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Increasing Protein to Poultry

Frances D. Burton (University of Toronto at Scarborough, Dept. of Anthropology) and Peter G. Silverman (Ombudsman, CITY TV, Toronto)


Poultry can be an important source of food following drought and crop failure. Unfortunately, reduced staple crop production also affects the chickens so that they become scrawnier and less able to produce eggs thereby detracting from their potential contribution to human diet. The article below suggests one rather innovative means by which the nutrition of poultry may be safeguarded in times of drought and food scarcity. Eds


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Chickens are unable to manufacture 10 necessary amino acids or the B vitamins1. They therefore require a diet high in protein. In addition, they require fats and carbohydrates, and cannot exist on high fibre diets. When NGOs or the FAO have taken a role in the improvement of family poultry farming in the developing world, the diet endorsed is varied, comprised of grains and tubers "for energy" (millet, sorghum, maize, sweet potatoes, and even cassava); meals for protein (sunflower cake, fish meal, cotton seed cake, maize germ, soya cake, meat and bone meal) and vegetables "for vitamins" (green grass, green kale, and cabbage)2 and green seaweed3. The grains are given as a supplement to foraging4 with millet recommended as the best grain for protein supplementation in chickens. Where these are unavailable, leaf meals have been used5, and recent research suggests that the seeds of the Croton tree are valuable in supplying necessary oils and proteins1. In the search for less expensive, natively available food for chickens, recent studies suggest that tobacco seed cakes6, or even molasses from sugar cane residue7, can be reasonably and productively utilised, and that meal from azolla, snails or rice polishings are comparable to maize-soybean meal diets8.

Frances on location in Les Cayes, Haiti

In Haiti, however, farmers often are unable to purchase any form of supplementation for their poultry, relying on the birds to forage for themselves. In addition, water is seldom if ever made available, as the labour to do so where there is not a readily accessible source, precludes it. Where the daily wage is $1.00 US, and the local medical fee $1.50, high quality feed is a luxury. The result is poor production from the poultry both in eggs and meat. During the course of participating with Habitat for Humanity in Les Cayes, Haiti, we developed a solution to the vexing problem of how to increase protein intake to poultry where there is neither sufficient labour to care for them, nor financial resources to provide high quality feed for them. The land thereabouts is steeply sloped, but mostly cleared and grassy, with a few trees, and some shrubs and bushes at the foot. The heat and humidity are high. Chickens are left to find forage wherever they wander. They are thin, muscular and do not contribute greatly to the diet. The project was to build a house of two rooms; the kitchen and toilet would be outside the building. The materials were locally made concrete blocks. The site was compacted clay, laboriously dug by hand for the footings. In the course of constructing the home, we stacked the concrete blocks at the foot of the slope leading to the site for easy access. While the house site and the surrounding grassy area were extremely hot with little shade, the concrete bricks provided an environment that was cool and moist. It became attractive, therefore, as a habitat for a variety of arthropods and small vertebrates. The chickens soon learned to gather when the blocks were removed. The forage provided them with a plentiful and varied diet, high in fats and protein. Insects compare favourably with beef in these nutrients9. One-hundred grams of caterpillars, for example, provide 28.2 gms of protein, 35.5 mg of iron, and 10.8 mg. of three major B vitamins, while 100 gms of lean, ground beef provides 27.4 gms of protein, only 3.5 mg. of iron, and a total of just over 6 mgs. of the three B vitamins. This means of increasing nutrient for chickens requires one or a few concrete blocks, bricks, or large stones. The forage underneath would provide an important source of protein and fats to make a significant difference in size, weight and quality of eggs and meat. This method has the advantage of requiring no assistance from any organisation, nor reallocation of finances to enhance flock value.

For further information contact: Frances Burton, University of Toronto at Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario M1C 1A4, Canada. e-mail:

Show footnotes

1Thijssen, Rik. Croton megalocarpus, the poultry-feed tree: how local knowledge could help to feed the world. Domestication and commercialization of non-timber forest products in agroforestry systems. Non-Wood Forest Products 9. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

2Sonaiya, E.B. Rural family poultry in Kenya. INFPD Newsletter Vol. 8 No. 3.

3Zahid, P.B., Aisha, K., Ali, A., 1995. Green seaweed as component of poultry feed. Bangladesh Journal of Botany. 24:(2)153-156 (DEC)

4Dieng, A., Guèye, E.F., Mahoungou-Mouelle N. M. and and A. Buldgen, 1999. Effect of diet and poultry species on feed intake and digestibility of nutrients in Senegal. INFPD Newsletter Vol. 8 No. 3. [INTERNATIONAL NETWORK FOR FAMILY POULTRY DEVELOPMENT].

5Donkoh, A., Atuahene, C.C., Poku-Prempeh, Y.B., and I.G. Twum, 1999. The nutritive value of chaya leaf meal (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Mill.) Johnston): studies with broiler chickens. Animal Feed Science and Technology.77:(1-2)163-172 (FEB 15)

6Gonzalez, L.M., Lonwo, E., Perez, N., Gonzalez, J.L., and O. Gutierrez. 1992. Evaluation of Tobacco Seed Cake as Protein-source in Poultry Diet. Cuban Journal of Agricultural Science 26:(2)171-175. (July)

7Waliszewski, K.N., Romero, A., and V.T. Pardio. 1997. Use of cane condensed molasses solubles in feeding broilers. Animal Feed Science and Technology.67:(2-3)253-258 (July).

8Ali, Ma, and S. Leeson. 1995. The Nutritive-value of some Indigenous Asian Poultry Feed. Animal Feed Science and Technology. 55(3-4)227- 237. (Oct).

9Lyon, Wm. F. Insects as Human Food HYG-2160-96. edu/~ohioline/hyg-fact/2000/2160.html

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Frances D. Burton and Peter G. Silverman (). Increasing Protein to Poultry. Field Exchange 8, November 1999. p11.



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