may reach sexual maturity by 28 weeks of age; males require a month more.


In parts of Europe, hybrids between muscovies and common ducks are reared for fattening. However, Taiwan has made the most outstanding use of this "mule duck." Thanks in part to this muscovy hybrid, Taiwan's duck industry has grown rapidly in the last decade. The total value of duck products now exceeds $346 million per year. Much of the boom in duck production is due to improved feeding disease control and management systems, but much is also due to the performance of the mule duck.

This hybrid is now Taiwan's major meat-duck breed, and about 30 million are consumed each year. Indeed, the duck industry has been so successful that Taiwan is increasingly exporting frozen duck breast and drumstick meat to Japan. It now provides 24 percent of the duck meat eaten in Japan- most of it coming from mule ducks. Also, Taiwan is exporting partially incubated mule-duck eggs throughout Southeast Asia. And mule ducks supply most of the raw material for Taiwan's large feather industry.

Taiwan farmers have been producing mule ducks for 250 years, but the recent jump in production is due to the use of artificial insemination to overcome the natural reticence of the different species to mate. Fortunately, artificial insemination is well developed and is a standard part of farming practice in Taiwan.

Mule ducks are successful because they have less fat than a broiler chicken and they grow faster. Indeed, they can reach a market weight of 2.8 kg at 65 - 75 days of age, depending upon the weather, season, and management. In part, this fast growth is because they are sterile and waste no energy in preparing for a sexual existence or in laying eggs.

The usual cross employs a muscovy male and a domesticduck female. The domestic breeds most employed for muleduck production are White Kaiya (Pekin male x White Tsaiya female), Large White Kaiya (Pekin male x White Kaiya female) and colored Kaiya. Both sexes of the hybrid offspring weigh about the same.

Crosses between a muscovy hen and a domestic drake are much rarer (traditionally, this was because of the different mating behavior of the two species, but even with artificial insemination available they are not much used) and the males of these hybrids are much heavier than the females. Females of this cross do lay eggs, but the eggs are small (about 40 g) and their embryos do not develop.

There are almost 300 duck-breeding farms in Taiwan, annually producing more than 600,000 female domestic ducks for use in producing mule ducks. Some farmers combine duck raising with fish farming. The excrete of 4,000 ducks on one hectare of pond can provide 30,000 tilapia with 20 percent of their feed. It helps the farmer get rid of waste as well as giving him fresh fish to sell.


As noted, the muscovy is an extremely good forager and thrives under free-ranging conditions. Unlike other ducks, it grazes on grass and leaves and will maintain itself on pasture. Apparently, it can digest bran and other fibrous feeds better than common ducks can.

The males are larger than all but the largest strains of table duck. They have exceptionally broad, well-muscled breasts and provide one of the leanest meats of any waterfowl.

The muscovy is apparently more resistant to diseases that regularly decimate other poultry. This is one reason why villagers favored them: when chickens die, muscovies often survive.

The female's strong parental qualities help assure the survival of ducklings with a minimum of human intervention. Her ability to incubate and hatch most other poultry eggs is an added advantage to small farmers who have neither the capital to buy, nor the knowledge to operate, artificial incubators.

Unlike other ducks, muscovies are not easily alarmed, and fright does not affect their egg production and laying. Indeed, they are so phlegmatic that automobiles can be major causes of death.


Because they are a tropical species, these birds are much less tolerant of cold than common ducks and require more protection from freezing weather.

The muscovy's feed conversion is not as good as the chicken's. Also, compared with some other meat-duck breeds, muscovies have a slower rate of growth and require about 4 6 weeks longer to attain maximum development of breast muscles.

Muscovies can be difficult to handle. If their legs are free, the handler may be badly lacerated by the claws.

Although adults have a fair homing ability, muscovies may wander away when local forage is sparse, and young birds may be carried long distances downstream, never to return.

Because they feed on greenery, they can devastate gardens if the plants are very young.

Muscovies can be unsuspected carriers of poultry diseases, so that healthy-looking muscovies may infect the other species.


Poultry scientists should unite in efforts to advance technical knowledge and public appreciation of this bird. Governments and researchers should begin evaluations of local varieties and their uses and performances. The experiences of France, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Taiwan should be gathered and made available for a worldwide readership.

It is important that the many muscovy varieties within the countries of Latin America - where the bird has a centuries-long history of domestication - be maintained and studied. Many superior varieties and specimens may be awaiting discovery.7

The muscovy's nutritional requirements, range and confined systems of management, and disease vulnerability are poorly understood and need study. Especially needed are ways to increase growth rate.

10 Pigeon[edit | edit source]


Pigeons (Columba livia)1 are durable birds that can be raised with little effort. Able to survive in inhospitable climates, they fend for themselves - often ranging over many square kilometers to locate seeds and edible scraps. They have been raised for centuries, especially in North Africa and the Middle East. In parts of North America and Europe, they are produced as a delicacy for the gourmet market. But raising pigeons for food is not nearly as widespread as it could be; indeed, in modern times its potential has hardly been touched. Farmed pigeons are particularly promising as urban microlivestock because they require little space and thrive in cities.

Young pigeons (squab) grow at a rapid rate. Their meat is finely textured, has an attractive flavor, and is often used in place of game fowl. Tender and easily digested, it commands premium market prices. In many areas, the continuing demand is unfilled.

Pigeons are traditionally raised in dovecotes - "houses" that protect the birds from the elements and from predators. This system allows free-ranging flight and requires almost no human intervention. Dovecotes are a good source of both squab and garden manure, and they continue to be used, especially in Egypt. On the other hand, pigeons can also be raised in confinement - usually in enclosed yards - with all their needs supplied by the farmer. There are, for example, pigeon farms in the United States with up to 35,000 pairs of breeding birds.

Pigeon production may never rise enough to compete with commercial poultry as a major source of food, but for Third World villages these birds could become a significant addition to the diet as well as a source for substantial supplemental income.




Pigeons have small heads, plump, full-breasted bodies, and soft, dense plumage. They weigh from about 0.5 to nearly I kg. A few large breeds (Runts, for instance, which commonly weigh 1.4 kg) are the size of small domestic chickens.

Many breeds have been developed for meat production. They produce squab that grow quicker and have larger breasts than unselected birds.


The wild ancestor of the common pigeon - domestic, wild, or feral - is thought to be the rock pigeon or rock dove of Europe and Asia. Today its domestic descendants are bred in virtually every country, and those that have gone feral (reverted to the wild) occur in most of the world's cities and towns.


They are abundant. However, as with most other domestic species there is concern over the decline and loss of certain breeds. Societies have been organized (notably in the United Kingdom) to preserve rare types.



The domestic pigeon can be raised equally well in temperate and tropical zones. Indeed, this adaptable species can be kept anywhere that wild pigeons exist, including arid and humid regions. It should be noted, however, that cold climates do not favor squab production and hot climates promote vermin and disease.


The pigeon's natural diet consists mostly of seeds, but includes fruits, leaves, and some invertebrates. Feral pigeons consume a wide array of materials, including insects, bread, meat scraps, weed seeds, and many kinds of spilled grains at mills, wharves, railway yards, grain elevators, and farm fields.

