Not long ago, Brahmanbaria poultry farmer Abul Kalam came to know about a new chicken breed. Out of curiosity, he brought a batch of one day-old chicks to rear them at his farm in Nabinagar of the district.
He had heard this new breed looked like the native variety.
The results amazed him. He found the birds were less susceptible to diseases and required less medicine compared to regular fowl. Also, the chicks matured early.
The meat had a deep, complex flavour with lower fat content and a higher muscle mass like country chickens – as opposed to the juicy and tender meat of regular farm birds.
Kalam sold the chickens at Tk250 per kilogram. The market rate of the popular Sonali variety was Tk180.
Kalam said he just kept bringing in the chicks to be raised alongside the regular breeds.
The variety was developed by the Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute in 2018, and is now rapidly drawing the attention of poultry farmers across the country.
The institute officially calls it "multicolour table chicken". The commercial production of this new chicken variety has now begun on completion of its experimental production under different weather conditions across the country.
According to the Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute, there is a great demand for the new variety as it has great likeness to the native variety in terms of taste, meat texture and quality.
The death rate of the multicolour chicken is only 2%-5% and the rate of contracting diseases is much lesser too, thus saving 50% in medicine-related costs, the institute said.
The Livestock Research Institute is supplying the new breed to Aftab Hatchery Ltd under an agreement to promote the variety.
Aftab Aftab Bahumukhi Farms Ltd now produces 10,000-15,000 chicks every day and sells them all over the country through its dealers.
Besides, the livestock department has also started producing the new breed in four farms.
Dr Rakibul Hasan, chief scientific officer at the Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute, told The Business Standard, "We have developed a chicken variety identical to the indigenous one and gone one step ahead in commercialising it. We have already started selling chicks to farms across the country through the private sector."
But the research institute does not have a specific account of exactly how many farms in the country are rearing the new variety at present.
Officials at the institute say there is no combination of indigenous breeds in developing the "Sonali chicken", also known as the Pakistani variety. It now dominates the market as a substitute for native chicken.
But the multicolour table chicken has been developed by combining a native breed with a Japanese one. That is why its immunity is also high, they add.
Will multicolour chicken replace Sonali?
The Sonali chicken now dominates the market. Livestock researchers and breeders say the multicolour variety will not take long to grab market dominance as the breed has prompted a huge interest among farmers.
Bangladesh consumes 3,500 tonnes of chicken every day during the peak season in winter. The country produces 30 lakh pieces of day-old chicks a day.
Poultry farmers said a Sonali chicken needs 70 days to reach 1kg weight while the multicolour breed reaches that weight within 56 days. The Sonali variety has a 10%-15% death rate that sometimes jumps to 20%. But the death rate of the new breed is less than 2%. Compared to Sonali, multicolour chickens save 50% of the medicine cost.
Mahmud-ul-Alam, general manager of Aftab Bahumukhi Farms, said the new breed cuts back on overall poultry rearing costs by 20%, and additionally it yields more profit in less maturity time.
"This drives up the demand for multicolour chicks," he added.
According to the Livestock Research Institute, poultry farmers can profit by up to Tk2.60 lakh in one year by farming four 1,000-batches of the new breed. Since the birds look and taste like the indigenous variety, its market demand is comparatively high, with a farm level rate of Tk250 per kg.
Researchers say Bangladesh is at the top of the list of countries affected by climate change. The adverse effects of the situation are more or less visible in all sectors, while poultry species are more sensitive to the changes. As all the older breeds are imported, weather changes impede the desired production. With that in mind, the Livestock Research Institute has developed the breed, which is more tolerant to adverse changes.
Dr Rakibul Hasan, chief scientific officer at the Livestock Research Institute, said the institute is evaluating and further developing the breed in association with Aftab Farms.
"Issues such as egg production on parent lines, egg size, adaptability and diseases are being dealt with in accordance with our guidelines and technical advice. Research is going on to improve the quality of the variety further," he added.