Chickens · Homesteading · Profile

SISTAS IN DA COOP! Native South African Chicken Breeds

We have been keeping chickens since 2012. So during my quest to source chickens, many local sites suggested that if you’d like to keep chickens, try and do so with indigenous ones. I did not even knew that you get chickens indigenous to Southern Africa when I started! It is hard to find information on these and most of the information is usually cut and pasted (sometimes directly) from two main resources namely ‘South African Country Report On Farm Animal Genetic Resources, Department of Agriculture (South Africa)’ and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of SA. So I will provide a combined summary from both sources. Anyways, the main indigenous and possibly endemic (endemic = only found in certain local areas, like “Fynbos” biome only found in SA) breeds are the Ovambo, Potchefstroom Koekoek, Naked Neck (probably not endemic), Matabele, Venda and Boschveld.

 

Ovambo

The Ovambo is originally from Namibia and Ovamboland (Northern Namibia). Ovamboes are generally small sized, black chickens with additional streaks of white and/or orange. The colours and small size of the chicken helps it to avoid predators, especially from large birds of prey. They are quite robust chickens and are known for agile hunting of small rats and mice. Their roosting behaviour is similar to Guinea Fowl, where they roost in trees at night to avoid predators (small wild cats, foxes…). They are known for their hardiness and ability to withstand harsh conditions (heat, drought, food shortage – typical Southern African problems).

South Africa Indigenous Breed Native Ovambo Chicken
Ovambo Chickens
Photos: ARC: Indigenous poultry breeds of SA
Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
1.32
1.74
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
1.54
2.32
Sexual Maturity (days)
143
143
Egg weight (g)
52.5
Eggs produces (per year)
129 ± 5

 

Potchefstroom Koekoek

The Potchefstroom Koekoek (Pot-chef-stroom Koe-koek, ‘oe’ pronounced ‘ooh’, its Afrikaans, my mother tongue 😻). It was bred in 1960 by Prof. Chris Marais at the Potchefstroom Agricultural College, by crossing the Black Australorp, White Leghorn and Barred Rock chicken breeds. The name ‘Koekoek’ refers to the spotted ‘guinea fowl like’ patterning of the chicken’s feathers. Males and females are sexually dimorphic (physical feature separating males and females of the same species) at a young age. Day-old female chicks are completely black and males are black with a white spot on the head. This clearly makes distinguishing the two for easy separating of genders and breeding. The Potchefstroom Koekoek was bred to create a more robust chicken to cope with the South African climate and therefore are good chickies for both meat (apparently an attractive yellow colour) and egg laying (eggs are large and brown). They are good commercially and for household/backyard chickens.

South Africa Indigenous Breed Native Chicken Potch Koekoek Potchefstroom
Potchefstroom Koekoek (Potch Koekoek)
Photos: ARC: Indigenous poultry breeds of SA
Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
1.4
1.84
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
1.7
2.4
Sexual Maturity (days)
130
130
Egg weight (g)
55.7
Eggs produces (per year)
198 ± 8

 

Naked Neck

So, these originated in Malaysia and was likely distributed to the rest of the world through the Dutch East India Company. They arrived in SA in the 17th century and are popular amongst rural SA farmers, but not commercially. Their patterns vary, but there are two distinguishable ‘nakedness’ for these birds. Homozygotes (carrying both genes for the naked neckness) or purebred (‘pure’ for a characteristic), have a neck void of feathers. The Heterozygote (carrying one gene for naked neckness) or not purebred, have a few fly feathers on the front of its neck. They do well as meat and egg laying chickens.

 

Having a naked neck is advantageous to French commercial farmers, because (1) A lot of nutrition/protein is required to produce feathers, thus less feathers = chickens eat less/nutrition redistributed to other areas, (2) they are easier and quicker to pluck for eating and (3) they are apparently more heat tolerant (probably due to increased heat being lost through the naked skin).

