Livestock Research for Rural Development 25 (6) 2013 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Indigenous chicken production systems in villages in the south of Tunisia

M Ben Larbi, N M’hamdi and B Haddad

Laboratoire des ressources animales et alimentaires, Institut National Agronomique de Tunisie,
43 Avenue Charles Nicole, 1082 Tunis, Tunisia


A study was undertaken to characterize indigenous chickens in South of Tunisia in terms of the environment they live in, management, flock structures, uses, performance and phenotypes. Data were captured using a structured questionnaire administered to 283 respondents and involved 4128 indigenous chickens. Data were analyzed by descriptive statistical methods, having been collated as absolute figures or percentages.

Although there is no generally accepted definition for rural poultry production system, the system is characterized by small flocks, minimal input and output. Study regions and corresponding market sheds differed significantly in the number of chicken owned per household.

Keywords: indigenous chickens, production-systems


In developing countries, indigenous chicken’s production systems are changing and the promotion of using exotic breeds leads to dilution or loss of adapted breeds to the environment (Arnold and Rochambeau 1983). Generally, indigenous chickens are kept by households using family labour and occasionally use commercially and locally available feed resources. They are usually kept under scavenging production systems often with very limited application of management interventions to improve flock productivity. Indigenous chickens are of great importance to smallholder farmers in Tunisia but they face the challenge of improving productivity of their flock that could benefit them by increasing financial and food. Indigenous chickens, which are managed under extensive systems account for 99 % of the total chicken population in Tunisia. This indicates that traditional chicken keeping is practiced by virtually every family in rural Tunisia in general, and in southwest Tunisia in particular. It contributes in food production and provides protein for the rural population creates employment and generates family income. There are few or no effective programs aiming to improve these populations (FAO 2001).

There is also a niche demand on products from local breeds of fowls where consumers prefer the more intense taste of their meat and eggs. Based on the above considerations, especially for the positive impact chickens could play in rural poverty alleviation strategies. However, the state of production and development is not well known. This paper was initiated to study the present state of the Tunisian indigenous rural poultry and to suggest strategies for its enhancement. Family poultry production in Tunisia is spread all over the country without much input. It is a low input-low output profitable system with little care and with almost no extra supplementary feeding. Information on the family poultry is scarce. Improvement programs cannot be chalked out due to lack of accurate data on production of family poultry. Many surveys concluded on Tunisia (Raach et al 2011; El Ghozzi 2007; Ben Larbi 2006; Bessadok et al 2003) that there was a great variation between villages in regard to the types of performance of each village poultry flock. However the cause of this variation was not known and too little quantitative data were available on the performance of family chickens. This study was undertaken to provide data which will help to overcome the lack of knowledge regarding production and utilization patterns of family poultry and the income generated in rural households through poultry rearing.

Materiels and methods

Description of the study areas

The study was carried in ten villages selected from two districts; Tozeur, and Gafsa which are located, respectively at 33°917 and 34°417, latitude and 8°133 and 8°817, longitude. They receive average annual rainfall of 50 and 80 mm with temperatures ranging, respectively from 30.5 - 50 and 42 - 55°C. They are spread over an area of 5592, 87 and 7807 Km2. (figure.1).

Figure 1: Study area

They were selected after consultation of key informants (elders), agricultural officers at bureau of agriculture, zonal and district levels. In addition, an informal rapid field survey was conducted using a checklist with the specific objective of exploring the available knowledge about the type, distribution, importance, management systems, morphological and phenotypic characteristics of indigenous chickens in South west of Tunsia. Apart from visual appraisal of the appearance of the chickens observed, random open-ended discussions were held with farmers using a checklist. Based on the outcomes of the informal field survey and agro-ecological coverage (high altitude, mid altitude and low altitude), a total of eight districts were purposely chosen from four zones representing Southwest Tunsia. Within each locality, peasant associations, villages and households were further selected based on random sampling methods. Smallholder farmers keeping indigenous chickens in 10 villages of Tozeur and Gafsa districts were the target population (Table 1).

Table 1: Indigenous poultry breeders’ distribution in the study area




Frequency (%)























El Guettar

El Ksar

Sidi Aïch

El Snad















Data Collection Approach

Data for this study was collected through a cross-sectional stratified random sample survey of smallholder households in Tozeur and Gafsa districts of Southwest Tunisia. The data collected focused on environment interaction with management, livestock system, animal populations managed, number of males, females and young animals, animal housing, Feeding system, reproduction system, health and sanitary status, management results and marketing systems. In total, 284 households were participated in the interviews, which were conducted using a structured questionnaire. 4128 chickens were inventoried. Visual appraisal of the appearance of the indigenous chicken types was undertaken for morphological description. The history, origin, and distribution, typical features and types of the local chicken found were recorded by consulting the farmers. The interviews were conducted at the farmers’ residences with the support of the Office of Livestock and Pastures regional agencies

Statistical analysis

Descriptive statistics such as mean, range, frequency and percentage were used to analyze the data using SAS software (SAS Institute 2000).

Resultats and discussion

Data description

The survey covered 283 breeds. We counted the number of cocks, hens and chicks by village. The highest effective of cocks and hens were found in the village of Dguech: 106 cocks and 636 hens, the highest effective of chicks was found in Gafsa district. The totals of poultry effective by governorate and by village are given in table 2.

Table 2: Total of poultry number per village in the Study area





























































El Guettar







El Ksar







Sidi Aïch







El Snad












Genetic types and strains reared

Phenotypically, the main genetic types of Gallus gallus show a colorful feather pattern that varies in shape and size due to a great genetic variability. The population or genetic resources or strains also possess genes relevance such as naked neck (Na), dwarf (dw) and frizzle (F), which could be useful in genetic improvement programs. Other characteristics of the rural chicken are the presence of crested head (Cr), feathered shanks (Pti), simple (r+, p+) to rose (R p+), walnut (R P)or pea comb (P r+), and polydactyl (Po) phenotypes. The chicken populations from the different study villages showed a large variation in body position, feather distribution, plumage color, comb type and down colour and production and productivity which agrees with other findings in Tunisia (Raach et al 2011) and elsewhere (Tadelle and Ogle 2001) Our results are in agreement with theses of Kingori et al (2010). The authors reported that in most developing countries indigenous chicken populations are the result of uncontrolled cross breeding programs between various lines of local and exotic breeds. In Tunisia, few studies (Raach et al 2011) were reserved to local poultry. They showed that these animals present important phenotypical heterogeneities, characterized by a multiplicity of colouring of the torce of the skin and plumage, a heterogeneous body conformation, a varied distribution of plumage on the different parts of body and structure (smooth and curly), various types of crest, varied sizes (normal or dwarf) and different natures of the peak.


The study showed that 67% of the farmers do not buy birds from outside to improve their flocks; replacement is exclusively with their own birds and 80% of them purchase chickens from outside, and from neighbors. This pattern is common to all villages of our study area. They use only local breeds of chicken. Farmers usually prefer to purchase adult birds rather than young ones. In all villages, the most important selection criteria for purchasing birds are body size/weight, followed by number of eggs laid and disease/heat resistance.


Housing is essential to chickens as it protects them against predators, theft, rain, sun, cold wind and dropping night temperatures. Moreover, it provides shelter for egg laying and broody hens. In the present study, the birds are mostly left to scavenge for feeds during the day and confined at night. Birds of all ages live and scavenge together. Drinking water is irregularly provided in tins or broken clay pot pieces. These results are consistent with Fisseha (2009) and Dinka et al (2010) who reported the utilization of separate overnight houses for chickens. Another type of livestock is widespread in our study area is the confinement housing. Chicken kept generally with other animals such as sheep, goats and cattle or other animals of backyard. Atunbi and Sonaiya (1994) and Yongolo (1996) have shown cases where no housing or shelter is provided. Chickens are left to scavenge during the day and are confined in shelters of moderate cost at night.


