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Country Chicken and Turkey

By DR. Venkatramana Hegde, Hosagadde. Director, Shramajeevi Television Pvt. Ltd. Bengaluru


Rural agricultural environment is the platform of bio-diversity. Plants- trees- animals and birds etc. get equal importance here with the man. Cattle goat sheep chicken are the important members of farm families. Country chickens were very common in the villages earlier. But now are seen rarely due to the popularity of broiler chicken in rural areas. Even the village goddesses like Maari and Maasti are getting these broilers only as offering. Improved standard of living and life style of rural people, commercial broiler farms in every village etc. have contributed a lot for this change. Commercial layer eggs are being used for medicines also. We do not know, whether this is right or wrong, but the changeover is quite evident.

People keep on searching for different and better tastes. Broiler chicken does not taste good for many of them after decades of its eating. They prefer country chicken now. The commercial poultry farmers are also in search of alternatives due to the monopolistic approach of integration companies. Poultry scientists are working hard on country birds to bring in diversity in poultry farming. Due to all these efforts country birds are coming to the main stream. This shift is quite evident in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and in few other states. Of course these traditional birds are not the competitors for commercial poultry birds. Instead they add better options in the menu of non-vegetarians. In Tamil Nadu these country birds are being reared on commercial scale already. This article explains everything on Country chicken and Turkey farming.

Poultry industry in India

Poultry farming is a big industry now. It is the livelihood for 3 million people in the country. The annual turnover is INR 350 billion. India stands in 2nd position in the world in poultry egg production and in 5th place in poultry meat. But this is the achievement of commercial poultry birds. As of now the contribution of country chicken is very less. But now these birds are coming to the main stream and getting commercial importance. Integration companies started operating exclusively for country birds. Their business is not very less than any commercial broiler integration company. The only difference is the multiple colours of these country birds!

Country chicken farming

Let us study the country chicken first. There is no particular named breed in this. The size and type of the bird varies from region to region. But still Aseel is the more common breed or type. These birds are categorized in to 3 types like small, medium and large. Small type grows up to 1 kilogram, the medium breed up to 1.5 to 1.7 kilogram and large type gain up to 2 kilograms. Identifying the difference among them is easy. The small types start laying eggs by 20th week, the medium breed by 25th week and the large type gives egg by 30th week. These are all multi-colored attractive birds. There are no separate breeds for egg and meet. Poultry scientists have bred hybrids by crossing pure country chicken and exotic breeds. They are GiriRaja, GiriRani, VanaRaja and so on. These birds gain 3 to 4-kilogram body weight and produce more number of eggs with low cost management. But these are good and limited to the kitchen gardens and are not adapted yet by commercial farms. Hence we have considered only the pure country chicken for this discussion.

Traditional country chicken is let out for grazing. It eats insects, seeds, earthworms and tender leaves of grass and weeds. Grains are fed in addition. Growth rate of these birds is very less. It takes 5 to 6 months to gain 1 to 1.25-kilogram body weight. But the taste and flavor of the meat of this naturally grown chicken is excellent. Slow growth and grazing add quality apart from its genetic composition. These chickens taste like broilers if fed completely with readymade poultry feed. This is the opinion of the consumers and chicken shop keepers. Commercial broiler chicken has more fat and average taste. Whereas country chicken has less fat, more taste and flavor.

Country chicken farming is limited only to meat production. Commercial layers produce 240 eggs per year, whereas the country birds give hardly 70 to 80 eggs. Layer egg is milky white and the average weight is 50 grams. Country chicken egg is pinkish in colour and weighs 40 grams. Cost of production of country chicken egg is almost INR 20 per egg. The small eggs which are not useful for hatching are sold in the super markets for INR 8 to 10. Hence country chicken farming for egg production cannot be a viable option.

Breeding of country chicken

Country chicken has no patented breed like commercial poultry birds. Hence anyone can go for breeding and chick production. At least one breeding farm per district will run and will enable small farmers to go for its farming. NABARD provides soft loan up to INR 3 million for country chicken breeding. We give brief explanation of country chick production for breeders. Here one has to maintain breeder stock of cocks and hens continuously. Birds with desired characteristics are bought from other farms or from countryside. For small numbers like 50 or 100, deep litter system of rearing on the floor will do. But fighting between cocks is a major problem. Birds damage the eggs if the collection is delayed. Hence the breeders with large number of hens and cocks go for cage system like commercial layer farm. These birds are fed with poultry feed with balanced nutrition to achieve maximum egg production and healthy chicks. Vaccines, medicines, vitamins etc. are given to avoid any health problem. Cock to hen ratio of 1:10 for deep litter system and 1:20 for cage system is advisable. These systematic farms use automatic feeder and water line with nipples.