For the first four or five days of life, the young are fed "crop milk." This substance, common to pigeons and doves,2 is composed of cells from the lining of the crop and is very high in fats and nutritional energy. The phenomenal growth rate of young squab has been attributed to crop milk and to its early replacement (within 8-10 days) with concentrated foods, regurgitated by both parents. The parents feed the squab for about four weeks before pushing it out of the nest to prepare for the next clutch.

In domestic birds, sexual maturity (as measured by age at first egg) is reached at 120-150 days. Life span can be 15 years, although growth and egg production decline rapidly after the third year.


Wild pigeons often nest on cliff sides. Domestic pigeons prefer to nest around buildings, in nooks and shelves and under the eaves - that is, in "pigeonholes."

In domestic varieties, the pair-bond often lasts until severe illness or death. Sometimes, however, a vigorous male will "invade" a nest and mate with the females there. Both sexes take nearly equal part in nest building, incubation, and caring for the young. Typically, there are two eggs to a clutch. Eight clutches a year is not uncommon for a breeding pair. The incubation period is 17-19 days.

Unlike most birds, pigeons drink by inserting their beaks into water and sucking up a continuous draft.

Courtship is characterized by cooing, prancing, and displays of spread, lowered tail feathers. "Bow and coo" exhibitions are unique to pigeons and doves and differ among species.


Pigeons are usually raised exclusively for meat. The squab are harvested just before full feather development and before the youngster has started to fly, usually at 21-30 days of age. At this time the ratio of flesh to inedible parts is highest; once flying begins, the meat becomes tougher. Weight depends upon breed, nutrition, and other factors, but usually ranges from 340 to 680 g.

Pigeons are extensively used for scientific research, notably in physiology and psychology. They are also widely kept as pets for plumage and for racing. The pigeon's unique homing ability was recognized in Roman times, and the birds have been trained to return to the dovecote from as far away as 700 km. Even today, homing pigeons are used to carry messages, especially during war.


Pigeons are easily trained to recognize "home." The wing feathers are clipped and the birds are fed close to the dovecote; by the time they refledge, their homing instinct has been developed. Alternatively, newly captured pigeons may be trained by confining them to the dovecote for at least one week. At first, a little grain is provided in the morning (this is to ensure the birds will return to the coop). The birds can obtain the rest themselves.

Any waterproof house that is easy to clean is suitable for keeping pigeons. Many traditional dovecotes are built of earthenware pots. In Asia and Europe, wooden pigeon towers are generally used.

Unlike chickens, pigeons do not prefer communal roosts. Instead, they prefer nesting shelves, of which there should be two for each breeding pair. The shelves are usually placed in dark corners and are fitted with low walls to keep eggs from rolling out.

Grit is important in the diet, both to provide minerals and to allow the birds to grind feed in their gizzards.

Commercial squab breeds are often kept permanently in pens, a process that requires care and experience. Growers expect an average of 12-14 squab per pair per year, although much depends on environment and management.

The birds need fresh water daily and water for bathing at least weekly. Since they feed their young by regurgitation, the adults must have a continuous supply of clean drinking water. Orphan squab can be fed egg yolk until old enough to consume adult feeds.

Like all poultry, confined pigeons must be provided enough supplemental feed to ensure a balanced diet. A mixture of whole grains can be fed for maximum production. It is important that grains be dry and free of mold (pigeons will not thrive on mash). Peas, beans, or similar pulses make good supplements.


Most people consider message-carrying pigeons to be a quaint anachronism. But in a few countries (both developed and developing) carrier pigeons are making a comeback, and in the future they may be used routinely once again.

New techniques are making this process far more practical than before. For example, in the past the pigeons would be flown in one direction only. They were transported away from home and at the appropriate time released to find their way back. That was very limiting. But it has since been found that pigeons can be trained to carry messages in two directions: flying from one point to another and then back again. They will do it twice a day, and with almost perfect reliability. The key is to place the feeding station at one end and the nest at the other. This limits the pigeon's range, but they still can handle round-trip distances up to 160 km.

With a little ingenuity, there is no need for a person to monitor the stations to receive the messages as the bird arrives. One simple technique is to arrange the station with one-way doors - one opening inwards, the other outwards. Placing a bar across the outward door means that the bird cannot get out until someone releases it. Thus the message can always be retrieved.

This system has been employed in Puerto Rico and Guatemala, but it could be used almost anywhere. In many parts of the Third World, in particular, there are remote areas with no phones and with hilly, rough terrain where delivering messages can take hours of strenuous travel. Some locations are subject to unexpected isolation by natural calamities or military or terrorist actions.

In Puerto Rico, for instance, we kept pigeons in a village 32 km from the capital. The pigeons could get downtown in 20-30 minutes. It took us 1.5-2 hours each way by road. What was easy for the birds was a major trip for us. Pigeons carried the villagers' requests for certain foods and medicines. Our contact in the city then sent up the supplies by bus. The birds never let us down.

Carrier pigeons are useful for more than just flying far and fast. They have been bred for racing and their large pectoral muscles make them excellent meat producers - much better than the common pigeons normally raised for food. A pair of carriers typically will raise 12 - 16 young each year, and those not needed for message carrying can be butchered at 28 days of age - yielding meat that is nutritious and considered a delicacy in many countries.

David Holderread

Every day on the northwest coast of France, Petit Gendamme, a black and white carrier pigeon, flies on average 23 km between hospitals on his blood delivery route. Trussed in tiny hand-sewn harnesses, he and a flock of carrier pigeons set out (except during the hunting season) with little red tubes of blood secured to their breasts.

"It's a simple, effective, and cost-saving transport system," said Yves Le Henaff, head of the Avranches Hospital laboratory, Cotentin, France, a central blood-testing center that serves a number of isolated medical centers along the coast.

The service becomes particularly valuable during the summer tourist rush, when travellers flock to the seashore to visit nearby Mont Saint Michel, crowding the small country roads and increasing the risk of traffic accidents.

The birds' average flight time between the hospitals of Avranches and Granville, for example, a distance of about 27 km, is 20 minutes, including the time for harnessing up. And with a favorable western wind their best time can reach 11 minutes.

While gasoline costs the equivalent of $0. 75 a lifer in France, hospital officials say that a few grains of corn is all it takes to run this operation. According to Le Henaff, who supervises the carrier pigeon operation, the hospital is saving up to $46 a day on gas and auto maintenance.

The 40-year-old Le Henaff got the idea five years ago from an article in a scientific journal describing a similar experiment in Britain. A year later, he and an associate called on the local seamstress to design a light harness that could hold a tube, which, when filled, weighs approximately 39 g.

The flock now consists of 40 veteran fliers and 20 carrier pigeons in training.

And what if the winged creatures stray en route? Le Henaff has devised a fall-back option: two pigeons carry two different test tubes containing the same blood sample.

The birds fly every day of the year with the exception of the three-month autumn hunting season. Since the beginning of the experiment four years ago, there have been two casualties. Le Henaff believes the birds probably met their fate in some Normand's oven.

