Mention of vaccination invokes images of livestock and humans undergoing protection against diseases, but certainly not chicken. Yet the domesticated birds are easily the most common livestock outside pastoral areas.
In Western Kenya for instance, virtually every homestead has chicken or other poultry including aluru (quails). So common are the birds valued for their meat and eggs that they feature prominently at customs surrounding burials and funerals.
The irony is that the birds are generally ignored disease-wise except where they are reared in large scale for commercial purposes.
Though handled casually, chicken are an important source of food and their sporadic deaths when epidemics strike can be a serious threat to food security as they provide ready food in the form of eggs and meat. They also generate money to buy grains and other foods.
The trend is bound to change in Siaya County where statistics has it that 99 per cent of households own chicken when vaccine against common poultry diseases trickles to rural areas, thanks to a bilateral agreement on Kenyan German Development Cooperation entered between the County Government and technical wing, GIZ. Siaya County Governor Cornel Rasanga and the GIZ Food Security and Drought Resilience Programme (FSDRP) Manager Dr Andrea Bahm officially set the vaccination rolling by vaccinating several birds against Newcastle disease common in the county. This was after signing an implementation agreement between GIZ and the County Government.
Farmers and bystanders who had never seen chicken being vaccinated milled around, fascinated by the process that involved dropping the liquid vaccine into the birds’ eyes.
Governor Rasanga was upbeat that vaccination would enhance the county’s potential for development of processing industries for poultry products and byproducts.
Though rare among small flock owners of poultry, chicken vaccination is important if common diseases are kept at bay.
Apart from Newcastle that manifests in digestive, respiratory and nervous problems in affected birds and can be transmitted to human beings as well, common poultry diseases include Merek’s disease characterised by infiltration of nerves and organs causing paralysis, fowl pox that causes lesions on the comb, wattles, beak and other skin areas, fowl cholera that manifests in nasal mucus discharge and a greenish mucous diarrhoea.
Others are infectuous bronchitis, laringotracheitis and Avian encephalomyelitis.
Vaccination in poultry helps avoid or minimise the emergence of clinical disease at farm level, thus increasing production.
Experts say vaccination should also be applied in the framework of poultry disease eradication programmes at national or regional levels to avoid mass deaths with crippling losses to owners. Though not 100 per cent effective, vaccines mimic natural infection, allowing healthy birds to build up immunity against diseases without the harmful effects that go with them. It minimises the risk of disease introduction and related economic impact such as barriers to the trade of live poultry and poultry products.
Dr Bahm describes poultry vaccination as a high impact initiative with an immediate impact on households in terms of improving food security, incomes and employment opportunities. She says the initiative will cover over 12,000 chicken in Siaya County.
“To bridge the alarming gap between production and potential levels, the county started initiatives to support the poultry related projects implemented by the county government through capacity building,” says Dr Bahm.
She says the chicken initiative among others began in October 2014, when nine governors and selected key technical experts from agriculture-based economy counties went for a two week study visit to Germany.
The team was to familiarise itself with the German agricultural, extension systems, vocational training and education system through support of FSDRP.
“Based on the experiences during the exchange visit and further consultations in the counties, planning was done, followed up by meetings and consultation for implementation of lessons learnt,” she said.
Besides vaccination of chicken, explains Dr Bahm, GIZ undertook capacity building processes among them the training of trainers to change attitude and practices.