By Rene C. Santiago

Native chickens are typically raised in the backyards of rural households. They are commonly grown in small numbers of up to about 24 hens for egg production. Some farmers raise native chickens for meat, barter, or sale as an additional source of income for the household.

According to experts, the number of native chickens in the country is still the same as that of hybrid or commercial stocks. The government is giving the industry the proper attention and exerting efforts to improve native chicken farming because of the important role it plays in the economy, which includes the provision of additional income to small farmers, the scope/magnitude of the demand for native chicken in the local market, and the health benefits of the meat.

What is the Native Chicken?

Characteristics of native chicken:

A native chicken has numerous superior characteristics.

• Live weight: 1-2 kilograms
• Laying age: 5-6 months
• No. of eggs produced per year: 60-100 eggs
• Egg weight: 40-45 grams

Some of the popular native chicken breeds include Banaba from Batangas, Bolinao from Pangasinan, Camarines from Bicol, Darag from Iloilo, Joloano from Basilan and Paraoakan from Palawan.

In breeding native chickens, choose only the hens with superior characteristics, including the following:
– Comb should be big, reddish, and smooth
– Area around the eye and beak should be pale or whitish
– Wattle should be soft and smooth
– Vent should be big, round, moist, and pale
– Pelvic bones should be soft and far apart

Select hens that are healthy, active, with shiny feathers, and a well-formed body so that it will produce a satisfactory number of fertile eggs. The ratio of roosters to hens should be maintained at 1:8. If the number of roosters exceeds this, it may lead to fighting and added feed cost. Select roosters that come from a flock of fast growers and are healthy and aggressive.

Egg collection

Hens normally lay eggs from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Egg collection should be done on a daily basis, with just one egg left in the nest to encourage hens to lay more eggs. This encourages the hens to take better care of the eggs. Regular collection will decrease the incidence of cracked and dirty eggs. It has also been proven to increase the rate of egg laying prior to incubation.

Store hatching eggs in a cool, dry place until these are ready for incubation.

Selecting eggs for incubation is very important because this is one of the factors that determine the quality of chicks that will be hatched. High-quality eggs will most likely produce high quality chicks. Below are some tips for producing good quality chicks.

– Ensure that nests/laying areas are always clean.
– Eggs to be incubated should be of appropriate size and form (ovoid shape), intact without cracks, and thick-shelled. You can determine if an egg is thick-shelled or free from cracks by gently tapping two eggs together. Thick-shelled and crack-free eggs sound fine and solid while thin-shelled and cracked eggs sound broken.
– Store hatching eggs in a cool, dry place until these are ready for incubation.
– Use a basket or box made of cardboard to store eggs.
– Store hatching eggs for a maximum of 5-7 days prior to incubation.
– If storage will exceed 7 days, eggs must be placed in the vegetable compartment of a refrigerator and should be taken out one day before incubation (whether this will be done by natural or artificial means). Artificial incubation is done using an incubator.

Broodiness is a characteristic of hens that can contribute to lower egg production. Hens naturally sit on eggs until they hatch. However, studies show that this practice slows down egg production. Thus, the use of an artificial incubator is deemed necessary. If a farmer does not have funds to buy an incubator, he can bring the hatching eggs to a commercial hatchery once a week and collect the chicks 21 days after, with fees based on an agreed cost per hatching egg.

A hen sitting in her nest.

When a hen sits on the nest for a long time, this signifies broodiness. To prevent the onset of broodiness, remove the hen from the nest, submerge its body in a pail of water, and place it on the ground or in a well-lighted area. Rooster tie cords (itambang) may be used to separate the broody hen from the flock. Perform the said steps for five consecutive days and return the hen to the flock. This will help the hen lay eggs again and increase egg production per hen per year.

Caring for Chicks

Caring for newly hatched chicks is a very important part of native chicken farming. The most delicate period of a chicken’s life begins from the time it is hatched up to one month of age. According to studies, this is the period when many chicks get sick and die.

To encourage hens to resume egg laying, it is best to separate the chicks from the hens immediately. Chicks are transferred to a brooder house, a place where chicks are confined from the day of hatching until such time when they can survive without added heat. This structure protects chicks from rain, strong winds, changing weather conditions, and predators. A medium-sized brooder house that has dimensions of 2 ft. x 3 ft. x 1 ft. can house 20-30 chicks from day 1 to about 3-4 weeks.

The following are some tips in caring for the chicks:
1. Use a 1-watt incandescent bulb or light per head to provide sufficient heat.
2. Ensure availability of water and feeds that can be easily accessed by the chicks. It is best for the chicks to feed and drink water immediately upon arrival in the brooder house.
3. Use piles of old newspapers as floor cover or absorbent litter material where feeds can be scattered until chicks are 3-5 days old. Each day, remove the top layer of the pile to ensure that the feeds are new and the litter material is clean.
4. After 3-5 days, there is no more need for floor cover. Instead, use a shallow feeder like a bamboo pole split in half or other designs made of wood, plastic, or galvanized iron.
5. Immunize the birds against pests from age 7-9 days. Ask a veterinarian or technician about the proper ways of immunization.

Chicken Brooder House

Observe chicks’ behavior since this is a good indication of brooding temperature. If it is too hot, chicks tend to stay away from the source of light. If it is too cold, chicks tend to stay very close to the brooder. A good indicator that you have achieved proper brooder temperature (adequately balanced between hot and cold) is when chicks are equally distributed in the brooder house.

Caring for Grower Native Chicken

After a month in the brooder house, chicks are transferred to a bigger place on the ground (hardening stage). The cage, which should measure 1 foot per head, is used until the chick reaches 2 ½ months. This process allows the chicks to adapt and get stronger before they are let loose in the range. The growing stage is from 2-5 months of age. The growing area should have grass and legumes to minimize the cost of feeds and ensure good health of the grower chicks. Immunization against pests (Avian Pest/Newcastle Disease) at 28-30 days of age and every fourth month thereafter should be done. Coordinate with a veterinarian or technician for proper immunization.

Housing

Native chickens should be provided with ample housing structures where they can roost during the night, find shelter during rainy weather, and build nests when they are of laying age. Provide adequate range type housing for growers and breeders with 1-2 square meters per bird. Put birds of uniform age in a house to prevent fighting and disease outbreak. For enhanced breeder egg production, place the birds in separate cages with nests and range. They should also be fed with laying rations mixed with local feed materials such as rice bran, rice hull, copra, and corn.

Feeding

Native chickens may be fed with regular feeds such as ground corn, rice hull, rice bran, copra meal, rice grits, corn bran, and even kitchen leftovers like rice, bread, and dessicated coconut. It is also recommended that chicks be given commercial starter feeds from hatching up to 1 month of age.

When the chick reaches 1 ½ months old, feeds may be gradually modified. The amount of commercial feeds may be reduced while regular feeds may be increased. The chicks should also be trained to feed on available sources in their surroundings.

Native chickens may be fed with feeds mixed at home with 50% rice bran, 20% corn, and 30% copra. If desired, the feed concentration may also be 75% of the said mix and 25% commercial feeds. Ensure that the feeder is filled no more than 1/3 its capacity to avoid feed wastage. 

Providing Health Care

The following are some guidelines to prevent diseases of native chickens:
– Ensure cleanliness of the housing area, feeders, waterers, and any other equipment prior to introducing a new flock.
– Provide the chickens with sufficient and balanced food nutrients to increase their resistance to diseases.
– Administer vaccines for Avian Pest and Avian Pox.

Treatment for Common Diseases of Chickens

Respiratory disease: Confine sick birds for 1 week and put medication in the water. Deprive the birds of water for 2-3 hours before allowing them to drink.

Fowl Pox: Put tincture of iodine on the wounds every day. Provide the birds with medicated water. Administer vaccine at 2 months of age to prevent Fowl Pox.

Avian Pest (NCD): Birds should be vaccinated against Newcastle Disease at 1 week of age or between 7-10 days of age; revaccinate at 28-30 days of age to prevent contracting pests since Avian Pest can wipe out a whole flock. Immediately separate sick birds from the healthy ones and confine them in another house/pen. Birds that die from sickness should be buried in the ground or burned.

Consult a veterinarian or technician once any unusual health condition is observed.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2016 issue.