Natural crossing takes place in deep litter system of rearing. But in cage system artificial insemination is followed to get fertilized eggs. Glass tube with valve like mouth is used for the collection of semen. Wash the tube and collect the semen. One tube of semen is sufficient to inseminate 10 hens. Experienced person can select the hen ready for mating by hand checking. Then insemination is done. Collection and transfer of semen should over within 10 minutes. Otherwise the viability comes down and the rate of fertilization will be less. Hens are inseminated once in two days.

Collect the eggs 2 to 3 times a day. It may be stored for 3 days in cool open place. It keeps good for 10 to 12 days in A/C at 19 centigrade temperature. Normally farmers take the eggs to the hatchery once in a week. For 10-20 hens hatchery is not necessary. But big farm needs incubator for good hatching. Incubation period is 21 days. Day old chicks are injected with 0.2 to 0.5 ml of vaccine against Mareks or big liver disease. Feed is not necessary for these small chicks for 2 to 3 days. The yolk inside will melt and release energy. Hence chick can be transported to any distance within 72 hours. Hatching percentage in commercial hatchery is 60 to 65. One can get even 70 to 80% hatching with better handling of eggs in all stages. These hatcheries charge 5 rupees per egg for hatching. Breeders sell these day old chicks for rupees 35 to 40 for farmers. Hens give good number of egg for 2 to 3 years under systematic management. But cocks are changed after one year to avoid inbreeding.

Management of country chicken


Now let us study the management of country chicken for meat production. First stage is called brooding. Day old chicks are kept at the rate of 10 chicks per square feet. Provide 98 Fahrenheit temperature in the beginning. That is 1 watt for each chick. Even wood charcoal pots are also in use as the source of heat. If the temperature is more the chicks move away from the source of heat. The chicks heap near the pot or bulb if the heat is less. With this observation adjust the amount of heat provided. Reduce the heat at the rate of 5 Fahrenheit once in 3 days. This brooding is for 8 days. Put paddy husk and paper on the ground for these chicks. Boiled drinking water is mixed with electrolyte powder, vitamin B complex, mild antibiotic and glucose. Chicks are fed with chick mash. Give enough attention during brooding. Chick mortality is 8 to 10 %. After 8 days, shift these chicks to the bigger shed at the rate of 5 chicks per square feet.

Regular broiler sheds are in use for these country birds as well. Let the height of the shed be 10 to 12 feet in the middle and 7 to 8 feet on either sides. Let the side wall be for 2 feet and mesh for remaining height. This allows free air circulation inside the shed. Let the roof be of AC sheet or GI sheet. Putting straw on the roof in the summer will reduce the heat inside. Mud floor in the shed is better since it absorbs moisture. But many farmers go for cement floor for easy management. Paddy husk is the better bedding material. But it is very costly now. Hence many farmers depend on coconut coir pith or groundnut shell. Let the litter be dry always. Remove the bedding after selling grown up birds. Clean the shed, spread lime powder on the floor and give white wash to the walls. Spray the shed and floor with 0.5% Malathion. Fumigation with formalin may also be carried out. Clean the mesh with gas burner. Put bleaching powder to the overhead water tank. Put new batch of chicks after 15 days of these cleaning work. In brief, the shed should be free from insects and pathogen before the entry of new batch of chicks. Extend the floor space for the chicks according to their growth. Each grown up bird needs 1 square feet space. Scrape the bedding once in a week to avoid flaking and retention of moisture. Otherwise it gives scope for the development of fungal pathogen.

Intensive farming

There are 2 methods of rearing of country chicken. First one is intensive system. Big farms feed the birds only with poultry feed. Feed is prepared with low protein formula. Starter feed is put from the beginning up to 25 days, pre-finisher from 25 to 50 days and finisher feed afterwards. Commercial broiler feed is costly and these country birds gain weight very fast. But these birds should grow slowly to produce good quality tasty meat. Hence commercial layer feed is used for these birds. 1 feeder and 1 waterer is enough for 25 birds. Feed is given thrice and water twice a day. These birds feeding only ready feed gain 1 to 1 kilogram body weight in 90 to 95 days and are sold at this stage. It fetches INR 150 to 180 per kilogram live weight. It is said that the country chicken depending totally on ready feed will be just as regular broiler in taste. However, lakhs of birds are being reared and sold in this method itself.