South Africa Indigenous Breed Native Naked Neck Chicken
Naked Neck
Photos: ARC: Indigenous poultry breeds of SA
Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
1.1
1.5
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
1.4
1.95
Sexual Maturity (days)
155
155
Egg weight (g)
55.1
Eggs produces (per year)
? ± ?

 

Matabele

They are ‘big and burley’… and that is all I have. Seriously, I can not find more on this chicken, not even a picture. The Matabele (or Ndebele) people are from once Eastern Transvaal or now Mpumalanga province – so that would suggest that the chicken *may* have originated in eastern South Africa and is *probably* a hardy breed such as the Ovambo. Seen as it is ‘big and burley’ it would probably make a good meat chicken.

 

Venda

Venda chickens are named after the region they originated, the Limpopo province (the northern-most province in SA). These multi-coloured white, black and red chickens were first described by a veterinarian, Dr Naas Coetzee in 1979. Later similar chickens were seen in the Southern Cape and Free State. An interesting characteristic that pops up every now and then, are rose-coloured combs and/or five-toed chickens. The chickens are large and mothers are good brooders. They lay tinted eggs of a decent size and are therefore mainly used for egg production. Apparently more information is being collected about these chickens.

 

South Africa Indigenous Breed Native Venda Chicken
Venda Chickens
Photos: ARC: Indigenous poultry breed of SA

 

Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
1.24
1.57
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
1.4
2.01
Sexual Maturity (days)
143
143
Egg weight (g)
52.7
Eggs produces (per year)
? ± ?

Boschveld

This is another breed developed in SA. The Boschveld contains contributions from the following indigenous breeds in its genetic pool, which include the Matabele, Ovambo and Venda. Each breed was chosen specifically by Mr. Mike Bosch (a local farmer) to ensure certain characteristics in the Boschveld. He wanted a chicken that is hardy and can withstand the harsh South African climate (Ovambo) and is (I suppose) relatively large (Matabele). The Venda chicken made their contribution by producing hardy hens that are great mothers and egg producers. – Oh! They seem to be ‘dipped’ less for external parasites as well, so they are more pest resistant too! They are good meat and (obviously) egg laying chickens.

 

Boschveld Chicken South Africa Indigenous Breed Native
Boschveld Chicken

 

Averages
Weight at 16 weeks (kg)
?
?
Weight at 20 weeks (kg)
?
?
Sexual Maturity (days)
?
?
Egg weight (g)
?
Eggs produces (per year)
240 ± ?

What I can say is that hens start to produce eggs as 20 weeks of age.

 

In My Honest Personal Opinion: Chicken Breed Review for South Africa

Over the years we have raised both Potchefstroom Koekoeks and Boschvelder chickens. Here is my take. If you want a indigenous chicken to keep in your South African backyard, then get the Koekoek:

  • They are very reliable layers: come rain or shine, winter or summer, and they lay for a long time (3+ years).
  • They moult quickly and thoroughly (no lengthy waiting for laying to resume).
  • They understand the African sun, hence they do not get their combs sunburned.
  • They are robust and resistant chickens with minimal pest and disease problems.
  • They are good brooders (this may be a problem if you have one broody chicken disrupting nest business of the whole flock! 😹).
  • A lot of people started keeping Koekoeks and thus they have become readily available.

Boschvelders are more vegetarian and hence eat less chicken pellets. They are generally free from pests and diseases. However they go feral real quick and play hide-and-seek with their eggs all over the yard/garden (or in our case Bushveld!) where many eggs go to waste (or feed the local wildlife 😼). Also they do not lay as long as claimed, after 1 – 2 years you see a dramatic drop in egg production. There is a large variation amongst individual chickens, such as resistance, egg laying rate and extremity of feralness.

 

So, as you can see in the photo below, General Koekoek will not take no for an answer!

 

South Africa Indigenous Breed Native Chicken Potch Koekoek Potchefstroom
Here comes Koekoek!

 

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