By Christjinna Luofel B. Del Rosario
Animal welfare takes the backseat when it comes to putting food on the table. However, ensuring animal welfare can be a profitable business and provide more nutritious food like the case of Manok Galâ.
When a chicken lays an egg, there’s a 50/50 chance of the chick being either male or female. In an industry that only uses females, immediately half of 73 million chicks produced in hatcheries are treated as waste.
The current situation of male layer chickens paint a grim picture of animal welfare, food security, and sustainable practices in the country. Manok Gala provides part of a solution to the problems presented; but as with any good solution, it requires commitment and support from all the people involved.
What is Manok Gala? Chicken hatcheries try to separate the male from the female chicks as young as a day old. Because the cockerels (male chicks) cannot produce eggs, they are either sold as dyed chicks in fiestas or as a fried day-old chick snack. Outside those options, they are ground up for animal feed or simply drowned so they don’t need to be fed.
The study led by Dr. Noel B. Lumbo, Head of the Animal Nutrition Division at the Institute of Animal Science, University of the Philippines Los Banos, explores raising these cockerels as free-range and organic chicken meat to change the idea that cockerels are waste.
Why Manok Gala?
Since these chickens are not bred to gain weight in meat, they need to eat more food before they can be sold. Because of this, hatcheries prefer to dispose of male chicks because they cost too much to raise. However, this choice raises ethical concerns regarding animal welfare and food security.
With Manok Gala, Dr. Lumbo suggests using idle or existing farmlands as places as grazing areas for the cockerels. The grazing lessens feed costs and gives a more natural environment for the cockerels. The difference in setting compared to broilers and egg farms ensure that the chickens are raised with humane treatment, which helps the chickens live more happily and improve the quality of the meat.
Nonetheless, there are challenges involved in adopting this system. The initial costs for raising 500 chickens can easily reach 56,000 pesos, most of which goes to feed costs. Other requirements include nets for containment and a nipa house for shelter.
Free-range chicken are also more prone to predators because they live in an open area. Because the chickens graze and roam, the energy that could have gone to weight gain is used up. The muscles being more active means the meat is a little tougher than factory farmed chickens.
High welfare animals tend to produce higher quality meat than factory farmed animals. In the interview with Dr. Lumbo, he mentioned that in a related project Itlog Gala, the demand for quality and organic products already exists. Organic products can be sold at a higher price if they comply with the national standards.
How to raise Manok Galâ
Manok Galâ can be raised with a density of 6 chickens per sqm. After three months, a bird can be sold for around 150 pesos each. The heaviest cost that the farmer can shoulder goes into feed costs. However, Dr. Lumbo says that there are alternatives that can significantly reduce feed cost. Among them, a wider grazing area and food scraps.
From the hatcheries, the chicks will brood at the Institute of Animal Science (IAS) for 15 days. The brooding process strengthens the chicks against temperature changes and illness. IAS will also be vaccinating the chicks so that they will be protected against diseases by the time they reach the partner-beneficiaries.
An ideal raising area for 6000 chickens is 4 hectares of land. According to Dr. Lumbo, the chickens are voracious eaters that can leave a grazing area bare. Ideally, their grazing area can be rotated regularly. As of writing, participants in Barangay Makiling in Calamba are preparing the grazing area for the upcoming dispersal of the chicks.
Coconut farms and mango farms are excellent grazing areas for the idle ground on which the trees are planted. The chickens also act as a form of pest control and return the nutrition to the land with their droppings as a natural fertilizer.
Similarly, food scraps are also beneficial for the chickens. Unsold vegetables in the market or food scraps that would have gone to disposal can be fed to the chickens instead. Increasing the access of these chickens to natural food can significantly lower feed costs.
On the other hand, the net for containment must be 8–10 feet tall. Ideally, they should be easy to install or move around to accommodate the rotation of the chickens. While the start-up cost of these nets can be quite heavy, Dr. Lumbo suggests that assistance from the government can be asked for as a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME).
Dr. Lumbo says that in getting into Manok Galâ, the intentions of the farmer must be clear. Am I raising these chickens for family consumption? Am I raising these chickens as a business? Am I raising these chickens for food?
The commitment and approach to raising these chickens change depending on the goals of the farmer. What is important is to have a future-oriented vision with a Manok Galâ farm.
Even outside of being a commercial prospect, backyard raised chickens can provide a steady source of high quality protein. With enough support and good management, Manok Galâ can become an accessible source of protein and other micronutrients for the family and the community.
When asked about the challenges, Dr. Lumbo says that the hard truth and big threat to farming and food security is land conversion. Due to Industrial lands bringing in more taxes for the local government, land use conversions are pushing farmers out farther from where the people live.
The “eviction” raises food prices because of the increased costs in getting the food to the market and producers losing interest in the sector.
Increased food prices present a major challenge to nutrition, especially for young children. Dr. Lumbo mentions that as children grow, their body needs protein and other essential nutrients that one can only get from meat and eggs. Without these nutrients, the cognitive and physical development of the children are impaired.
With Manok Galâ, Dr. Lumbo hopes that at the very least, the chicken meat and its wealth of nutrients becomes accessible to small communities and their families. The possibilities of Manok Galâ applied to food security, waste reduction, and animal welfare present many opportunities for application that people should consider trying.