Sometimes weather is a factor, and heavy fog can keep the delivery team grounded.

So far, the new job seems to benefit the pigeons, too. Unlike sickly city pigeons, whose average life span is about four years, well-cared-for carrier pigeons can live up to 15 years, Le Henaff said. "And how many people do you know who are willing to stay with the same outfit for that long?" Sabine Maubouche The Washington Post December 2, 1986


Under extensive conditions - where the birds are released each day to feed themselves - almost no land is needed. Under intensive conditions, where the birds spend their lives in confinement, a mere half hectare can be enough space to raise 2,000 pairs.

Free-ranging pigeons forage over a wider area than most domestic fowl because they fly out to find their feed. Nutrient requirements3 are similar to those of chickens and other fowl (making allowance for the energy needed for flying), so commercial feed and other supplements - if needed at all - are generally available.

In dovecote culture, pigeons require little or no handling. They brood the young with little intervention. Although not continuous, the production of meat from these fast-growing, rapidly reproducing birds is more sustained than with most livestock.

Almost nowhere are there taboos against consuming pigeon meat. Prices received for squab are normally high, and in most places the demand is constant. The only limitation in some areas is the absence of an effective market, which is usually easy to create.

Squab contains a larger proportion of soluble protein and a smaller proportion of connective tissue than most meats and is therefore good for invalids and people with digestive disorders.

As many hobbyists can testify, raising pigeons can be gratifying.


Pigeons are subject to few diseases. However, worms, lice, diarrhea (coccidiosis), canker (trichomoniasis), and salmonella (paratyphoid) occur at some time in most domestic breeds. Salmonella exists in low levels in most flocks and will flare up if birds are stressed. Treatments recommended for domestic chickens are usually suitable for pigeons.

By flying over a wide area and eating grains and other foods, pigeons can cause conflicts with farmers. Indeed, in the 13th century the aristocracy's pigeons became a major grievance of the peasants who saw their seed devoured. On the other hand, "croppers" (breeds with large crops) were developed to steal grain from the lord's fields. The pigeon returned home and his crop was emptied of the grain, which was used by the peasant to make bread.

The birds can become nuisances. They leave droppings in annoying places, some people find them too noisy, and a few people are severely allergic to "pigeon dust."

Every conceivable type of predator can be expected; therefore, precautions must be taken. The dovecote must be well protected against rats, which are the principal enemy of the eggs and the squabs.

Nesting birds need a high-protein diet to raise squab at the high rates of gain that are possible.


Poultry researchers should study the increased role pigeons might play in Third World economic development. Nothing comparable to the sophisticated selection employed with the domestic chicken has so far been attempted. Given such attention the gains could be great.

Among pressing research needs are:

- Breeding. This needs to be better understood. For example, the effects of hybridization and inbreeding need clarification.

- Environmental limits. Little work has been done outside the temperate regions.

- Diseases. These deserve increased attention.

There is also the potential of "dovecotes" for wild pigeons. Numerous local species are well adapted to local conditions, and these deserve to be tested for "domestication."4 Many wild species quickly lose their fear of man, and in time they can even become too fat to fly. Wild pigeons are already found throughout the humid tropics and are trapped for meat and rearing in New Guinea and other places. They are already an important food source for many subsistence farmers and shifting cultivators, and with some dovecote management could provide a greater, more dependable source of food and income. The potential for domesticating local pigeon species, especially those suited to the tropics, deserves exploration.

11 Quail[edit | edit source]


Native to Asia and Europe, quail' (Coturnix coturnix2) have been farmed since ancient times, especially in the Far East. They reproduce rapidly and their rate of egg production is remarkable. They are also robust, disease resistant, and easy to keep, requiring only simple cages and equipment and little space. Yet they are not well known around the world and deserve wider testing.

Quail are so precocious that they can lay eggs when hardly more than 5 weeks old. It is said that about 20 of them are sufficient to keep an average family in eggs year-round. Quail eggs are very popular in Japan, where they are packed in thin plastic cases and sold fresh in many food stores. They are also boiled, shelled, and either canned or boxed like chicken eggs. Quail eggs are excellent as hors d'oeuvres and they also are used to make mayonnaise, cakes, and other prepared foods.

In France, Italy, the United States, and some countries in Latin America (Brazil and Chile, for example) as well as throughout Asia, it is the meat that is consumed. It is particularly delicious when charcoal broiled. One company in Spain annually processes 20 million quail for meat.

Many of the domesticated strains seem to have originated in China, and migrating Chinese carried them throughout Asia. Today, millions of domestic quail are reared in Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indochina, Philippines, and Malaysia, as well as in Brazil and Chile.

Commercial production is carried out, as in the chicken industry, in specialized units involving hatcheries, farms, and factories that process eggs and meat. However, quail have outstanding potential for village and "backyard" production as well. It is this aspect that deserves greater attention.




Quail come in various sizes. The smaller types are used for egg production, whereas the larger ones are better for meat. Adult females of improved meat strains may weigh up to 500 g.

There are several color varieties. However, mature females are characterized by a tan-colored throat and breast, with black spots on the breast. Mature males, which are slightly smaller than females, have rusty-brown throats and breasts. All mature males have a bulbous structure, known as the foam gland, located at the upper edge of the vent.

In the United States, the Pharaoh strain is the bird of choice for commercial production. Other available strains tend to be bred more for fancy than for food.

Quail eggs are mottled brown, but some strains have been selected for white shells. These eggs are often preferred by consumers and are easier to candle (the process of holding eggs up to a light to check for interior quality and stage of incubation). An average egg weighs 10 g - about 8 percent of the female's body weight. (By comparison, a chicken egg weighs about 3 percent of the hen's body weight.) Quail chicks weigh merely 5-6 g when hatched and are normally covered in yellowish down with brown stripes.


The ancestral wild species is widely distributed over much of Europe and Asia as well as parts of North Africa. Although domestic quail are now available almost everywhere, Japan is probably the world leader in commercial production; quail farms are common throughout its central and southern regions.


Not endangered.



Quail are hardy birds that, within reasonable limits, can adapt to many different environments. However, they prefer temperate climates; the northern limit of their winter habitat is around 38°N.


A quail's diet in the wild consists of insects, grain, and various other seeds. To thrive and reproduce efficiently in captivity, it needs feeds that are relatively high in protein.

The females mature at about 5-6 weeks of age and usually come into full egg production by the age of 50 days. With proper care, they will lay 200-300 eggs per year, but at that rate they age quickly. The life span under domestic conditions can be up to 5 years. However, second-year egg production is normally less than half the first year's, and fertility and hatchability fall sharply after birds reach 6 months of age, even though egg and sperm production continue. Thus, the commercial life is only about a year.

Crosses between the wild and domestic stocks produce fertile hybrids. Repeated backcrossing to either wild quail or domestic quail is successful.


Only females hatch the eggs and raise the chicks. Males go off and court other females when their partners begin the nesting process.


Quail eggs taste like chicken eggs. They are often served hard boiled, pickled, fried, or scrambled. Because of their size they make attractive snacks or salad ingredients. They provide an alternative for some people who are allergic to chicken eggs. On frying, the yolk hardens before the albumen.

Quail meat is dark and can be prepared in all of the many ways used for chicken. The two meats are similar in taste, although quail is slightly gamier.

Because of its hardiness, small size, and short life cycle, quail are now commonly used as an experimental animal for biological research and for producing vaccines - especially the vaccine for Newcastle disease, to which quail are resistant.

Many fanciers and hobbyists have also become interested in raising this adaptable species as a pet. Science teachers find it an excellent subject for classroom projects.


In some areas of Japan, quail are widely raised for their eggs and meat. However, Japanese originally valued the quail as a songbird. Tradition has it that about 600 years ago people began to enjoy its rhythmic call. In the feudal age, raising song quail became particularly popular among Samurai warriors. Contests were held to identify the most beautiful quail song and birds with the best voices were interbred in closed colonies. Even photostimulation was practiced to induce singing in winter.

Around 1910, enthusiastic breeders produced the present domestic Japanese quail from the song quail. It was created as a food source and became a part of Japanese cuisine. During World War II it was almost exterminated, but Japanese quail breeders restored it from the few survivors and from birds imported from China. The original song quail, however, were lost. In the 1960s, commercial quail flocks rapidly recovered and Japan's quail population again reached its prewar level of about 2 million birds.


For centuries, quail were considered a great delicacy: a dish that only eminent chefs would cook and diners with an appreciative palate could enjoy. These small migratory birds, which are found in one variety or another throughout the world, were available until recently almost exclusively to hunters in the wild.

But now quail are in danger: in danger of becoming commonplace.

In the last few years, quail have gone from being rarefied to a supermarket specialty item. They are on menus in the most elegant restaurants and the most casual cafes and bistros.

Why so much interest?

Quail are now available semi-boneless, which makes them faster and easier to cook, and easier to eat as well. The breastbones are removed by hand before the birds are packaged and shipped to stores. The bones in the wings and legs remain.

A stainless-steel V-shaped pin - invented and patented by a restaurant chef who wanted a way to keep quail flat for grilling- is inserted into the breast. The pin can be left there throughout cooking and removed just before serving.

While whole quail might require 45 minutes to cook, the semi-boneless variety can be grilled in less than 10 minutes, or pan-roasted, braised or sauteed in less than 20 minutes.

The flavor of farm-raised quail has also helped bring them into the mainstream. Most farm-raised quail have tender meat like the dark meat of chicken, whose flavor is enjoyed by many people.

And at a time when people are searching for foods, specifically animal protein, with low fat and cholesterol, quail fills the bill. The Agriculture Department says that quail skin has about 7 percent fat, about the same as dark meat of roasted chicken without the skin. Judith Banrett Adapted from The New York Times June 21, 1989


It is necessary to keep quail in battery cages on wire floors because males secrete a sticky foam (from the foam gland) with their feces; on a solid floor, this adheres to the feet and collects dung, leading to crippling and breakage of eggs.

Adult quail can live and produce successfully if they are allowed 80 cm2 of floor space per bird. However, for reproduction about twice that is needed to allow for mating rituals.3 If properly mated, high fertility rates and good egg hatchability can be expected. To obtain fertile eggs, one male is needed for roughly six females.

Eggs hatch in about 17 days. Chicks require careful attention. Brooding temperatures of between 31 C and 35 C are needed for the first week and above 21 C for the second week. From the second week on, chicks can survive at room temperature. (These temperatures are similar to those required for common chickens.) In cold climates, supplemental heat may be needed as well as protection from cool drafts.

Clean water must be provided at all times, with care taken to prevent the chicks from drowning in their water troughs. Shallow trays, jar lids, or pans filled with marbles or stones may be used.


Quail production can be started with little money. These easy-care birds can be housed in small, simple, inexpensive cages.

As noted, they are resistant to Newcastle disease.


The fact that chickens can be crossed with quail has been known for some time, but there has been little attempt to develop the fertile hybrids. Now Malaysia has begun a project aimed at producing a new poultry bird - a cross between a cockerel and a hen quail. Zainal Abidin bin Mohd Noor, of the Department of Veterinary Services in Kuala Lumpur, is creating a strain that produces eggs of good quality and meat with the flavor of both parents. The new bird is intermediate in size between chicken and quail which is convenient because it is about right for an individual helping.

The crossbreeding is done through artificial insemination. The progeny exhibit a range of appearances, sizes, and plumage colors, depending on the strains of cockerel and quail hens used. In the Malaysian research, cockerels have been local Ayam Kampung Bantam, Hybro, and Golden Comet hybrids. The quails have been local inbred Japanese quail (IJQ) and imported meat strain quail (IMSQ).

The trials show that the hybrids derived from the IMSQ flocks grew faster and bigger than those from the IJQ cross. The best have been the Hybro x IMSQ crosses, which weigh 475 g at 10 weeks of age. The best of the IJQ group weighed 290 g during the same period.

This type of "tropical game hen" might be a way to introduce hybrid vigor into poultry production.

The researchers who developed the hybrid have named it the "yamyuh."


Although generally disease resistant, quail are affected by several common poultry diseases, including salmonella, cholera, blackhead, and lice. They also suffer epidemic mortality from "quail disease" (ulcerative enteritis), which can, however, be controlled with antibiotics.

Quail seem to require more protein than chickens, and produce best when given feed that is fairly high in protein.4 However, they also perform satisfactorily when fed rations designed for turkeys. They have high requirements for vitamin A, which they do not store.

Quail are not suitable as free-ranging "scavengers." They must be kept confined, which is a major constraint. Unlike chickens or pigeons, they have no homing instinct and will not remain on a given site; if released, they will be lost. In addition, since they nest on the ground, they are highly susceptible to predation; they must be protected, especially where certain animals, the mongoose for example, are common.

Artificial incubation is essential. Natural incubation using the female is futile; the females do not go broody and rarely incubate their eggs. The shells are extremely thin, but the eggs can be incubated under a small chicken hen, such as a bantam.5 The eggs are also subject to minute fractures. However, the shell membrane is extremely tough and unfertilized eggs are generally unaffected, but the cracks cause fertilized embryos to dehydrate and die. This is a serious limitation. Whenever quail husbandry is introduced, artificial incubation should be included.


Quail deserve to be included in all poultry research aimed at helping the Third World. Through its international scientific program, Japan, in particular, could apply to developing nations its vast experience with quail farming.

Experiences with quail in the tropics (for example, Japanese farmers in the Amazon Basin) and in tropical highlands (for instance, in India, Nepal, or Central Africa) should be collected and assessed to improve understanding of the environmental limits to Third World quail farming.

Cooperation between commercial and laboratory quail breeders should be encouraged. Mutants found at the commercial level would be useful for laboratory work. Conversely, introducing new stocks could help the farmer. In both cases, more genetic diversity might also lead to the production of hybrid vigor, and genetic variability would be conserved.

