The rearing of various types of domesticated poultry has increased throughout West Africa in recent years, due to the increased demands for meat and eggs; the meeting of this demand has been largely due to improved methods of management which include the use of new methods of feeding and disease control. The fairly rapid return on capital outlay which is possible with birds which are adequately fed and kept in a healthy condition is another factor which has influenced and stimulated the current interest in poultry rearing. The more intensive methods which are now being adopted have been mainly influenced by the experimental work which has been carried out by Government Departments and Research Institutes responsible for livestock development; the main results of this work have been the establishment of basic principles and applications which can be carried out by West African poultry keepers.


These are the most popular birds for both meat and egg production and several breeds, such as the Leghorn, Light Sussex and Rhode Island Red are well adapted to the various ecological zones of West Africa. Many local breeds are also popular, due to their resistance to diseases and tolerance to climatic conditions. In general, however, the local breeds of chickens are smaller and produce fewer eggs than either the exotic or hybrid breeds.


There are several variations in poultry rearing systems but they can be approximately grouped according to the density of the birds kept per unit area.

Intensive System

The two main divisions of these systems, as practised in West Africa, are the deep litter and the battery cage methods of raising poultry.

   The deep litter system is suitable for a large number of birds and is used mainly for the production of broiler and laying birds. They are kept in a large building, the floor of which is covered with bedding or 'litter', as it is termed in poultry keeping. Materials used include wood shavings, maize cob hulls, groundnut shells or other organic residues. The litter is added to at approximately monthly intervals and gradually rises in level from about 10 cm when the birds are first introduced to about 25-30 cm at the end of a year, by which time it should be removed and replaced after disinfection of the interior of the building. During the first few weeks, the litter should be stirred almost daily, but this may be reduced to a frequency of once or twice a week after it has become consolidated. The main objective of using the litter is to provide an absorbent layer on which the birds can tread, a certain amount of decomposition by micro-organisms takes place due to the depositing of faeces on the litter and the heat evolved from this can assist in reducing the spread of diseases and parasites. This is mainly due to the production of ammonia as a result of the activity of the bacteria involved in the decomposition.

If the litter becomes too wet, it should be replaced, otherwise the spread of respiratory diseases is likely to be encouraged.

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   Nesting boxes and perches are provided along the sides of the building and feeding and watering containers are usually placed in a fairly central position, preferably on wire stands or frames. The house should be regularly sprayed with insecticide and disinfectant to reduce the incidence of flies and other insects.

   The type of building most suitable for deep litter rearing is of the permanent type, with concrete block walls and cement floor. The roof should be of asbestos, galvanised iron or aluminium sheeting. Walls should be from 1-1.5 m high, the remaining space between the top of the wall and the eaves being fitted with wire mesh to provide adequate ventilation. The wall which is at right angles to the prevailing wind may be higher than the other three, to protect the birds from draughts and rain.

   The size of the building will vary with the number of birds to be housed but, for large birds, 0.5-0.6 m² of floor area per bird should be allowed. For smaller breeds, 0.4-0.5 m² per bird is normally adequate.

Nesting or laying boxes should be 80-100 cm? and one nest is usually adequate for 6 birds. Perches on which the birds can roost should be arranged so that each bird is allowed a spacing of 25-30 cm.

   The BATTERY CAGE SYSTEM has become popular in recent years since it can be managed with a minimum of labour and is an effective method of producing both eggs and broiler birds. Birds are housed in wire mesh cages, each cage having a feeding and drinking container. This isolation of containers contributes to minimising the incidence and spread of pests and diseases and, since the floors of the cages are also of wire, there is almost no possibility of the transfer of infection via the droppings of infected birds. Each cage may house either one or two birds, depending on the design and method of construction of the unit.

The eggs, when laid, roll down to a rack at the front of each cage where they can be easily collected and the cleaning involved with the battery cage system also involves a minimum of effort. An additional advantage is that sick birds can be rapidly identified and isolated. The main disadvantage is the high capital cost involved in the establishment of this type of unit.


This combines some of the practices followed in both the intensive and extensive systems of management since the birds are kept in buildings but are also allowed to move outside freely within enclosed runs during the day time. The main advantage is that the birds obtain adequate exercise, they also have the opportunity of obtaining their essential vitamin and mineral requirements from the grass and other vegetation growing in the enclosed runs. The runs should be in use for 6-12 months only and should then be allowed to lie fallow to reduce the population of parasites and diseases which will have accumulated in the soil. This rotation system involves the construction of two runs so that one will be in use while the other is allowed to recover. Each run should be surrounded by chicken wire mesh to a height of 1.5-2.0 m to prevent the birds escaping from the run and afford some protection from wild animals. The run should be large enough to allow each bird to occupy approximately 2.0-2.5 m³.

HOUSING The building may be a permanent one of concrete blocks with a cement floor, but is more likely to be constructed of wood with a waterproof roof. The floor area per bird should be about 0.5-0.6 m² for fairly large birds. Many wooden houses are raised above ground level to prevent the entry of snakes and rats and a wire mesh floor is generally provided to reduce the labour involved in cleaning. Perches should be provided for the birds to roost, feeding and water may be placed outside in the run. This system is effective for the raising of broiler birds but is not particularly suited for egg production although nesting boxes are usually provided within the building, with access from the outside.


