Almost all rural households in Ethiopia, except pastoral areas, own chickens.
The flock size may range from one to as many as 50 or more chickens. It is common to see chickens scavenging around the homestead. They are of diverse colours, feather types, comb types etc. The crowing of the cocks and the cackling of the hens is part of the tranquility, rather than a disturbance, of the remote rural areas.
Under normal condition hens lay eggs, hatch and brood their chicks with care and protection. They ward off the predators as much as possible, though at times they are likely to lose some of the chicks. Seeing the chicks grow sows hope to the household. The young think of the new clothes or the educational materials that could be bought from the proceeds at the beginning of the year. The women think of how they make use of the proceeds for the good of the household. The men think of the good time they may have with their fellow farmers around a local booth.
Consultations may take place between men and women on which chick to sell, which one to use for a coming festival, which one to keep as a replacement and possibly which one to slaughter and prepare for an important visit to a friend or relative.
Amidst this hope a ‘thunderbolt’ sometimes strikes. All of a sudden all the chickens which were lively change, their radiant feather becomes dull, some show paralysis, become become sluggish, defecate green diarrhoea and start dying one by one.
Alas, all the hope is gone. Owners will be forced to sell the remaining few lest they may also die. Very few survive the epidemic to serve as seed for the coming period.
This is the real picture of chicken production in rural Ethiopia.
The main culprit is a viral disease known as Newcastle Disease and causes a huge recurrent annual loss. Vaccine is available to protect the chicken from getting the disease. However, the vaccines which are produced by the National Veterinary Institute (NVI) are available in large-dose packs (500 and above) and target commercial and semi-commercial farms with large flock size.
As the numbers of chickens per household or per neighborhood in the rural areas are quite small, it becomes difficult to get the chickens vaccinated using large dose vaccines. The Institute has identified the production of small dose vaccines as an important activity and this was also stressed by stakeholders during the first National Innovation Platform meeting of the African Chicken Genetic Gains (ACGG) project in Ethiopia.
NVI has taken the responsibility to produce smaller dose vaccines than those being produced in the past. Now production of vaccines with packs of 50 and 100 doses has started and it is believed that households in a neighborhood can get doses that will be appropriate to vaccinate their chicken. The ACGG project will be among the first to use and promote small dose vaccines, and along with other stakeholders of the platform, will look forward to seeing the impact of such small number dose vaccines in controlling Newcastle disease.