Sex-linked genes, if they can be found, would be useful to the commercial quail breeder for the rapid sexing of newly hatched chicks. This could lead to more efficient production techniques, like those in the chicken industry.

Although virtually all work to date has been on the Japanese quail, other species and subspecies warrant research and testing.

12 Turkey[edit | edit source]


The turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is well-known in North America and Europe, but in the rest of the world, especially in developing countries, its potential has been largely overlooked. Partly, this is because chickens are so familiar and grow so well that there seems no reason to consider any other poultry. Partly, it is because modern turkeys have been so highly bred for intensive production that the resulting birds are inappropriate for home production.

Nevertheless, there is a much wider potential role for turkeys in the future. There are types that thrive as village birds or as scavengers, but these are little known even to turkey specialists. These primitive types are probably the least studied of all domestic fowl; little effort has been directed at increasing their productivity under free-ranging conditions. However, they retain their ancestral self-reliance and are widely used by farmers in Mexico. That they are unrecognized elsewhere is a serious oversight.

Native to North America, the turkey was domesticated by Indians about 400 BC, and today's Mexican birds seem to be direct descendants.' Unlike the large-breasted, modern commercial varieties, they mate naturally and they retain colored feathers and a narrow breast configuration. Their persistence in Mexico after 500 years of competition with other poultry highlights their adaptability, ruggedness, and usefulness to people.

These birds complement chicken production. They are able to thrive under more arid conditions, they tolerate heat better, they range farther, and they have higher quality meat. Also, the percentage of edible meat is much greater than that from a chicken. Turkey meat is so low in fat that in the United States, at least, it is making strong inroads into markets that previously used chicken exclusively.

Turkeys are natural foragers and can be kept as scavengers. Indeed, they thrive best where they can rove about, feeding on seeds, fresh grass, other herbage, and insects. As long as drinking water is available, they will return to their roost in the evening.

Appreciation for the turkey could rise rapidly. Interest already has been shown by several African nations. A French company has created a strain of self-reliant farm turkeys and is exporting them to developing countries.2 Researchers in Mexico are displaying increased interest in their national resource. And as knowledge and breeding stock continue to be developed, it is likely that village turkeys will become increasingly popular around the world.




Modern turkey breeding has been so dominated by selection for increased size and muscling that commercial turkeys have leg problems and cannot mate naturally (they are inseminated artificially). These highly bred birds are adapted for large-volume intensive production, and must be raised with care. As noted, this chapter emphasizes the more self-reliant, less highly selected turkeys found in Mexico and a few other Latin American countries. They do not require artificial insemination, and with little attention can care for themselves and their young.

Fully grown "criollo" turkeys of Mexico are less than half the size of some improved strains. Males weigh between 5 and 8 kg; females, between 3 and 4 kg.3 They vary in color from white, through splashed or mottled, to black. The skin of the neck and head is bare, rough, warty, and blue and red in color. A soft fleshy protuberance at the forehead (the snood) resembles a finger. In males it swells during courtship. The front of the neck is a pendant wattle. A bundle of long, coarse bristles (the beard) stands out prominently from the center of the breast.


The unimproved domestic turkey is essentially limited to central Mexico and scattered locations throughout nearby Latin American countries. Some village birds are also kept in India, Egypt, and other areas, but these are descended from semi-improved strains exported from North America and Europe in earlier times. Generally speaking, few turkeys are found in tropical countries outside Latin America.


Domesticated turkeys are not endangered; there are estimated to be about 124 million in the world. However, the wild Mexican varieties, ancestors to the first domesticated turkeys sent to Europe, may now be endangered since their distribution in southwestern Mexico has been greatly reduced. Certainly, some primitive domestic strains in the uplands of central Mexico are also being depleted. A separate type, independently domesticated by the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States, seems to have disappeared entirely.


Turkeys can be reared virtually anywhere. Their natural habitat is open forest and wooded areas of the North American continent, but in Mexico they are raised from sea level to over 2,000 m altitude, from rainforest to desert, and from near-temperate climates to the tropics.

The original distribution of the turkey and the occellated


The range of diet is broad. Turkeys eat greens, fruits, seeds, nuts, grasses, berries, roots, insects (locusts, cicadas, crickets, and grasshoppers, for example), worms, slugs, and snails.

Reproduction is generally seasonal and is stimulated by increasing daylength. (A minimum daylength of 12 hours is required.) The birds can reach sexual maturity at six months of age and may start breeding at this time. Ten days after first mating, the hen searches out a nest and commences laying. Industrial birds in temperate climates lay, on average, 90 eggs a year. The nondescript type of turkey in the tropics seldom lays more than 20 small eggs (weighing about 60 am) before going broody.


Domestic turkeys walk rather than fly, and find almost all their food on the ground. They can, however, fly short distances to avoid predators.

The commercial birds have lost many abilities for survival in the wild; they can no longer exist without human care. However, village types can do well with little management.

Turkeys prefer to make their own nests but can be induced to lay in a convenient spot if provided with nest boxes.


These birds are raised almost exclusively for meat. In many countries, they are a treat for holidays, birthdays, and weddings. In their native range of Mexico and Central America, the "unimproved" birds are usually produced as a cash crop for market. They receive little care or feed, and thus they are almost all profit - providing a significant income supplement to many rural homes.


The principles of turkey management (nutrition, housing, rearing' and prevention of disease, for example) are basically the same as those for other poultry.

In Mexico, turkeys are usually kept under free-ranging conditions around houses and villages. Some shelter and kitchen scraps are occasionally provided. A number of them, however, are confined in backyards as protection from marauders and for shelter against rain and wind.

One male can service up to 12 females. Roomy nests are needed. (As a rule, turkeys require three times the space occupied by chickens.) Most range turkeys are corralled when they begin to lay, so as to protect them from predators. Eggs may be gathered to prevent broodiness and thereby increase production. The eggs may be kept for several days (cool, but not refrigerated) if turned daily, and then may be placed under a chicken hen. (A setting chicken can be used this way to hatch up to nine eggs at a time.) Hatching takes 28 days.

As in other birds, newly hatched turkeys (poults) must be kept warm during the first weeks of life. Until they begin foraging and have full access to pasture they are usually fed broken grain or fine mash, as well as finely chopped, tender green feed.

Although free-ranging turkeys are simple to raise, confined turkeys require more complex management. The birds need uncrowded, well ventilated conditions and should be on a wire or slatted floor to reduce parasitic infections. Any feeds recommended for chicks are suitable, but the protein content should be somewhat higher; that is, about 27 percent. They can be fed mixed grains, corn, and chopped legume hay. It may be necessary to provide vitamin supplements and antibiotics and take steps to prevent coccidiosis.