One of the most popular systems of poultry management in West Africa is the free range or open range system which is the oldest form of poultry keeping in many parts of West Africa. The birds are allowed to roam freely and generally find their own food. A minimum amount of labour is involved in management and the farmer spends little on feed since the birds are only fed occasionally.

  At night, some of the birds may roost in the shelters provided for them, while others perch on nearby tree branches. Although this system reduces expenditure on labour and feed, the main disadvantage is that the birds are exposed to attack by predators and may become susceptible to a variety of infectious diseases.

   This system is the basis of modern extensive systems. It is suitable for keeping relatively large numbers of birds, up to 175 birds maintained. A fairly large area of land is required but the capital costs are limited to the provision of wooden shelters with wire mesh flooring, fitted with nesting boxes and perches. These are usually small enough to be moved about the free range area so that the costs of cleaning are minimal. The regular movement of the shelters ensures an even distribution of the manure and reduces the concentration of eggs of parasitic organisms in any one area. The birds obtain regular exercise and have a good access to vegetable material, they are therefore generally healthier than birds kept under more restricted conditions.

   Egg production from free range birds is low and this system is best suited to raising broiler chickens.

A variation of the free range type of operation is the FOLDING SYSTEM in which birds are provided with portable shelters but have access to enclosed runs. The shelters are normally fitted with wheels so that they can be easily moved at regular intervals. This distributes the eggs of parasitic organisms and reduces the incidence of disease. The shelters are usually constructed of wood and wire mesh and provide more protection from the weather and predators than the more open shelters which are normally provided for free range birds; nesting boxes are not normally provided and eggs are therefore liable to be damaged.

Only relatively small numbers of birds can be housed in each shelter and this method is best suited to the raising of young chickens rather than mature birds; several hundred birds per hectare may be kept, depending on the number of shelters provided.

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The type of feed given to poultry will depend largely upon the materials which are available locally; these may include: maize, millet, guinea corn, groundnut meal, palm kernel meal, cowpea or pigeon pea meal, dried blood, bran, fish meal and bone meal. Green vegetables and additives such as ground oyster shell, salt, lime and bone ash are essential for the provision of minerals and vitamins; the more gritty materials are necessary to stimulate the digestive processes of the birds.

  The quantity of feed provided and its composition depends directly on the age of the birds and recommended rations for various stages of growth are as follows.


                                            Parts by weight (kg)

Palm kernel meal                                        25.0

Dried blood (or fish meal)                           6.5

Bran                                                                 7.0

Groundnut meal                                            3.5

Guinea corn (ground)                                 56.0

The above should be finely ground and thoroughly mixed to form a mash. Bone meal (1-2 kg), oyster shell or grit (1-2 kg), and salt (0.5 kg), can be either added to the above mixture or fed separately. Some ground charcoal and ground peppers may also be added. This ration should contain about 20-22% digestible protein and if necessary, the groundnut meal content may be increased by 3-4 kg for the first 6weeks, while the guinea corn content is correspondingly reduced. This should bring the protein content to a satisfactory level. Green vegetables such as lettuce and spinach must always be available. The chicks should be given as much of the above ration as they can eat.


The protein content of this ration should be reduced to 15-17% of digestible protein and to achieve this, the ration recommended for feeding chicks should be modified by increasing the content of guinea corn to 75 kg. To every 50 kg of the ration should be added 1.5 kg of a mixture made from 16 parts of lime, 4 parts of bone ash and 5 parts of salt. Each bird should be given about 85 g of the above mash per day, together with liberal quantities of green vegetables and oyster shell or grit.


The content of protein in this mixture should be reduced to 11-12%.

A recommended mixture is:

                                            Parts by weight (kg)

Palm kernel meal                                            15

Dried blood meal (or fish meal)                     5

Bran                                                                     7

Groundnut meal                                                3

Guinea corn (grain)                                      120

Plus 3 kg of a mineral mixture made from 16 parts lime, 4 parts bone ash and 5 parts salt. Each bird should receive about 120 g of the above mixture, per day, together with a plentiful supply of green vegetables. This can most easily be obtained if the birds are allowed on free range.

  Birds which are maintained in an intensive system of management are often fed on a ration which is obtainable from commercial firms. This is specifically prepared for battery cage or deep litter birds and should be fed according to the manufacturer's instructions.

   Rations are normally supplied to chickens of all ages in shallow troughs up to 1 m in length. These may be of wood or aluminium and should be fitted with metal bars at intervals of 4-5 cm apart along the length of the trough. These will prevent droppings from becoming mixed with the food.

   It is essential to provide clean drinking water for birds at all ages and specially constructed drinking troughs are obtainable from poultry suppliers. Alternative, a drinking container may be made by boring holes in a large can, a few centimetres from the open end. The can is then filled with water and inverted over a shallow circular dish. The water should be changed each day to reduce the spread of disease.


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