Poultry production has an important economic, social and cultural benefit and plays a significant role in the provision of animal protein and family income in the developing countries. The contribution of poultry to the total global animal protein production is assumed to reach about 40% by the year 2020, the major increase being in the developing world (Delgado et al., 2001). In sub Saharan Africa, 85% of the rural population keeps chicken as a source of affordable animal protein and household income (Aklilu et al., 2007). Poultry is also an employment opportunity for the youth, elders and women in the urban and peri-urban areas and Ethiopia is not exception to this situation. Recent estimates put the Ethiopian poultry population at about 60million out of which 90.85, 4.76, and 4.39% is reported to be indigenous, hybrid and exotic chickens respectively (CSA, 2016/17). The poultry sub-sector in Ethiopia could be characterized into three major production systems based on some selected parameters such as breed, flock size, management practices, technological input and level of bio-security exercised (Bush, 2006). The three production systems are backyard (traditional) poultry production, small-scale modern poultry and large scale commercial poultry. Each of these production systems sustainably coexist and contribute to the socio-economic status of different target societies (Tadelle et al., 2003c).
The backyard (traditional) poultry production system is entirely dominated by indigenous chickens and characterized by low input - output and periodic devastation of the flocks due to disease outbreaks (Tadelle et al., 2003b). The indigenous chickens are low in productivity owing to their low egg production performance, slow growth rate, late sexual maturity, pronounced broodiness and high chick mortality. Poor management practice and veterinary services also contribute to the low productivity of the indigenous chickens. It has been seen that improvement of basic husbandry practice and health care improve the performance of indigenous chicken, but not to an economically acceptable level (Teketel, 1986; Abebe, 1992). Local chickens are considered to be disease resistant and adapted to their scavenging environmental conditions. However, local chickens kept under the intensive system of management (in confinement) are inferior to exotic stock in health status and characterized by a lack of interest in their environment, wing droppings, huddling at the corner, leg weakness and cannibalism. They are also slow in rate of feathering and exhibit recurrent outbreaks of disease (Demeke, 2004). The percentage mortality from hatching to maturity was significantly higher for local chickens kept under an intensive management system (24%) compared to the Leghorns (7.3%) kept under similar condition. Higher mortalities and morbidities have been reported among local birds than White Leghorns when raised under intensive management conditions in Awassa (Teketel Forsido, 1986) and Debre Zeit (Abebe Hailu, 1987).
In Ethiopia, the importation of exotic breeds of chicken goes back to the early 1950s (Solomon, 2008). About 99% of the Ethiopian poultry population consists of indigenous chickens, while the remaining 1% consists of imported exotic breeds of chickens during the 1970s and 1980s (Alamargot, 1987). There has been an increase in the number of exotic breeds of chickens and at present it is estimated that these make up about 4.39% of the national poultry population CSA, 2016/17). But, the contribution of exotic poultry to the Ethiopian economy is significantly lower than that of other African countries and all the available evidence indicates that all the imported breeds of chickens performed well under the intensive management system (Yami and Dessie, 1997). In addition, with an annual human population growth rate of 2.4%, the present above 80 million Ethiopia’s human population will increase to about 149.3 million by the year 2040 (FAO, 2005). Thus, the demand for animal products is expected to increase substantially. Therefore, to meet the ever-increasing demand for meat and eggs, increase the contribution of exotic chicken to Ethiopian economy and expansion of commercial poultry production introduction of superior/exotic breed has been proposed as one of the plausible option. As a result, currently the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research introduced Lohman Brown, Novo Brown and Dominant Sussex d104 Final hybrid layers. The Lohman Brown is egg type breed of hybrid origin, selectively bred from New Hampshire’s and other brown egg laying breeds of chickens (Felt well, 2011). They start lying at an age of 18 weeks and reported to lay up to 300 brown eggs per year. Novo Brown starts lying at an age of about 20 - 24 weeks. Under commercial conditions, productivity of Novo Brown is reported to be around 330 eggs per year. Dominant Sussex D 104 is a result of crossing paternal Sussex stock with slow feathering maternal stock and an attractively colored layer for small scale and free-range production conditions. This bird is adapted for sub-optimal and harsh production conditions of free-range system and small scale farming. This being the case, the major objectives of this research project was on-station evaluation of Dominant Sussex d104, Lohman Brown and Novo Brown Final hybrid layers in Jimma with the following specific objectives: