Namibia: ‘Marathon Runners’ a Hardy Breed


THE indigenous chicken refers to a breed that is native to Namibia.

This breed, euphemistically known as “marathon runner”, is popular because it plays a dual purpose for both egg and meat production, particularly in rural areas.

Some people are sceptical about eating chicken that matures in six weeks while others have expressed displeasure that broiler meat is too tender compared to that of indigenous breeds they are used to.

Health-conscious people have also raised concerns at the amount of chemicals, such antibiotics and vaccines, used in broiler production, thus making the “marathon runner” their chicken of choice.

Indigenous chicken breeds are hardy, tolerant to most diseases due to their well-developed immune systems and can survive under more marginal conditions than commercial breeds.

Due to cross-breeding, it is very difficult to trace the origins of most breeds and this has been worsened by in-breeding (mating of close relatives) which has further weakened their genetic potential.

The two common indigenous chicken breeds are naked necks and the “marathon runner”;

NAKED NECKS

The naked neck is naturally devoid of feathers on its neck and vent. The breed is also called the Transylvanian Naked Neck, known to be heat-tolerant and very protective of its young.

They are active foragers and productive birds, and their bare necks and reduced plumage are not a problem, especially in warm climates due to their exceptional tolerance to heat.

MARATHON CHICKENS

The name “marathon runner” (also Owambo chicken) came about because they are always wary of danger and catching them means chasing them around the homestead for some time. This perpetual running for food, and from danger also makes their meat harder than the sedentary broiler.

The adult birds weighing about 1,2 kg although males are usually heavier than hens.

These birds are lean, strong and tough, thus require more time to cook.

EXTENSIVE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

Most farmers keep indigenous breeds in fowl runs built from cheap materials with no specifications or standards used in the construction as the chickens are kept mainly for family consumption rather than for sale.

Farmers are not breed-sensitive and breeding is not controlled, resulting in poor breeds due to in-breeding. Poultry houses are primarily to provide shelter without strict adherence to carrying capacity. .

Under subsistence farming, chickens are fed on anything including kitchen waste, grains (sorghum, millet, sunflower seeds and maize) and are allowed to forage for seeds and insects during the day.

SEMI-INTESIVE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

However, under semi-intensive production, farmers are more conscious about following standard practices in poultry production such as housing design, stocking density and feeding. Farmers in semi-intensive systems are more informed by the needs of their clientele and they produce their chickens with the market needs in mind.

Things such as weight and packaging are important when farmers become semi-intensive producers. They may also start using specialised equipment such as incubators and plucking machines.

Under semi-intensive production systems, farmers try avoiding inbreeding and are always looking for better breeds to improve their genetic pool.

FEEDING

The chickens may be allowed to forage for food within a limited radius (to protect them against predators and to avoid energy loss) and they are given commercial feeds to supplement their diets.

INTENSIVE PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

Under intensive production systems, chickens are produced under specific conditions that encourage growth. Farmers become interested in the maintenance of their genetic pool and profitability. Standard systems such as bio-security, nutrition, feeding, housing and carrying capacity form the basics of intensive production systems.