Assistance International tests organic chicken farming
The ten roosters and 140 hens seem content, picking the soil and scratching it with their feet. We stand in the organic chicken farm that Assistance International build to test the organic production of eggs in Tajikistan. “We hope this can be another way to provide people with an income and with healthy food at the same time,” says Assistance international’s foreign volunteer.
Organic chicken farming is different from battery chicken farms in three ways: the structure of the coop, the food for the hens, and the ground of the chicken pen.
The building is surprisingly cool and doesn’t smell. “The ground is natural soil that we keep wet with water that has added micro-organisms. On the soil chickens can keep their natural behavior of pecking and scratching, an activity that reduces their stress. Microbes in the ground of the coop break down the chicken’s excrement and other waste. That’s why this coop doesn’t have the heavy smell of a chicken farm,” our volunteer laughs.
Micro-organisms not only keep the soil clean, but also produce heat. “In winter we don’t need extra heating. The earth is warm and hens like to dig themselves in the ground.”
In the middle of the farm stands a big tub with water that grows micro-organisms. When the lid is raised one can smell the bacteria. Next to this tub is another one, where soil is already mixed with microbes. Indeed, the soil is surprisingly warm when touched.
On a summer day, however, heat might be a bigger problem than cold. “The building has a simple ventilation system that keeps it relatively cool. Hot air leaves through the ventilation opening in the roof and fresh air comes in through the sides. Flow of fresh air also diminishes the chance of viruses, stress and illnesses.”
The first two batches of chicken are doing well. They have started laying eggs. Even as we are speaking some hens are up in the nesting boxes, producing eggs. “Our eggs are organic, we feed the chickens only natural ingredients and do not give them any antibiotics in their food or as a medicine,” explains the Assistance International volunteer. The chickens also have the opportunity to pasture on the land joining their coop to eat grass, dirt (which helps them digest) and protein-rich worms.
Assistance International is still testing out the right feed mixture with the necessary natural and nutritious ingredients. “Chickens need protein to be able to lay eggs. This can be found in beans for example, but beans are relatively expensive.”
The first aim of the project is to find a well composed feed that would not be too expensive. “Right now we sell the eggs quite expensive. If we can help local farmers grow or buy chicken food that is cheaper, the price of the eggs can be more competitive.”
The next step would be to train local farmers in the specialities of organic chicken farming and supporting them to market their eggs. “It is a challenge to find the best suitable way for small farming families to improve their income. But I believe that organic chicken farming is about more than a good income alone: it also helps people to work in a better environment, it values animal welfare and complements well with other activities on a family farm.”