Some of the selected hens in the semi intensive unit at MUARIK

Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environment Sciences (CAES) has launched an incubator with the capacity of 1000 eggs at the University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo (MUARIK ) for training , research and farmers capacity building

The shs. 4.5 million incubator was locally made in Uganda by Butenga Farmers, a company based in Kiira but, if imported, it costs 10 million shillings. The incubator is to serve the university for teaching courses on poultry production, hatchery management and for people who want to do experiments.

The incubator was procured under the Native Chickens Project funded by the African Union (2019-2021). It is a collaboration between institutions from two countries -Mozambique and Uganda with the project lead at Eduardo Mondlane university Mozambique.

Project leader, Dr. Donald Kugonza, MUARIK Director Dr. Okello Cyrus Ongom and Senior Pig AI Technicial Mr. Robert Natumanya pose for photo at the Boar stud site

At Makerere University, the project is spearheaded by Dr. Donald Rugira Kugonza from the Department of Agricultural Production.

The project broad objectives are to increase the number of eggs and the amount of meat produced by the local chickens and to evaluate the effective models or processes to disseminating improved chicken technologies in Uganda and Mozambique.

One of the main challenges of producing chickens generally is that, a hen lays may be 10-15 eggs and takes a period of three weeks to incubate and hatch them and another period of six weeks looking after the chicks which is about 10 weeks lost in terms of egg production. So, if the chicken is doing that three times a year, it has limited time to produce eggs as it spends more time on mothering.

The project researchers carried out surveys in 60 districts of Uganda, collected 2000 eggs from 40 districts incubated, hatched and evaluated them for growth rate and egg production.

Dr. Okello Cyrus Ongom (R) checking what is in the incubator after the launch

The project targets to breed local chickens that can produce 100 eggs per year per hen as opposed to the current production of 30-45 eggs and also reduce the market growth rate from the current 6 months to 3 months.

The project has selected 40 cocks and 40 hens as a parent stock for good egg production and growth rate and is now in at its second round of selection. 2000 more chicks are expected to be produce this year 2021

The incubator is in part to support  egg production without the mothers and also to test how farmers in the villages can be able to use this technology of incubating and brooding chicks that come out in  a large batch say, 200 birds at ago so that they have  better access to inputs.

For example, if a farmer has two birds that have hatched ten chickens and another has six, it is hard to vaccinate them because the vaccine comes in doses of 500. In addition, If farmers are organized in groups and   breeding in a group with quality eggs that can be fertilized, they can incubate then in one incubator, produce batches of chicks every week that can be managed together in terms of brooding, stocking, vaccination and also reach marketing age at the same time for collective bargain and better pricing.

Dr. Okello Cyrus Ongom cuts the tape to signify the opening of the Pig AI semen laboratory at MUARIK

The launch of the project and incubator was presided over by the Principal CAES represented by the Director, Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo (MUARIK) Dr. Okello Cyrus Ongom on 26th May 2021 at the University Animal Science laboratory at MUARIK.

Dr. Ongom also launched the Pig Artificial Insemination (AI) semen laboratory and toured the facilities including the Boar stud for semen collection on the farm. The boar stud was established some years ago but refurbished and re-stocked with improved breeds of pigs with funding from the Government of Uganda through the Mak-RIF to support pig genetics research.

Some of the special local chickens kept under the free range at MUARIK

The Director also toured the established   structures for semi-intensive and free range systems for the native chickens at MUARIK. According to the research team, the target beneficiaries are most likely to keep their birds in a free range system and therefore cannot be given birds kept on an intensive system only.

The intensive part of the project was mainly to secure what was collected but when evaluation comes, those birds are transferred on the free range after four weeks so that they grow there and, are evaluated and those that perform well go to the farmers.

At the end, the researchers would like local chicken keepers to also improve their ranges, households and homesteads so that they have something to eat, provide feeds and protect the birds from predators, provide shelters and prevent disease spread, hence the need to work on both side by improving the range and not going intensive but to make it better and have birds that are able to live in a modestly improved ranges for egg and meat production.

Dr. Okello Cyrus Ongom (R) launching the incubator at MUARIK

Speaking after the launch and tour, Dr. Ongom congratulated the research team upon the project milestones and asked the Department of Agricultural Production to collaborate with MUARIK in terms of commercializing on the native chickens, the boar stud and insemination of the farm pig herd.

 “I would like to congratulate you. You are really doing something important to this country. You are the first to collect local eggs across the country and this is really very good. Thank you for thinking that way, it is helpful for the country.

In terms of MUARIK, I have a request that we work to together. I see there is a lot of expertise. When I compare the project animals and the farm animals, I see a difference in quality. If we could work together even with the local chicken, it could be helpful. I am really interested in the collaboration. We need to see MUARIK working closely with the department”. The Director said.

