How Kerala’s indigenous chicken breed could change the state’s agricultural fortunes

The Thalassery chicken lays twice as many eggs as chickens do on average. It has the potential to transform the state’s rural poultry farming sectors

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The Kerala Veterinary and Animal Science University’s (KVASU) conservation work on the Thalassery chicken, a bird indigenous to the state, recently marked a major milestone. The project won the prestigious Indian Council of Agricultural Research-National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources Award 2021 for its work, with some even saying the revival and wider adoption of the breed could lead to a revolution in poultry farming in Kerala. The Thalassery breed is said to have almost double the average egg production, and to be ideal for rural poultry farming.

Kerala has remained as poultry deficient state over four decades. Despite many efforts by government, growth in the poultry farming sector had remained stagnant, like other sectors in the agricultural sector. The state has an annual consumption of about 650 crore eggs, but a production of 120 crore. The annual egg consumption has a demand worth Rs 650 crore in the state.

In 2015, a team of veterinary scientists in Kerala Veterinary and Animal Science University (KVASU) working in the All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) cell at Mannuthy decided to study and make efforts to conserve and promote the indigenous Thalassery chicken.

“Normally, hens start laying eggs when they are 6-8 months old and produce up to 60-80 eggs a year. The Thalassery chicken (a breed with black feathers, grey legs and a red comb and wattle) starts laying eggs at 4.5 months and produces up to 160-170 eggs a year. The average weight of an egg is 43 grams. The chickens have high immunity against local pathogens and are suitable for rearing in households. They can be fed with food waste and grains,” Dr. C.S Suja, an assistant professor in AICRP cell, tells India Today.

The centre has been working on the project, developing location specific breeds for village poultry conservation, since 1976. The project was designed to enhance the adoption of indigenous breeds to enhance livelihoods and entrepreneurship among rural tribal areas. Poultry production has dropped in the state for the past five years for various reasons, including the high cost of rearing birds and concerns over bird flu. The research centre conserved six generations of bird of this breed, with around 650 to 700 females and 200 males in each batch.

The research team, led by principal investigator Dr Sankaralingam, and with Dr P Anitha, Dr Binoj Chacko, Dr Beena C Joseph, Dr S Harikrishnan (and Suja), has also developed a new breed, the Thriveni—a new crossbred between Thalasserys, White Lagoon and Rhode Island Red chickens. A genetic characterisation of the Thalassery breed has also been sent to the Centre. Dr Suja says the major challenges in selective breeding of Thalassery chickens includes the capture of birds from their home tracts and adapting them to life in cages, a stressful transition. “Gene sequencing of the available population, and also those from the field, is also a time-consuming procedure. The extensive procedures and indexing also requires funding,” she added.

However, there are hopes that the success in rearing and promoting Thalassery chickens could trigger a revolution in the rural Kerala poultry farming sector. Thalassery chicken meat also has a higher demand compared to broiler chicken, which controls 95% of the domestic meat market.