Semi-intensive farming

Another method of rearing of country chicken is semi-intensive system. Here the birds are fed only with ready layer feed for one month in the beginning. Later on each bird is given 30 gram of feed per day and rest is the green herbage. Many farmers use rice-finger millet-Sorghum-maize and other grains instead of ready feed. Tender grass, Sesbenia, drumstick leaves, Azolla etc. are fed as green feed. Few farmers cut regular grass in to small size in the chaff cutter and feed it to the birds. Birds willingly eat this grass pieces. Each country chicken consumes 3 kilograms of feed in 4 5 months. Only 2 kilograms of feed is sufficient if the green is fed. Farmer saves the cost on feed to that extent. But these birds take 4 months to gain necessary weight for culling. Many farmers leave the birds in the open farm for grazing instead of feeding green in the shed. Here the bird needs 5 months to gain weight. But the taste of the meat will be the best and is same as that of village bird. Hence it gets INR 180 to 200 per kilogram live weight. Many poultry scientists opine that the birds cannot digest the grass or greens. But others say that the green turns into many bi-products and used by the birds system even if it is not fully digested. The grazing birds eat insects, earth worms, seeds and fruits along with the greens and grow healthy. This method of rearing is suitable for most of the farmers with big farms.

Health management

Let us study the other aspects of management now. Intensive farmers go for de-beaking at 20th and 45th day stage. Beak is burnt to make it blunt with the help of an electric equipment. This is to avoid the damage while fighting between the birds. Ranikhet vaccine is put through the eye and nostril by 5th day. IBD vaccine is given by 15th day and Lasota by 35th and 65th day stage. Liver tonic is put at 4 to 5-week stage. This country chicken need not be given these many medicines. But the big farmers are not ready to take chance and risk. De-worming once in 2 months is necessary irrespective of the feeding system. Piperazine or Albendazole are mixed in drinking water for the purpose. According to the poultry scientists, vaccine for Ranikhet and Mareks disease and de-worming are enough for these country birds. Inject Mareks vaccine to day old chicks. Put Ranikhet vaccine through eyes by 5th day, in drinking water by 4th week and through injection when the body weight of the bird is 750 grams. Spread the lime powder on the litter once in a month in the summer and once in a week in humid season. This reduces the Ammonia smell and keeps the bed dry. This avoids the growth of pathogens.

Country chicken farming will not bring extra ordinary profit. Though it fetches double rate compared to commercial broiler, needs double time to gain weight. Cost of production is less, but each bird weighs maximum 1 kilogram in large scale farming. But it has minimum health problem and risk. Less work compared to commercial poultry farm. Country chicken gets local demand without the help of integration companies. This is profitable as a subsidiary enterprise with routine agriculture. Variation in temperature and climate will not affect these country birds a lot. The manure will be useful for the crops. Grazing birds will bring down the pest population on the farm. Initial investment is negligible in small scale farming of country birds.

The broiler farmers took lot of trouble in the beginning to make it popular. The same effort is being done in country chicken now. Commercial broiler meat has more fat and average taste. Though the bird weighs 2 kilograms, it is the chick of 35 to 45 days. Health conscious people are preferring country chicken in recent days. Hence these farmers are expecting bright future for country chicken farming. The small farmers are worried about the scale of commercial farming of country birds. They never expect it to become one more broiler industry with coloured birds. The better way is to bring hundreds of small farmers in semi-intensive system together for organized marketing. This country chicken was forgotten even by the villagers in recent years. But our nature has brought it to the main stream again. Looking to the trend the country chicken farming will grow on large scale in coming years.


Turkey bird farming


Turkey bird originates from Mexico. Share of Turkey bird is just 2% in the poultry meat production of India. Population of Turkey is increasing in recent years both for hobby and commercial purposes. We find many commercial farms of Turkey in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is the popular bird of USA, Canada and European countries. Turkey is called December Bird in India since it is consumed on large scale by Christians during Christmas. But now a days Dabas and big hotels of major cities are using Turkey for Biryani and other preparations around the year. Thus the December bird is becoming all season bird now.

Types of Turkey bird in farming

There are 3 types of Turkey bird in our country in farming. The large type from CPDO Bangalore, medium type from IVRI and mini type from Nandanam research station of Chennai. Among these 3, large type is more popular. There are again 2 breeds in this large type. One is Broad Breasted Bronze and another one is Broad Breasted White. Turkey likes green fodder. Rearing is easy. Male bird or Tom gains 8 to 10 kilogram and female or Hem gains 6 to 7 kilogram in 8 months under good management. Disease resistance of this bird is also good. Hence the farmers having protected farms can easily go for Turkey farming.

Housing for Turkey

Common broiler sheds are being used for Turkey also. Let the central height be 12 feet and big mesh windows on both sides of the shed. Fresh air circulation is most important for these birds. Otherwise it develops respiratory infections. Mud floor is better since it absorbs moisture. Paddy husk, coconut coir pith or ground nut shell is in use as litter material. Let the bed be of 6-inch depth. Feeders and waterers of the poultry farm are used here also. Fully grown up Turkey bird needs 3 to 4 square feet floor space in the shed.