The turkey was domesticated in Mexico some time before the Conquest. It is the one and only important domestic animal of North American origin. When the Spanish arrived, they found barnyard turkeys in the possession of Indians in all parts of Mexico and even in Central America. However, the Aztecs and the Tarascans, originating in west-central Mexico, seemed to have achieved the highest development of turkey culture, and it is probable that turkeys were domesticated in the western highlands, perhaps in Michoacan. Wild turkeys of that region are morphologically very similar to the primitive domestic bronze type. Both the Aztecs and Tarascans kept great numbers of the birds, including even white ones. They paid royal tribute to their respective kings in turkeys, according to the Relacion de Michoacan. The Tarascan king fed turkeys to the hawks and eagles in his zoo. The economy of some highland tribes was based on the cultivation of corn and the raising of turkeys. A. Starker Leopold


The modern domesticated turkey is thought to be descended from two differing wild subspecies, one found in Mexico and Central America and the other in the United States. The southern type is small, whereas the U.S. native is larger and has a characteristic bronze plumage.

Mexican turkeys were exported to Europe soon after the Conquest, and spread rapidly. In the 17th century, some were returned to North America, where they interbred with the eastern subspecies of wild turkey, producing a heavier bird, which was then re-exported to Europe.

These types underwent little change until this century, when the Englishman Jesse Throssel bred them for meat quality. In the 1920s, he brought his improved birds to Canada, where their large size and broad breasts quickly made them foundation breeding stock. Crossed with the narrow-breasted North American types, these heavily muscled meat birds quickly supplanted other varieties.

About the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began the scientific development of a smaller meat turkey derived from a more diverse genetic base. By the 1950s, the Beltsville Small Whites predominated in the home consumption market in the United States.


The birds are efficient and generally take care of themselves. They tolerate dry, hot, or cold climates and forage farther than chickens. They are large, fast growing, highly marketable, low in fat, and tasty.


The ocellated turkey (Agriocharis ocellata) occurs in Yucatan, Guatemala, and Belize. It is much like the common turkey in size, form, and behavior: however, unlike the common turkey, which in Mexico lives in the high mountain pine and oak forests, the ocellated turkey inhabits bushy, semiforested lowlands. This splendid bird lacks the kind of beard sported by the common turkey gobbler, is generally more metallic in appearance, and has brighter coppery colors. The chief character is a neck and head that are bare, blue, and profusely covered with coral-colored pimples. It also has a yellow-tipped protuberance growing on the crown between the eyes.

This species is worthy of investigation by poultry researchers because it might prove to be domesticable. It was possibly domesticated by the Mayas, whose ruins often include appropriately sized stone enclosures whose soil has elevated levels of phosphorus and potassium. Even today, in the rural Peten area of Guatemala, ocellated turkeys are sometimes kept around houses as scavengers.


Young birds are readily affected by temperature changes and must be protected from the sun as well as from sudden chills, such as may occur at night. They are particularly susceptible to dampness, especially if associated with cold. One peculiarity is the turkey's aversion to any change in feeding routine or the nature of the food.

Young turkeys are susceptible to parasitic infestation as well as to the same type of bacterial and virus diseases as chickens (for example, fowlpox and coccidiosis). Blackhead, a devastating disease of young turkeys, is carried by a common parasitic nematode, and can be contracted from chickens. Medicines are available to prevent or treat most disease and pest problems.


Turkey development is almost nonexistent in the Third World (and much of the rest of the world, too). Although commercial turkeys are highly developed in some countries, little or no research has been conducted on the criollo turkey. Research on physiology, disease, and husbandry of the criollo turkey should be given high priority.

The need for conservation of genetic variability is perhaps more critical in this species than in almost any other domesticated animal. The unimproved types in Mexico should be collected and assessed, and a program to conserve the stocks should be initiated. An analysis should also be made of the traditional management and performance of these birds. In addition, the four or five recognized turkey subspecies should be evaluated for their potential as seed stock for Third World countries.

13 Potential New Poultry[edit | edit source]


Several preceding chapters have discussed the possibilities of domesticating certain wild birds.l Here, briefly, are highlighted other wild species with qualities that might make them suitable for sustained production. It should be understood that their practical use in the long run is pure speculation; they are included here merely to guide those interested in exploring the farthest frontiers of livestock science.

Collectively, poultry have become the most useful of all livestock- and the most widespread. Yet only a handful of species are employed. Of the 9,000 bird species, only a few (for instance, chickens, ducks, geese, muscovies, pigeons, and turkeys) have been domesticated for farm use. Strictly speaking, all birds are edible - at least none have poisonous flesh - so it seems illogical to conclude that these are the only likely candidates. Perhaps they are not even the best.

At first sight there may seem to be little need for new species, but poultry meat is in ever increasing demand and there are many niches where the main species are stricken by disease, or are afflicted by heat, humidity, altitude problems, or other hazards. For these areas, a new species might become a vital future resource. Perhaps some could even become globally important. The modern guinea fowl, for example, is a relative newcomer as a worldwide resource (see page 120).

The birds now used as poultry were domesticated centuries ago by people unaware of behavior modification, nutrition, genetics, microbiology, disease control, and the other basics of domestication. Today we can tame species that they couldn't. In particular, the new understanding of "imprinting" may make the domestication of birds easier today than ever before.

In this highly speculative concept, the birds described on the following pages are worth considering. They all eat vegetation and tend to live in flocks, which makes them likely to be easy to feed and to keep in crowded conditions. Most are sedentary, nonmigratory, and poor fliers. All but three (tinamous, sand grouse, and trumpeters) are gallinaceous.

Gallinaceous birds are already the most important to people. The best known are chickens, turkeys, quail, and guinea fowl. But there are about 240 other species. Most are chickenlike: heavy bodied with short, rounded wings, and adapted for life on the ground. Although some are solitary, many are sociable. Basically vegetarian, they also eat insects, worms, and other invertebrates. The young birds are extremely precocious, walking and feeding within hours of hatching. All of these are advantageous traits for domestication.

Game birds are also emphasized here. Many today are considered gourmet delights, and this should give them a head start in the marketplace. Indeed, some are already being raised in a small way on game farms and are at least partly on the way to domestication.


These brownish birds (Ortalis vetula and nine other species) are found throughout Central and South America, and, given research, could possibly be raised on a large scale. A sort of "tropical chicken," they tame easily, live together in dense populations, and protect their chicks extremely well. They commonly scavenge around houses and people often put out scraps to feed them.2 The chicks are easily hatched, grow fast, and can be fed standard chicken rations.3

There is already considerable demand for these birds. Everywhere they are found, they are prized as food. In some areas they constitute the single most important game species, and are heavily hunted to supply local communities. Although they have less meat than a chicken, it is tastier and darker.

Chachalacas are very adaptable. They occur mainly around forest edges and thrive in the thickets that appear after tropical forests have been felled. They do well close to humans, and their populations are not threatened, despite much hunting. Indeed, they seem well adapted to existence around villages and towns. Although not strong fliers, they are one of the few tree-roosting gallinaceous species. Primarily fruit eaters, they also consume tender leaves, twigs, and buds, and they scratch up the ground, presumably for insects.

Although excitable and noisy, chachalacas become remarkably tame when fed by people. In a few cases, full domestication has almost been reached. Farmers like to have chachalacas around and have even used them to guard domestic chickens. These very raucous and fearless birds will take on all potential threats, even weasels.4


Close relatives of the chachalacas, guans5 are glossy black birds about the size of small geese. They are highly gregarious and perhaps could be raised in larger numbers. They commonly live around houses, farms, and settlements in their native region of tropical America.

