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Sep 1, 2015

By Air and By Sea Chicks Arrive on New Shores

Yokimi and chickens for Kadavu!
Yokimi and chickens for Kadavu!

Hi Everyone! 

Last week was a major milestone for the project;  We were able to send ten dozen chicks to Taveuni Island by air, four dozen chicks to Kadavu island by sea, and seven dozen chicks by sea to Natewa Bay, Vanua Levu.  We also sent along mobile rearing pens with the two seaborne shipments.  

The person recieving the chicks for Kadavu is Chief Yokimi, the paramount chief of Ono Island Kadavu.  Yokimi was instrumental in the establishment of Fiji's first legally gazetted no-fishing marine protected area back in the year 2000.  Yokimi wants to introduce community-scale poultry farming to all seven of his villages, in order to provide an alternative to reef fish, which in turn will help conserve the reef balance.  Happy chickens- Healthy reefs!  

On Taveuni island, a remote volcanic island 200 miles to the North, the Gaiatree Sanctuary brought the ten dozen chicks in and distributed them to four farmers who are very excited to have the improved "super jungli" free ranging chickens.  They share the same vision and will be facilitating the project onTaveuni.  So we are on the way to poultry self-sufficiency in some rural comunities, and all the farmers are planning to breed the chickens for themselves, creating independence, self sufficiency, and food security, rather than purchasing eggs from shops, which all come from laying hens imported to Fiji as chicks from New Zealand!  

In the Sigatoka market, farmers are reporting that their chickens have begun laying and some got a big surprize:  green eggs!   Yes, some of the chicks we provide are of a strain that produces light blue and green eggs!  The children are over the moon at something so cool!  The number of farmers coming back to buy more chicks at cost has increased, and the scale of the project has increeased as well.  Chicks are being donated discretely to needy farming families.  Ideally the farmer pays for one dozen at cost (US $7.50/doz), and the particularly needy farmers get a second dozen free- to their great surprise!  But sometimes a farming family can not afford to pay for the chicks and they give some discreet signs of their situation, by their clothes or asking us if we will be selling the chicks in the future, as they need to save the funds.  How many can I get for four dollars?  Or family discussions on whether they can afford them or not, etc..  We strike up a conversation to find out if the farmer has a job or if he is living entirely off the farm. Gifts are discreet and give the impression to the pubic that the farmers are paying for their chicks. 

The next phase of the project in Fiji will target entire communities that are practicing good environmental stewardship, setting aside large areas of their coral reef into no take "tabu" zones.  The first of thee workshops will involve Votua Village, where Luisa has successfully raised up two dozen chickens, and where more women have asked for help getting started.  The mobile rearing pens and a small model roosting and laying house will be used in this community to good effect. From Votua, the adjacent villages or Tagage and Vatukarasa will the be next.

Vanuatu:  The Vanuatu communities in the cyclone affected areas have organized themselves and many farmers have been identified with experience in poultry farming and these farmers will be given special focus for restoring their focks.  However last week we reached a major snag:  Vanuatu Biosecurity will not issue us with a permit to carry the chicks to Vanuatu on the plane, as they do not yet have a "formal protocol" for importing day-old chicks from Fiji!  There is no risk, as Fiji has no diseases that are not already in Vanuatu, but the regulations are strict nevertheless. 

They say it could take several months to approve a protocol, so in the mean time we have found a source of imported egg-producing chicks in Vanuatu.  We now plan to purchase these and to use them in the workshops and to grow them up and to then breed these chooks with the best local roosters, to be able to produce high quality hybrid chickens.  We will purchase small 75-egg incubtors for areas with dependible electricity. This will help build local capacity even further.  On the positive side, there is no time frame limiting the project, so we will indeed get what needs to be done completed in spite of all obstacles! 

The plan now is to land in Vanuatu in mid September and to meet with the communities and to begin the work as much as it is possible.  Building the mobile rearing pens and small chicken houses, working to create a local breeding flock, and building increased capacity among the farmers, etc. 

More Good News!  Last Thursday a team from the South Pacific Community (SPC) and Fiji Ministry of Agriculture came on a fact-finding visit to the farm.  They were very impresed, and we will be writing a joint submission to the Green Climate Fund for January, focusing on developing hot weather adapted breeds of chickens that can be bred with ease in Fiji and the region.  Poverty alleviation, food security, and import substitution are integral parts of the concept. 