Turkey attains sexual maturity by 30 weeks of age. Natural mating is allowed here. Let female to male ratio be 5:1. Each female gives 80 to 90 eggs per year. Egg is of large size and weighs 80 grams. There is no particular season for egg laying. Collect the eggs on hourly basis. Birds may damage the eggs if delayed a lot. It continues laying for 24 weeks. Store the eggs in a cool place for 2 3 days. Or it can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 week. For large scale poult or Turkey chick production, using hatchery is inevitable. Small farmers take the eggs to the hatchery once in a week. Though the eggs are edible and tasty, it is not being consumed in India.

Incubation period for Turkey eggs is 28 days. Average hatching is 65 to 70%. Day old chick weighs 50 grams. Commercial hatcheries charge INR 8 to 10 per egg for hatching. Private breeders sell day old chick for INR 50 to 60 to farmers. Brooding period in Turkey poults is 4 weeks. It will extend up to 5 to 6 weeks in the winter. Poults need double space in brooding compared to country chicks. Provide 95 Fahrenheit temperature in the beginning. Then reduce the heat at the rate of 5 Fahrenheit per week for 4 weeks. Let the depth of the waterer be less. Poults will not eat properly due to nervousness and bad eye sight. Initial 2 months are critical in Turkey farming. Chick mortality is up to 6 to 10%.

Management of Turkey farm

Starvation of the poults is a major problem. Hence take enough care for feeding. Add 100 ml of milk per liter of water and 1 boiled egg for 10 poults in drinking water. This is to supplement protein and energy. Keep coloured marbles in the feeders and waterers to attract the poults. Green herbage may also be put after cutting in to small pieces. Put paddy husk on the floor. Scrape the bed once in 2 days to avoid flaking. Cover the windows in areas with high velocity wind and during winter. This keeps the atmosphere warm inside the shed. All these precautions bring down the mortality of poults.

Increase the floor space according to the growth of the birds. Keep enough number of feeders and waterers. Few farms make water channel for drinking water. Turkey likes green fodder very much. Birds may be let out for grazing if the farm has enough space with greens. One-acre garden is sufficient for 200 to 250 grown up Turkey birds. Otherwise fodder may be hanged in the shed itself. It may be fed after cutting with chaff cutter. Feed the poults for 1 month with readymade poultry feed. In the later stage it may be fed with 25% feed and 75% green. This brings down the cost of feeding and the bird grows healthy. Grazing land should have enough shade. Grazing Turkey bird eats earth worms, snails, termites and other insects apart from green leaves. Proteinaceous fodders like Lucerne, Stylozanthus and Azolla etc. may also be fed. Feeding 30 to 40 grams of shell grit per bird per day will supplement calcium and strengthen the legs.

Turkey bird can be chased in the shed with a stick in hand. It can be caught easily in dark. Hold the bird with the legs, not by its wings. De-beaking by 3 to 5 weeks will reduce the habit of feather picking. Disease resistance of Turkey is more than other poultry birds. Put Fowl Pox vaccine by 4 to 5-week stage. Maintain hygiene in the Turkey shed to avoid coccidiosis. See that the litter is dry always. Put Ranikhet vaccine once by 5 to 7 days, again by 4th week and one more dose by 750-gram body weight of the bird. Ensure fresh air circulation in the Turkey shed to avoid respiratory diseases. Treat the birds for cold and cough as and when required.

Economics of Turkey farming

Tom or male Turkey gains 7 kilogram and Hem or female gains 5 to 5 kilogram by 4 to 5 months under good management. This is the right stage for culling. Many farmers grow Turkey in groups and sell in bulk in December. Turkey meet is white, lean and has less cholesterol. Dressed meat percentage is highest in Turkey among all poultry birds. It is 80 to 85 %. The taste of the meat is also good. Van Koli Biryani or Turkey Biryani is very popular in Dabas and big hotels in Tamil Nadu on all regular days. The demand and price is better in December. Turkey fetches INR 130 to 150 per kilogram body weight of the bird. Shivaji Nagar of Bengaluru and Goa are the best markets in South India.

The country birds are not the alternatives or competitors for commercial poultry chicken. But these birds adapt better to the rural conditions of India. This can be an alternative subsidiary activity with routine agriculture. Introduce these new birds slowly in the local markets. Demand will grow along with the increase in strength of birds on your farm. Support for these country birds is good from the government veterinary department and research stations. Let our young farmers utilize this opportunity. Country bird farming will definitely improve the rural economy in coming years. Namaskar.