Unlike most game birds, guans are chiefly tree dwellers, but they also feed on the ground. Some 12 species are known. All are relentlessly hunted for food and sport - their tameness and inability to fly far or fast making them easy targets. The rapid destruction of tropical forests threatens their populations in some parts of their range. Conservation projects and specific plans of action are being proposed for the most threatened species. Perhaps for the other species, game-ranching projects or even outright domestication might provide just the right incentive for their protection and multiplication.


Curassows are also relatives of guans and chachalacas, but they are even larger - up to 1 m tall and 5 kg in weight. At least seven species are found over the vast area from northern Mexico to southern South America.6 Among them are Latin America's finest game birds.

It might be possible to produce curassows in organized farming or ranching. They are commonly called "tropical turkeys" because they look like and run like turkeys. Indeed, Latin Americans normally refer to them as "pavos" or "pavones," as if they were the real thing. Their plumage ranges from deep blue to black, invariably with a purple gloss, and all have rather curly crests on their heads. They are not good fliers and spend most of their time on the ground.

Curassows are increasingly hunted; their tropical forest habitat is shrinking, and the subsequent loss of populations is a calamity. They are special targets, not only because they are large but also because their light-colored flesh makes exceptional eating.

There is hope that these large wild fowls can be raised and managed in organized programs. Even now, people commonly keep them around their farms and villages. For example, on a number of Venezuelan ranches, yellow-raped curassows can be seen wandering around the cattle yards as if they were chickens.7


This report has intentionally focused on intensive farming - the type where people bring feed to animals in captivity. However, where this normal type of farming is of marginal value, ´'ranching free-ranging birds may often be a more effective option. In this, the farmer simply monitors and improves the condition of the range and devises methods to harvest the birds on a sustainable basis.

"Bird ranching" may today have outstanding merit, particularly in tropical rainforests. Hence, in this chapter we emphasize birds of the jungle. These might help make standing rainforests profitable producers of income, and thereby provide economic incentives to stop felling trees for cow pastures. Indeed, forest birds might become part of a whole new "salvation farming that makes forests more valuable than fields. It is a technique that may contribute to preserving both bird life and its vitally valuable habitat.


Megapodes (family Megapodiidae) include some of the world's most interesting birds. They have temperature-sensitive beaks and employ nature's own heat sources as incubators. The best-known species build piles of leaves and use the heat of decomposition to incubate their eggs. The species of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, however, take advantage of sun-warmed sand or even geothermal activity.

People have long revered these birds. Aborigines in Australia, Melanesians in New Guinea, and many Micronesians all protect the bizarre nesting sites, and "farm" them for eggs. Local people consider the large eggs special delicacies, and sometimes the egg-laying sites are owned and exploited for generations without a single bird being killed for food.8

Programs that provide sustainable supplies of eggs have been established in Papua New Guinea. One is near Mt. Tovarvar, a simmering volcano on the island of New Britain. Here, megapodes gather in large numbers to lay eggs in the hot sands. They dig until they locate sand that is exactly 32.7°C, before laying their huge (more than 10 cm long and 6 cm wide) pink eggs. Each year the villagers dig up some 2O,OOO eggs, which are an important source of protein and cash income. The government now regulates the harvest in a way that protects the bird population while supplying a nourishing food.

Megapodes are found in only a few parts of the world, but projects such as those in Papua New Guinea provide hope and guidance not only for the sustainable "ranching" of megapodes, but also for other species elsewhere. Many wild birds yield locally important products- down, colored feathers, eggs, meat, and skins, and they make excellent songbirds and pets, for example. Their management on a sustainable basis may in certain cases be the key to turning local people into the most dedicated conservationists of all.


Partridges include many small game birds native to the Old World. They are robust, precocious, and larger than quails. Some lay many eggs - the European partridge, for example, lays up to 26 in a clutch. Newly hatched chicks are soon able to feed themselves and can fly within a few weeks, sometimes even within the first few days.

Species that may make useful poultry include:

  • The European (or gray) partridge (Perdix perdix);
  • The rock partridge (Alectoris), bantamlike birds of Africa; and
  • The chukar (A. graeca).

A native of the vast area from southeastern Europe to India and Manchuria, the chukar is stocked as a game bird in many countries. It is now produced routinely under poultrylike husbandry in many parts of the United States, not only for hunting clubs, but also for expensive food markets. The birds are generally raised on turkey rations and dress out at about 500 g after 18 weeks. They sell for more than broiler chickens and are a profitable sideline for increasing numbers of poultry farmers.9

A group of closely related birds are the francolins (genus Francolinus), of which there are 34 species in Africa and 5 in West and South Asia. These adaptable birds are sturdy, live in a variety of habitats, and tend to be rather noisy. Basically, they are partridges with leg spurs. They are highly regarded as a food source and are hunted and trapped wherever they are found.

Francolins are much like quail, but are several times larger. Arabs introduced one of the most beautiful species (Francolinus francolinus) into southern Spain, Sicily, and Greece during the Middle Ages. However, it was hunted so heavily that it soon became extinct in Europe. More recently, francolins have been introduced to the Soviet Union.'°

Francolins inhabit steppes, savannas, primeval forests, and mountains. They thrive in cultivated land with much cover. The clutch consists of 6-8 hard, thick-shelled eggs. In recent times at least one program to domesticate them for food has been started in Africa.11


Although the report emphasizes microlivestock as food suppliers, it should be realized that small animals - even wild ones - can have other important uses as welt The following interesting example, with possible worldwide implications, comes from recent experiences in Malaysia. *

Certain rodents are major pests on farms and plantations. Now, however, Malaysian zoologists are finding that owls, particularly barn owls (Tyto alba), can help control them. An owl pair and its chicks annually consume 1,500 or more rodents. This is not new knowledge; indeed, on farms throughout the world the barn owl has always been a welcome guest. What is new is that Malaysians are showing how outstandingly effective this process is, and they have initiated major projects to attract and maintain these feathered friends.

Barn owls are found in many parts of the world, but were formerly almost unknown in Peninsular Malaysia. In 1969, however, a pair began nesting in an oil-palm plantation in Johore State. Since then, these birds have steadily increased in numbers and have spread throughout most of the peninsula. Today, the population is increasing remarkably quickly as more and more managers erect nest boxes for the owls to live in.

The owls are proving to be a good way to remove rats and are notably effective in plantations of oil palm. They perch on fronds and fly under and between the rows of trees. A cost of $1 - $2 per hectare per year is all that is required to install nest boxes, a negligible outlay for the control of such a serious and expensive problem.

It is believed that the barn owls hunt mainly in plantations and other agricultural areas and not in the rainforest. Barn owls are, after all primarily adapted to open spaces and not dense forest.

Perhaps this experience can be replicated and adopted in other locations and with other crops. Grain crops - notably rice - are particularly prone to the ravages of rodents, and one trial has commenced in Selangor State in a rice area. The concept of using owls for rodent control is also catching on in the United States. Indeed owl nest boxes are being erected in Central Park in the heart of New York City.