The potential for greatly increasing the scope and efffectiveness of the project is only possible because we are operational and not just talking- we are acting!  Thanks to each of our donors for helping make this happen... it means so much!  

We have surpassed the half way point to the project goal on Global Giving, with over $7,500. raised through your generous donations.  We received an additional check of $7,700. just last week by mail from the Ruth DuPont Lord Charitile Trust. We had been a bit worried that the ongoing Fiji work or several trips to Vanuatu would use up much of the Vanuatu funding due to the delays, but no more!  This additional gift is very exciting and encouraging.

If you have any questions or comments, please write me at:

I thank each and every one of you.


Ten Dozen Two-week old Chicks for Taveuni
Ten Dozen Two-week old Chicks for Taveuni
Jun 1, 2015

Upgraded Breeding Pens and Hatchery Improvements

Greetings to all our donors and circle of interest. 

News:  We have made real progress with upgrading our breeding pens in order to pass Biosecurity requirements for approval to send the chicks to Vanuatu.  The improvements are also making the pens much safer for trainees and the many children who "help" with the feeding and egg gathering!  The work, funded by a small grant from Ford Motors, was overdue.  The pens were unsafe because of a large colony of rats that had created a maze of burrows under the pen's dirt floors.  The rats had evaded all attempts at control.  I contracted the rat-borne disease leptospirosis, and our neighbor died of the disease a few years back.  We have now cemented the chicken house floors and sealed off the labrinth of rat tunnels.... and without their hiding places the rats have either died or have moved out!  The mistake of allowing left over feed to remain in the pens over night has also been corrected, so future rat problems will be kept to a minimum.  Once Biosecurity gives us the green light, the Vanuatu work will commence, which should be in late July. 

In the mean time here in Fiji we have begun the groundwork for a Happy Chicken workshop to take place in Votua Village on Fiji's Coral Coast, where the community has set aside a large reef area as a communty managed no-fishing conservation area.  Luisa, the wife of the village chief, is one of our most active Happy Chicken participants, and we envision a woman-focused project.  We will provide mobile rearing pens and training support, and the women will purchase the chicks at cost, and will build (with our input) the small chicken houses from local materials.  As the village is a major coconut producing area, training in virgin coconut oil production will also be conducted, with the waste coconut serving as a major feed for the chickens.     

Chicken News:  Summer vacation is over!  The summer molt, the two month period where the hens "go on vacation"- stop laying to rest and repair their bodies and change their feathers, started in late February and ended in early May.  We began setting eggs into the incubator just three weeks ago, and our first hatch took place this week. We sold nine dozen chicks to the community at cost in the Sigatoka Market on Saturday.  The hatch rate this time was only 60%, but we have since purchased a new humidity monitor.  We then discovered that the humidity was far too low in the incubator, and so we have been able to add pans of water and increase the humidity to the required 50%.  We have also added a hatcher, with a humidity of 75%, and so with better control of the incubation and hatching process we expect that subsequent hatches will be much improved. Lessons learned- don't trust faulty gages!    

Lastly, the UK NGO Just World Partnerships will be supporting me with a stipend this year, allowing full time focus on the Happy Chicken work.  We can assure you that all of the funds donated will go towards actual project costs, not personnel.

Thanks again for your part in making this work an emerging and growing success,

Austin Bowden-Kerby

Apr 14, 2015

News and Updates on the Happy Chicken project

Village Chickens In Vanuatu before the Cyclone
Village Chickens In Vanuatu before the Cyclone
Hi friends.  The good news is that we have now raised over US$5,000 and so we have been added as permanent members of Global Giving, a great help to future funding! 
We are also in discussions with Vanuatu government disaster relief management officials assigned to agricultural recovery and we have agreed to collaborate to avoid duplication and to make the work more efficient.  We already share a similar vision of improved village-level production of poultry, and C4C brings to the table improved village-appropriate methods to increase efficiency.  We also have an existing broodstock of over 100 diverse village-adapted hens, with 20 breeding roosters, capable of producing 8 thousand chicks per year.  Eight heritage breeds of chickens will also be brought into Fiji from New Zealand in September, and within six months these chickens will be added into the breeding flock, to increase the geneic diversity and productivuty of the chickens. 
So why is a coral reef conservation organization workg on community chicken farming? 
The following was Modified from a post to Coral List March 2015:  Dr. Austin Bowden-Kerby, 10 April 2015

Even chickens can help save coral reefs!

