The present era’s Pakistan is cradle of animal domestication. The well known civilizations of Gandhara, Mohan jododo, and Mehergarh are the inimitable examples. The ruins excavated from the said civilizations, resulted in finding the sculptures of many important livestock species, especially, cattle, equids, sheep, goat and chicken. The native/indigenous chicken is the descendant of the said chicken of old ages. Exception to the industrial breeds, there are three main strains of the native chicken; i.e. Agro-pastoralist strain (Watani or Desi), Pastoralist strain (Pahwali), and Agrarian/Riverine strain (Desi and naked neck). Aseel (Kulengi) breed is additional to the above said breeds/strains. It is a large sized breed and usually use for cock fighting as a game bird.
Chicken Genetic Resources of Pakistan
- The Agro-pastoralist chicken, usually known as Watani or Desi is found with the semi-pastoralists communities of the country. This breed is also widely adapted by the agrarian societies of the country because of its special traits of adaptation and production in zero input systems. This chicken is found in almost all parts of the country, producing 50-60 eggs annually. Broodiness is the salient feature and is highly adapted to local conditions. Such breeds usually depend on the kitchen waste and vegetation of the nearby.
- The Pastoralist chicken is known as Pahwali or Kochani, it is highly adapted and produces 40-50 eggs annually. This breed is trans-boundary and found in the bordering areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pashtun nomads are the custodian of this breed. This breed also gets broody and depends on the rangelands’ vegetation, seeds and insects.
- Agrarian/Riverine strain (Desi and naked neck), it is found in Indus delta (the warmest region of Pakistan), produces comparatively more eggs than the other Desi strains. This strain is getting popularity both at national and international levels because of its unique potential to resist high temperatures. This breed can be a good tool to create sustainable chicken production system in global warming scenario. This breed/strain also gets broody and depends on the kitchen waste and cereals.
- Aseel (Kulengi) is one the distinctive breed, usually use for game (cock fighting) and meat purpose. This breed is predominantly use by the agrarian communities and hobbyists’. The bird gets larger size and attains good weight when enough feed is provided. This chicken is usually feed enough with grains and oil seed to make it vigorous and strong. In some parts of the country, it is getting importance as meat animal (desi meat). The meat is very much liked by the society and now its meat is available in luxury hotels in big cities.
Past Efforts to Improve Egg production at Rural Level
In different time period of Pakistan, exotic (pure or crossbred) chicken breeds were introduced to improve egg production. The aims of such intervention were either to upgrade local breed or to commence a new breed with high production potential. Introduction of exotic breeds (pure or crossbred) and other inputs from central facilities were not sustainable. As soon as the development projects ended, the new breeds introduced also disappeared.
FAO introduced Fayoumi and Doki in Pakistan several years ago. Today they may be found, if at all, only as a fancy breed or mixed with native breeds. Such projects make good reports but the breeds are forgotten with the end of projects. The only breed that survives sustainably in the rural areas are native breeds (already discussed briefly).
Unfortunately, the western educated poultry and rural development experts do not like these native chicken breeds. They look for an ideal breed that produces more eggs, larger sized eggs, has higher body weight, do not get broody, etc. However, scientist can develop a breed like that (RIR-Fayoumi Crosses). But the million dollar question is whether a breed like that can survive in the rural areas. This cannot be bear by a country like Pakistan. It can survive and produce so long as the necessary inputs like feed, shelter, health cover and better overall management are provided.
We forget that the indigenous scavenging breeds that produces only some 60 eggs (on average) do so at virtually zero input (no cost). Several trials have established that these birds have the genetic potential to produce around 100 eggs or so. These are producing 60 eggs only because they can scavenge only enough feed to produce only that many eggs. Every few years or so there is news about a new rural breed. But few years later no one hears about them because these disappear into oblivion with the development projects that introduced them and what remains is the original scavenging indigenous breeds. Frankly speaking, there is nothing between the scavenging indigenous breed and the modern hybrid chickens. There are really two options for development of poultry in the rural areas:
The indigenous breeds have been around for hundreds of years and are well adapted to the areas. Their major problem is high mortality due to diseases like Newcastle, Pox, new respiratory disease and parasitic infestation. These can be easily prevented through vaccinations and treatment. Training rural women in these skills have been very effective. This has drastically reduced mortality and empowered women.
Universities and other public sector institutions can play a bridging role as; to improve indigenous breeds with some necessary inputs, producing specialized lines and distribute among women’s cooperative societies through the involvement of the local NGOs etc. Universities and communities linking is one of the top priorities of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan. These cooperative farming is sustainable particularly those that are close to markets for eggs and birds for meat. Once the farmers are organized and poultry farms operational, these will become self supporting because there are no operational subsidies in this enterprise.