DIARY OF A POULTRY FARMER: Merry Cluckmas! Here is an egg laying machine with a meaty body

Friday December 22 2017

Dr Subiri Obwogo with a photo of a Frizzle bird

Dr Subiri Obwogo with a photo of a Frizzle bird on his farm in Njiru, Nairobi. PHOTO|COURTESY 

By SUBIRI OBWOGO
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Two weeks ago, I challenged readers who intend to rear poultry to consider local indigenous chicken varieties with distinctive features.   
One reader, John Njoroge, picked up the gauntlet and responded to the article on frizzle chicken (December 2). “I follow your hilarious stories keenly. 
In fact I hadn’t noticed that a frizzle chicken has five toes. In my mother tongue, we call it Mucunu.”  
According to him, Mucunu is another name for a naked-neck chicken in the Kikuyu language. However, to put the record straight, a frizzle is different from a naked neck and a five-toed chicken. For clarity, I’ve summarised the distinctive features of these birds in the table below.  
That aside, a naked neck, also known as a Turken (or Nagosi in my mother tongue) is a beauty to behold unless you’re the superstitious type who associate them with sorcerers.

Origin of the featherless necked bird

The featherless neck is thought to have originated from eastern Hungary at a place known as Transylvania (Romania), hence its other name Transylvania naked neck. There are other breeds such as the French naked neck, which is often confused with the Transylvanian.  
The bird’s feathered body and bare red turkey-like neck makes it look like a cross between a chicken and a turkey. In fact, the name, “Turken,” arose from this misconception.

Please, you’ve to believe me on this one; scientists have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that a naked neck is a pure chicken.   
If you’re looking for a proficient forager that is also an ideal free-ranged bird, then a naked neck is top choice. Besides the guinea fowl, I’ve never known a bird that is so hardy and immune to most diseases like a Turken.  

Ordinary Kienyeji bird

You’re also staring at an egg laying machine with a meaty body. While an ordinary Kienyeji bird under free-range will lay between 50 and 100 eggs yearly, a naked neck offers between 100 and 160. Some people even think that a Turken is the best dual-purpose chicken ever. On average, a standard naked-neck cock and hen will weigh 3.9kg and 3kg respectively under good management.  

Think about it this way. By having between 20 and 60 per cent less feathers compared to other chicken, this improves their feed to egg and meat conversation ratio. The reason is simple: chickens use so much feed to produce feathers and the less the feathers, the more the eggs and meat production.  

Okay, I know what you’re probably thinking. Less feathers means these chicken require more energy (food) to keep themselves warm. Good thinking, but before you start playing God, read on. 
 
I read that the bird’s neck feathering is not limited to the Turkens. Other birds such as vultures, ostriches, and certain species of stork have naked necks which allow them to tolerate heat better. In the case of vultures, featherless necks serve an additional purpose — to poke about the insides of carrions unimpeded.  

You see, in Australia, naked neck birds are common because of their ability to withstand the harsh drought-plagued summers and blustery winter nights.  

Further, scientists have provided clues to the bird’s neck-feathering phenomena and it has nothing to do with witchcraft.  

According to a study that was published in PLoS Biology by Chunyan Mou, Denis Headon and his colleagues recently, it was noted that the naked neck trait is as a result of a random genetic mutation that causes over production of a feather-blocking molecule known as BMP12.  

Further, when the scientists treated a standard breed chicken embryos with BMP12 in the lab, the young chickens developed no feathers on their necks. It is believed that the mutation first arose in domestic chickens in northern Romania hundreds of years ago.  

Now, let’s forget the big science for a while. Experts concur that the gene that controls the featherless trait is dominant making it fairly easy to introduce into other breeds.  

“If you breed a naked neck with another of the same breed, about 90 per cent of the offspring will be naked neck while the remaining 10 per cent will have feathers on their necks,” one expert intimated.  

There’s more to this puzzle. Scientific studies have shown that the naked neck gene (known as Na) improves the quality of other breeds of chicken. For example, when the naked neck is bred with other chicken breeds, it improves their breast size, reduces heat stress, increases weight gain, improves feed conversion efficiency and carcass traits.   

 If you’re targeting customers interested in the taste of traditionally raised free-ranged farm chickens with elongated breasts, longer legs, thinner skin, and less fat than commercial breeds, then you need to invest in naked neck chicken.