Poverty and a lack of alternative protein sources is directly linked to overfishing, which in turn leads to coral reef decline as species that normally control coral predators and algae disappear.  A widespread and prevailing condition exists on coral reefs globally whereby coral-killing animals (cerain starfish, snails, and worms), have become plagues on the corals and where algae overgrows the reef.  Reef degradation in turn leads to increased levels of hunger and more desperate acts of destructive fishing, using poisons and explosives to catch fish.  Similar negative impacts can be seen on terrestrial ecosystems and to wildlife as rural communities turn to bushmeat as one of the few food resources available to them in order to survive.  While many have said that we must address food security and poverty in order to break this cycle of overfishing, overhunting, and associated habitat destruction there are few projects addressing this matter.

The “Happy Chickens for Food Security and Environment” project promotes small-scale backyard production of chickens at low densities (subsistence level), so that the flock is able to obtain much or most of its food by forging for worms, bugs, grass, and compost.  Two to three dozen chickens per family; just enough to provide eggs for daily use and an occasional rooster or hen for the table for use during special family events.  For areas with less foraging space, cut grass and vegetation can be brought in and composted to support the chickens, supplemented with root crops, coconut etc. Chicken farmng is already part of the cultural framework of these communities.  The fishermen/ farmers are trained in the sustainable methods, which a modified and improved traditional backyard production system.  They receive a mobile rearing pen, chick startr for 5 weeks, and two dozen improved production village-type chicks.  The chickens begin laying eggs at five months, and breed a six months to produce the next generation, and the resulting chicks are cared for using the new methods, tripling the reproductive efficiency over traditional unimproved methods.  The farmers quickly become self-sufficient, while becoming less dependent on reef fish and other wildlife to meet their nutritional needs.  At 6-7 months each recipient farmed turns the rearing cage over to a new family, along with two dozen chicks, and the project doubles in size in this manner... the chicks are fed worms at that point grwon in compost established in the original training.    

The project does not support factory farming of chickens, which we feel is cruel, and which can result in considerable waste release into the environment, plus reliance on expensive commercial feeds imported to the islands.  Intensive commercial poultry production is a hazzard to coral reefs and does not address sustainable livelihoods for reef dependent communities either.

We have also made considerable progress developing low-intensity tilapia farming in polyculture with Muscovy ducks, and with geese for added security. We operate two fishponds at our Sustainable Environmental Livelihoods Farm, and have also established a demonstration site at a local boarding school, funded by Ford Motors through Global Giving.  

Although small, the Happy Chicken project is up and running and is perhaps the first project of its kind.  We were able to produce over five thousand baby chicks and 500 baby ducks last year and distributed them at cost to some 300 rural families in Fiji.  This year Vanuatu is our main target due to the recent severe cyclone (winds gusting up to 320Km/hr), which wiped out nearly all village chickens and damaging coral reefs. The last thing damaged reefs and forests and associated fish and wildlife need is increased fishing pressure.

Another goal now and into the near future is to identify ongoing projects in need and to partner with them in order to best support no-take marine protected areas and terrestrial nature reserves with the "Happy Chicken" project, replacing the protein lost during initial project establishment as well as preventing increased fishing/hunting pressure on the remaining open areas. We are yet to find a major donor, but we have accomplished much and will continue doing so through generous smaller acts of giving.  We would be happy to assist other geographic areas with startup of their own projects based on the lessons we have learned in the Pacific, and based on additonal funding. 

Thanks so much to our donors, and fro haring the link to the project with others.


Project manager

Austin Bowden-Kerby, PhD
Corals for Conservation
P.O. Box 4649 Samabula, Fiji Islands

Sustainable Environmental Livelihoods Farm
Km 20 Sigatoka Valley Road, Fiji Islands
(679) 938-6437


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