After hatching, the chicks were allowed to forage and roam freely with their mothers in open areas near the home and surroundings. It is clear from the results that 87% of the chickens are managed under a traditional or extensive chicken management system. 90% of the farmers provided supplementary feeding to their chickens, once per day, with maize, barley, wheat, and household waste products. And chickens of different age groups were fed together. This result is similar to the results of work done in Zimbabwe by Mapiye and Sibanda (2005), Mcainsh et al (2004) and Halima (2007). Furthermore, chickens are able to supplement their diet by finding glasses and shellfish in the earth and waste. Chickens are left to scavenge during the day and are confined in shelters of moderate cost at night. They get supplementation with grains fodder, hay, dates, bread and left over food.

Health status of the rural chicken

The rural chicken living environment is conducive to many epizootic diseases that negatively affect their livability. Newcastle disease is the major threat, killing yearly 60% to 99% of the flock, especially during transitions between seasons as reviewed by Alexander (1991), Awan (1993) and Yongolo (1996). Chicken disease symptoms varied and were composed of cough, diarrhea, dizziness, ataxia, sudden death, apathy, swollen head and shanks, pendiculous crop, scabies on eye lids and comb. These diseases were more prevalent in the rainy than the dry season (November to March). There is no follow-up by veterinarians, except some breeders who use the vaccines at the beginning of April and November. It was observed the use of Vinegar, sodium hypochlorite and aspirin diluted with water as disinfectant.

Performances of indigenous chicken

Indigenous chicken are a heterogeneous population with no standardized characteristics and performance. The rural is numerically important in Tunisia but fails to provide the expected output. This is mainly due to environmental and genetic constraints as depicted below for improvement prospects. The rural genetic types of chicken are less performing than improved exotic breeds/strains. Growth is slow while egg production is irregular, interrupted by hen high and mating is random given ways to unwanted inbreeding. The local chicken production system was familial and extensive in the study area. Only one parent was known (the hen) and rarely both (the male and the female parent).

This study found that sexual maturity is attained at 5 months for female and at. 6 months for male. The age at first egg ranged between 5-6 months. These results are in agreement with the found of Kugonza et al (2008) and Aboe et al (2006). The number of eggs lay per female per week ranged between 3 and 7. The incubation was natural according to all chicken breeders and less than 1% practiced occasionally the artificial incubation. The reproduction was not seasonal in the two areas and there was no evidence of a peak period for lying throughout. The choice of the breeding animals (male and female) was made essentially at random in the two regions; it was very difficult for farmers to express any breeding objective, which could be considered in a breeding program involving selection within local populations or crossing with exotic breeds or commercial lines.

Marketing status

Generally, production eggs and meat are devolved for the family own consumption, in addition to the direct sale of live animals. Indigenous are very popular chicken meat to the consumers, they are harder than the exotic breeds of broiler and the taste, flavor and juiciness are almost similar to the exotic strain. Reasons attributed to the high prices of rural chicken meat and eggs stem from popular belief that rural eggs are more delicious with its deeper yellow yolk than intensively reared eggs. Indigenous chickens are kept for both egg and meat production. The eggs produced are used for brooding, trade and home consumption. Depending on the location of the farm dwelling, birds and eggs are taken by the farmer to the local market and sold to traders or directly to consumers. Traders from urban areas buy eggs in village markets to sell in big cities or to owners of restaurants. The price of eggs was directly related to supply and demand as well as the Ramadan month. The income derived from the sale of chickens and eggs is used to purchase consumable food items, for school fees, grain milling services, purchasing of improved seeds of maize, wheat and other expenses. Most of the consumers prefer to buy eggs and chickens from producers of indigenous birds, since they are considered to be tasty, and the dark colored egg yolks are commonly favoured. Birds were brought to the local market once or twice a week to be sold to local consumers, or to local traders. People carry their chickens to the market on foot as there is no access to transport. The price of live chickens is affected by seasonal demand (holidays and fasting seasons), lack of infrastructure, plumage colour, size, age, sex, market site and the health status of the birds.



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Received 5 April 2013; Accepted 3 May 2013; Published 2 June 2013

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