Genotype by environment interaction (GxE) research to optimise smallholder poultry farming in Ethiopia

November 13, 2023

Smallholder poultry farming plays a major socio-economic role in Ethiopia and other African developing nations by securing food and income for local households. GxE analyses for body weight of chickens can support farmer and breeding decisions regarding which chicken strain to use.

Poultry farming is a significant farming activity in African countries and contributes positively to the socio-economic livelihoods of families in these nations. In Ethiopian poultry-keeping households, livestock contributes to nearly forty percent of the income. Given that the global demand for animal protein (poultry in particular) is expected to increase, multidisciplinary research supporting the local adaptation and tailoring of sustainable poultry production for Ethiopian smallholders is necessary.

Together with fellow scientists from other international universities and research institutes, scientists from Wageningen University & Research, Animal Breeding and Genomics (WUR-ABG) conducted genotype by environment interactions (GxE) analyses for body weight (BW) as a performance trait, using aging male and female chickens of different strains (genotypes) tested at various locations (environments) in Ethiopia. Because Ethiopia is a country with a wide range of agro-ecologies, different strains may be best suited for different environments. More information about GxE and BW performance can help farmers to make decisions about which strain to keep in which respective environment. A well-informed decision can have a big impact on the food security and income of the local poultry farmers.

The best bird for the environment

The research questions of the study were 1) if a GxE is present for BW, and 2) which strains perform best in which environment in terms of predicted BW. Analyses were performed using predicted BW at four different stages (90, 120, 150, and 180 days) of five chicken strains (Horro, Koekoek, Kuroiler, Sasso-Rhode Island Red, and Sasso) tested in five Ethiopian regions (Addis Ababa, Amhara, Oromia, South Region, and Tigray) that are part of three agro-ecological zones (cool humid, cool sub-humid, and warm semi-arid).

“GxE was strongly present for all combinations of strain and environment analysed,” concludes Maud de Kinderen, first author of the study. “By using multiple models for complimentary evidence, it is confirmed that different strains do react differently to the various Ethiopian environments at all tested ages. Regarding the second research question about which strain performs the best in which Ethiopian environment, we concluded that Sasso performed best in most locations, especially in the Oromia, Amhara and Tigray regions, followed by the Kuroiler strain. Tigray is the region with approximately the highest predicted BW, but it is also high in Oromia and Amhara. These three regions are all part of the cool sub-humid agro-ecological zone, which is the zone having mostly highest BW performances.”

The findings of the study are a good indication of strain preferences based on BW in certain Ethiopian regions or agro-ecologies. Outcomes could be used by local farmers who keep chickens, as well as breeders who want to further improve certain strains for various conditions.