Dr. Ongom said the interaction was a time well spent with many lessons to learn pledging to push the MUARIK team to work together. He also asked the project team to feel free to consult him in case of any challenges.

Dr. Kugonza, Prof. Maurice Agaba and Dr. Ongom interact during the visit to the boar stud

The project leader Assoc. Professor, Donald Rugira Kugonza appreciated the Principal for honoring the invitation adding that a number of activities had been going on and this was the time the Principal had to see what was going on in a more formal way rather than seeing requisitions for project activities.

“The main event of the day was launching the Native chick program with the hatching of the fourth batch of the local chicken which we have been multiplying at MUARIK.

Today we also wanted the Principal to formally open our semen lab where we do boar semen processing and visit the boar stud where we raise the pigs that produce that semen.

The Director Dr. Okello Cyrus Ongom led to tour the free range system of local chickens at MUARIK

Today the main thing was to launch the incubator and the semen lab which is now producing up to 50 doses of semen. It has been supporting the Mak-RIF project on pig genetics in which we trained farmers, extension workers and students.

Before we had a very small room of about 3 square meters but after that, we came to the Principal and asked for more space and he gave us a bigger room almost 30 square meters and we thought we could invite him to see how this lab looks like and having the Director representing him and formally launching the lab was very empowering”. Dr. Kugonza said.

Dr. Kugonza described the Directors request for collaboration with MUARIK on commercialization on the chicken and the boar and on insemination of the farm pig herd as great outcomes of the day.

“It is good to see that MUARIK is impressed by our activities on the farm and we are only looking forward to better times because the native chick program has had a few challenges like delayed funding from the African Union.

Dr. Donald Kugonza, Pig AI Technician Mr. Robert Natumanya and Dr. Okello Cyrus Ongom tour the boar stud

“We have not had funds since August 2020 but they expect us to be pre- financed by our college and this has not been easy. The problem is that when we dispose off the birds now, to start again even if the money comes, we  have to go back where we started two years ago to go to communities where we bought the local eggs. We hope the AU will release the funds soon”. The don said

Dr. Kugonza reported that the launched egg incubator is just one of the six incubators to be procured and stationed in Kabanyolo and within the communities where the birds will be given out to help raising then centrally.

“The idea is that, when you have a better bird you don’t have to keep them completely under free range. You can brood them for a period and release them.

This is a technology which we want the farmers to adopt. We used this route also to acquire an incubator to train our students because we have courses on hatchery management and the university did not have an incubator that is running currently. So we have a 1000 eggs incubator and we are going to get another one for 4000 eggs”, Said Dr. Kugonza

He explained that an LPO for the second incubator has been secured but not given to the manufacturers because of the uncertainty surrounding the release of funds. The bigger incubator of 4000 eggs costs 8.5 milliom shillings.

At the onset, Dr. Kugonza said, the project, used to take eggs to a commercial hatchery in Mukono who is a partner to the project but it was very expensive. Then migrated to taking the eggs to Butenga farm and finally bought one from them.

The Project Advisor Prof. Maurice Agaba speaking during the launch

The project advisor who is Professor of animal breeding and a Molecular Geneticist Prof. Maurice Agaba   said   the project has two broad objectives to increase the number eggs and the amount of meat produced by the local chickens in the two countries to be done by Makerere University while the second objective to evaluate the effective processes to disseminating improved chicken technologies is to be done by  the Women of Uganda Network (WOGNET)   and Gulu university.

Prof. Agaba said the project has five deliverables namely; to understand the nature of the genetics of the indigenous chickens whether they are still indigenous as our grandparents kept and whether they have been cross bred by other introductions like layers, broilers and kroilers and to use advanced DNA  genetic analysis  to understand if there is any cross breeding.

The second output according to the project advisor is chicken which is derived from what Ugandans keep but which produces more eggs.

“We are targeting an average production of 100 eggs per year per hen. A typical local chicken produces about 30- 45 eggs per year and a typical layer hen produces 220 eggs per year, so we are going half way that. These birds should be able to live in conditions that can be managed by the targeted low input farmers.

The third deliverable is to improve the growth rate. It takes about six months for a hen to be served by a cock from hatching to table, So, we want to see if we can reduce this to three months and the size of the bird should be bigger than what we have”, Prof. Agaba said.

The professor said the fourth outcome is to understand the disease processes in native  chickens on reason that  many of the chickens die before their first birth day  without knowledge of what is killing them because there are some known diseases  but not the whole spectrum.

Project Advisor Maurice Agaba and Peace of WOGNET during the tour to the semi intensive unit

Prof. Agaba explained that the fifth output is to understand and improve on what feeding should be to support production, what feed resources are available to farmers at what time of the year to provide the nutrients that chickens need to grow and produce enough eggs and meat.

In collaboration with Gulu university taking Northern and Eastern Uganda and  Makerere University  taking Western and Central Uganda, Prof Agaba reported that  in the COVID year 2020, Makerere university researchers moved in  60 districts  and interviewed farmers who keep local chicken  to understand what challenges they see, the type of birds they have, what they like about them  and how they would like their birds to evolve or be  improved.

“We have collected two things. One, is blood sample we shall do the genetic analysis to understand the indigenous of the  Ugandan chickens and that work is ongoing. The second, we have collected eggs  from 40 districts and we have brought them , incubated them, hatched them and  we have evaluated the growth and egg production of the  chicks that came out from the eggs from the villages.

And from the evaluation, we have been able to identify small section. We brought in about 2000 eggs and by the time they reached maturity, we had about 1000 chickens. Out of those 1000, we selected 40 hens which have the best potential to give us the target of 100 eggs per year and we have also selected 40 cocks which have very good growth rate and we have combined the two to get   good egg production and growth rate”, Prof. Agaba reported.

Dr. Donald Kugonza and Dr. Okello Cyrus Ongom hand over the fourth batch of the hatched local chicks to Peace the representative of WOGNET

The research team he said, has finished the first round of selection, produced the parent stock and now in the second round of selection. Parents have produced the chicks and this year 2021, 2000 more chicks are to be produced that will be again evaluated against egg production and growth rate and select the superior ones.

The intention is that at some stage when the project hits the target of 100  eggs and market age of 3 months, then the chicken produced from the selections will be disseminated to farmers .

The university is working with Women of Uganda Network (WOGNET)  who are engaging with small scale farmers  of women led groups in Apac , Lango and Acholi  areas  who will receive the hens,  breeding materials and stocks to improve their stocks.

The university will continuously provide the farmers with better genetics and at the same time WOGNET working with Makerere university and Gulu university will encourage improved husbandry practices of the farmers in terms of vaccination, disease control, feeding and housing so that the birds are in a better environment to replicate the production that has been achieved on station at Makerere University.

Students on the project speak

MSc. student Moses Kahwa speaks to the Director during the tour of the semi intensive structure

A number of students at Masters and undergraduate level have been attached to this project for research and some have  finished and graduated

Illyass Yussif ,a Ghanian student   of Master of Science in Animal Science, is researching on the Genomics of local Chicken particularly assessing the diversity of indigenous  chicken in Uganda.

He notes that local chicken population in Uganda has not been well structured and thus difficult to tell which one is from Teso,  Kigezi or from Ankole. It is also difficult to tell whether they are pure native Uganda local chicken and whether they been introduced with the exotic with the coming in of the layer lines, broilers and of recent, the Sussex and kroilers .

“We selected 12 districts from each of the four regions in Uganda and from each region we looked at chicken rearing households where we sampled chicken blood.  From this blood, we have been able to successfully extract DNA and this DNA has been purified and sent to Europe for sequencing. The sequencing of the DNA will give us the major genetic diversity of the chicken resources we have here in Uganda.

MSc. student Illyassi Yussif, Project advisor Prof. Maurice Agaba and the Director Dr. Ongom interact during the tour

The chicken information in Uganda is not well characterized in terms of, molecular genetics and have not been differentiated. Whatever breeding is going on is not well informed. With such an information, breeding improvement projects will be well informed. So analyzing their diversity at genetic molecular level will give us a vast field to look into and making informed decision about improving local chicken genetics in Uganda”, He said

Moses Kahwa, a fourth year student undertaking a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture is assessing the fertility of eggs after the withdrawal of a cock from the hen and also comparing the hatchability under the incubator and natural brooding by the local chicken.

“I am looking at the longevity of fertility with the hens especially after they have mate with the cock. We bring   cocks, at a ratio of 1: 10 hens to stay with them for at least two weeks. After removing those cocks, we keep collecting those eggs, take them to the incubator, after some time, candle them and test for fertility.

Some of the selected cocks in the semi intensive structure at MUARIK

What we are interested in is that, when you remove the cock or when the hen no longer mates with the cock, how long will it stay producing fertile eggs. In the villages farmers borrow cocks or take the hen to a farmer with a cock for mating and carry back home.” He explained

He said once the hens start sitting on the eggs, they may not hatch into chicks and this project is assessing the fertility drop after removing the cock from the hens, so as to minimize wastage and improve on local chicken productivity.

Mr. Kahwa said, using the research findings from such a study, farmers will be equipped with knowledge and skills on reproduction management and efficient production of local chickens.

Report compiled by
Jane Anyango
Principal Communication Officer, CAES

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