By Herbert Musoke
The National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) has introduced an improved indigenous chicken breed that attains a weight of 2.3kg in five months.
This is meant to enable farmers get high returns from the venture. This is among a number of innovations under the Feed the Future project funded by the United States Agency for International Development.
The project is aimed at making agriculture productive and profitable by boosting private sector investment.
The second objective is to increase Ugandans’ opportunities in both local and international markets.
The other innovations are a planter, weeder for ox-ploughs as well as new finger millet and sorghum varieties.
The innovations are aimed at easing farming and increasing production and productivity at household levels.
Improved local chicken
The main aim of the project is to produce a local chicken breed that matures quickly just like exotic ones, explains Henry Mulindwa, the project principal investigator working with the National Livestock Resources Research Institute under NARO.
Regular local breeds take a year to attain a weight of 2kg, while the improved breeds do this in only five months. Its anticipated farm-gate price is sh30,000. With the improved ones, a farmer can stock twice a year, earning more than from regular breeds that have one cycle in the same period.
Research and innovation
Mulindwa says the local chickens from which the improved breed was developed were collected from regions known for keeping them.
“We collected chicken from Lira, Apac, Gulu, Serere, Katakwi and Soroti districts, which made up the foundation stock. The criteria were the weight, height, egg size and vigour. They were all measured and those from Lira and Apac performed better than those from other districts,” Mulindwa says.
The chickens were put in one place and the second screening for age done.
“During the selection, the mark for cocks was set higher than that of hens since they carry the genes and can fertilise many hens to produce chicks with the needed traits for commercial purposes. The cream of the cream is selected,” he says.
All were exposed to the same conditions and by week 16, all those that did not meet the perimeters were dropped.
Those that passed the test made the parent stock. By five months, the females should weigh 1.5-1.8kg and the cocks 2-2.3kg.
“They are still being screened so that this weight can be attained at three to four months like in broilers. The unimproved breeds take a year to attain this weight, which made thebusiness unviable,” Mulindwa says.
The process is now in the third generation and after the sixth, focus will turn to other traits like colour.
“Some customers may be looking for a particular colour,” he says.
Regarding feeding, Muhammed Kiggundu, a poultry researcher with Mukono Zonal Research and Development Institute (MUZARDI), says for now they have been mixing feed using broken maize, bran, premix and other ingredients tailored to local chicken.
The feeds also include Russian comfrey grass. Consequently, the researchers have developed formulations that include starter, grower and finisher feeds to make local poultry a profitable business.
“If we want local chicken to be taken as a business by farmers, we need to be judicious with the inputs so as to be efficient and cost-effective such that farmers can make a profit,” Kiggundu says.
The researchers are now in the final stage of testing the finish feed before partnering with private processors for mass production.
The project has hatcheries at Mukono, Wakiso and one in the eastern region, where one-day-old chicks are produced and sold to farmers, says Rosette Nangonzi, a supervisor at MUZARDI.
“The market is very huge. We can’t meet it because the Parish Development Model groups are considering local chicken as their business. The chicks used to be collected by farmers when they were a week old or even younger,” she says.
However, in the first month, many farmers were facing challenges with brooding and vaccination, yet this is when the skeleton forms and other important organs that determine its growth and productivity.
To minimise losses, MUZARDI now broods the chicks and sells them when they are four weeks old.
A one-day-old chick goes for sh5,000, while a month-old one goes for sh18,000, which covers the cost of fuel for warming them, feeds and vaccination, among others.
The research is also looking at semi-intensive system, where the chicks can be let to feed on grass outside the brooder, especially Russian comfrey, but in a space enclosed with chain link fence.
In 2019, researchers set out to come up with innovations that can make it easy for the farmers to manage their gardens and maximise production and productivity, explains Nelson Ewadu, the animal instructor at the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Serere district.
“To attain this, we innovated SAALI ox plough with planter and weeder implements, which make farming cheaper, faster and easier than conventional means. These are separate implements that can be attached on a plough frame if a farmer already has one and uses the same animals,” he says.
The ox planter has two containers, one for seed and the other fertiliser. It is made with a rotating wheel with shape hole short pipes that dig holes in the ground and drop seeds and fertilisers.
“It is the yoke that we change according to the particular crop seed we are going to plant because they differ inside. We, therefore, change the yoke according to the size of the holes in it to allow seeds to pass through. The holes are made in a given spacing forproper spacing,” he says.
John Obuo, an animal instructor at NaSARRI, says the oxen are first trained if one is to use them for planting or weeding.
“The training may take two to three weeks. They are mainly trained on how to follow a tape at the beginning and later the row that has been made. These animals should be healthy, well-fed and trained together and over two years old. They should be replaced when they are five to six years old,” he says.
Obuo says one needs three people to operate the oxen. Using ox plough planters, one can cultivate two to three acres in one day, one day, compared to using 30 workers for the same. If each worker is paid sh10,000, one will part with sh300,000.
Ewadu says the weeder is at its final stage and is expected to go for sh80,000, which will be the same as the planter when completed.
The plough costs sh450,000. The weeder is used to weed between rows and then a farmer will have to weed around the plants with a hand hoe or by hand picking.
National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute is coming up with three new finger millet varieties (Naro Mil 1-2 and Serem 2), four new varieties for sorghum (Naro Sog 1-2) and one for green gram (Narogram 2), explains Scovia Adikini, a crop breeder.
She says they are producing foundation seeds and then work with farmers to multiply the seed for sale.
Adikini adds that apart from producing new crop varieties, they work with farmer groups to teach them the best agronomic practices of planting in lines and rows, use of fertilisers, pest and disease management, as well as proper post-harvest management.
LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: John Obuo (left), an animal instructor at NaSARRI, demonstrating how to use an ox-planter.