One pheasant, the red junglefowl, gave the world the chicken (see page 86). The other 48 species may have some potential, too. These are rarely seen forest birds; all but one are confined to Asia.13 Because they are prolific they can sustain heavy predation, and many species, notably the ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), are constantly hunted.

People in several countries have learned to exploit pheasants on farms and estates. As a result, there is a vast amount of information on how to rear and manage these birds. So far, however, it has been applied only to sport hunting in wealthy societies; the potential of raising pheasants for the mass market should now be seriously addressed.

The most dramatic-looking pheasant, the peacock (Pavo cristatus), is raised as a poultry species in Vietnam. The meat of the young birds is considered outstanding. In fine restaurants in New York, a peacock dinner is reputed to cost $150. Common peafowls are considered sacred in many parts of India, where they have become so tame that they are essentially domesticated. They also control snakes.


Domestic quail have been previously described (page 146)J but dozens of wild quail species and subspecies occupy many different habitats and ecological niches in almost all parts of the world. Out of all this genetic wealth only one species - the Japanese quail - is widely used. Yet many other species seem easy to raise, becoming exceedingly tame after about the sixth generation.

The management and even perhaps intensive production of these various local quails might provide long-term benefits for many developing nations. Quail meat ranks among the finest.14 Some of these lesser-studied birds are more meaty than the Japanese quail or have other possibly useful traits. Much is known about rearing a few of them because they are used in sport hunting or laboratory research. The possibility of domestication, therefore, is not farfetched.

Particular quail that might be considered for domestication are the lesser-known subspecies of Coturnix coturnix. These subspecies are found in various places, including the following:

  • Europe (C. c. coturnix breeds in the area ranging from northern Russia to North Africa and from the British Isles to Siberia. In winter it migrates to tropical Africa, Asia, and southern India.)
  • The Azores (C. c. conturbans)
  • The Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands (C. c. confisa)
  • Cape Verde Islands (C. c. inopinata)
  • East Africa (C. c. erlangeri)
  • Tropical Africa, southern Africa, Madagascar, and Mauritius (C. c. africana)
  • Japan (C. c. japonica, the most probable ancestor of the domesticated quail)
  • China (C. c. ussuriensis, a possible ancestor of the domesticated Japanese quail)


Tinamous are quail-like birds of Central and South America's forests and grasslands. They are, however, much larger than quail and resemble small chickens, with plump bodies and no visible tail. There are more than 40 species, and all are much sought for food because their meat is tender and flavorful. The breast is surprisingly large, and its flesh is pale and translucent. One species, the great tinamou (Tinamus major), has been called "the most perfect of birds for culinary purposes." Frozen tinamous from Argentina were formerly sold in the United States under the name "South American quail."

Tinamous are found mainly in tropical areas, but are also widely distributed in Argentina and Chile. They dwell in varied habitats: rainforests, thickets, bushlands, savannas, and grasslands up to 5,000 m altitude in the Andes. Some species sleep in trees, others on the ground. They spend their days creeping about in heavy cover, flying only when forced.

At least some species tame readily. Indeed, during the nesting period males become so tractable that they can be picked up off the nest. At the turn of the century, many tinamous were raised as game birds in France, England, Germany, and Hungary. However, for reasons unknown, subsequent attempts to settle them in Europe have failed. Tinamous have been raised in Canada without undue difficulty; they showed little or no stress under captivity and there were few losses.15

Tinamous may also prove suitable for egg production. They lay clutches of 16-20 spectacular-looking shiny eggs that seem to be made of sky-blue and bright-green ceramic.


Sand grouse (mainly Pterocles species) are highly adapted to life in arid regions - desert, dry grasslands, arid savanna, and bushveld. Their entire body (including most of the bill and feet) is covered with dense down, which in the desert insulates them from the burning heat of midday and the freezing cold of night. It also protects the nostrils against blowing sand and dust.

These pigeonlike birds are found throughout the drier regions of Africa and Asia - for instance, the Sahara, Kalahari, Namib, Arabian, and Thar deserts. They live mainly on small seeds, and sometimes flocks of thousands may be seen at waterholes, flying in for a drink from up to 80 km away. For peoples of the driest spots on earth, these birds may make a useful food species: for one thing, they are not endangered. Indeed, they are proliferating as drought and overgrazing is increasing the amount of dry, desolate rangeland that they prefer. The bore holes provided for livestock have both boosted their populations and afforded a place where these wide-ranging birds can be easily captured. When nesting, sand grouse are highly vulnerable to foxes, jackals, mongooses, and other predators. Protection of the nesting sites may be the key to maintaining their populations if harvesting schemes are introduced.


Trumpeters (Psophia species) might prove to be a useful species for sustainable production within tropical forests. As "tree poultry," these relatives of cranes could help provide meat without destroying the trees, as is now done to raise cattle.

These chicken-sized birds inhabit South America's jungles.16 They are nonmigrating, ground-dwelling, and are often kept as pets, notably by Amerindians. Under human protection, trumpeters become very tame. They recognize strangers and challenge them with a loud cackle. 17

Fully adapted to the forest environment, they can run fast, but fly poorly. In the wild, this makes them easy targets for hunters. Because of this and the fact that they make excellent eating, they are approaching extinction in some areas.

No attempts have been made to rear these birds in numbers, but this should be tried. They feed mainly on plant materials, particularly berries of all kinds. They also relish grasshoppers, spiders, and centipedes, and are particularly fond of termites.

Trumpeters require trees; they completely avoid cultivated land. Thus, as the destruction of forests in South America continues, their habitat is shrinking. Although their existence is not as yet threatened, the long-term prognosis is bleak. If managed in "forest-ranching" programs, however, they might be saved from extinction and thriving populations built up.

Interest in rabbits continues to increase. It is now widely recognized that the raising of small animals in developing countries has great potential as a means of improving human nutrition and economic security. The famines in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia starkly illuminate the need for maximum efficiency in food production to maintain the quality of human life. Rabbit raising contributes to meeting these needs. P.R. Cheeke, N.M. Patton, S.D. Lukefahr, and J.I. McNitt Rabbit Production

Rabbits are especially well adapted to backyard rearing systems in which capital and fodder resources are usually limiting factors in animal production. When rabbits are reared according to the techniques appropriate to the environment they can do much to improve the family diet of many of the most needy rural families, while at the same time supplying them with a source of income. With more advanced technology rabbit production can also help to supply big city meat markets. Food and Agriculture Organization The Rabbit: Husbandry, Health, and Production


FA info icon.svg Angle down icon.svg Page data
Part of Little-known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future
Keywords farming
SDG SDG15 Life on land
Authors Board on Science and Technology for International Development National Research Council
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Language English (en)
Translations Hindi
Related 1 subpages, 17 pages link here
Aliases Micro-livestock: Little-known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future 5
Impact 7,444 page views
Created March 13, 2009 by Oorxax
Modified December 5, 2023 by Felipe Schenone
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