In 2018, 2019, AND 2020, we made multiple trips to the tiny resource-poor atoll nations of Tuvalu and Kiribati. While our mission there was mostly coral restoration focused, to help restore healthy fish populations, we also found that there are some good chickens living in small groups on the islands, but knowledge on raising chickens more intensely was pretty low. People had the idea that imported chicken feed was required to raise egg producing chickens. However, we found that feed sources were available that the small-scale chicken owners were not aware of, which would allow them to increase their flocks. Surprisingly, several of these same wild food resources are ideal diabetic-prevention foods for humans!
Fresh Eggs Supply Protein when Fish are too Toxic to Eat:
This information is particularly important for Kiribati, where the need for fresh eggs is vital these days, as the coral reefs there are now mostly dead and the fish too poisonous to eat due to a series of climate change caused marine heat waves. Reefs dominated by dead corals skeletons, have created an ideal habitat for a toxic microalgae (Gambierdiscus toxicus), which then were consumed by algae-eating fish, such as parrotfish and surgeonfish, and the toxin enters the food chain, making virtually all reef fish too dangerous to eat on many of the islands. This neurotoxin is called "ciguatera", and it can be deadly. After staying on Christmas Island, Kiribati for two weeks, I risked eating a reef snapper at a local restaurant, and within an hour, I became violently ill, with tingling and itchy hands and feet, headaches, joint pains, and vomiting. Taratau Kirata, the Officer in Charge at Fisheries, who had worked so hard for the project was hospitalized with severe ciguatera poisoning, and afterwards he developed severe diabetes. Sadly, Taratau passed away last May.
Yummy Recipes for Spicy Pickles, Seaweed Soup, and Coconut Jelly Pie:
Taratau was trying to get the local communities to grow introduced commercially valuable seaweeds for export, with not much interest, until I conducted three cooking classes to show the women how to make delicious pickles, soups, and coconut jelly pie! Taratau's 12-year-old daughter Oileen got very excited and made the spicy pickles and she made a small business selling them at her school in litttle plastic bags! The importance of this seaweed to diabetics is not only the fact that it is high in iodine and so it speeds up metabolism, but also that when eaten with a meal, it slows down the absorbtion of sugar into the blood stream. However, it is vital to remove the excessive potassium it contains, which is 8% by weight in fresh seaweed! This can be done by either drying and washing the seaweeds or soaking them briefly in boiling water. So what does this have to do with chickens- well the chickens also love to eat the seaweed, once the excess potassium is removed! The seaweed is also an excellent fertilizer for papayas, sweet potatoes, and bananas, all of which feed both humans and chickens.
Seaweed Can Clean Marine Environment & Feed Sea Turtles, Rabbitfish, plus benefit Chickens and People!
Seaweed farming, in addition to feeding chickens and humans for diabetes prevention, is also a valuable exportable product, as it is a source of the gel used in toothpaste, ice cream, hair care products, sustainable plastic replacements, baby diapers, etc. The seaweeds also improve the environment by cleaning the waters of pollution, feed sea turtles and rabbitfish, and provide fish shelter habitat. Vegetable gardens also respond well when composted with the water retaining seaweeds-- which also provide amazingly high sources of natural timed-release fertilizer, with wonderful water retention properties. The garden products and garden waste can also be fed to the chickens as well.
In both Tuvalu and Kiribati, we also found thriving on the poor sandy soil of the island some drumstick trees- Moringa! This plant, introduced from Fiji, is an excellent source of vitamins and complete protein. The leaves are absolutely adored by chickens- which eat it raw. The leaves can also be cooked and eaten by humans, and we did just that in the workshops! The two recipes we tried were simply adding it to traditional coconut cream and (tinned) fish soup and fried with freshly grated coconut at a ratio to 50/50. YUM!
We attempted for years to bring in our Happy Chickens from Fiji, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful, due to biosecurity concerns. The good news is that five people were able to come from Kiribati to the farm in 2019, and they learned all about how to raise the chickens on foraging and local feeds. They returned to their three home islands to work with our local NGO partner to improve the local chickens that were available.
Best Happy Chickens Feed Includes Coconut 'Brains,' Breadfruit, Well-Rotted Compost & More!
Our Happy Chickens solution is that the chickens need to be in rural areas where they can forage for food-- not confined to houses and small pens. Local feeds must be produced, consisting of defatted coconut waste (no mouldy copra), fresh coconut and coconut 'brains' (embryos inside the sprouted nuts), Moringa/ drumstick leaves, wild Leucaena leaves, sweet potato leaves, wild beach pea vigna marina leaves, wild purslane, cooked ofenga leaves (common ornamental hedge), chopped wild amaranth stems, waste food, well-rotted compost, grass clippings, cooked breadfruit and breadfruit skins, and cooked seaweeds. In essence everything that pigs benefit from eating, also makes chickens healthy and happy. In addition, growing chicks need to eat some cooked (non-toxic) fish or smashed fiddler crabs.
The best chickens are NOT the imported meat birds or egg birds, but what we have produced here on the farm. We are encouraging cross breeding between imported brown egg layers and local chickens, to increase productivity. Here at the farm, after over ten years of selective breeding, we have a very diverse dual purpose meat and egg producing cross breed. We are encouraging the farmers of the region to undergo the same cross breeding and selection process to create their own productive local breeds.
Plans to Return to Tuvalu & Kiribati Foiled by Covid Flight Restrictions
I had planned on returning to Tuvalu and Kiribati, but alas the pandemic hit and flights completely shut down. Fiji had no flights for over a full year, while Tuvalu only opened flights last November, and flights into Christmas Island, which remained COVID free for the entire pandemic, only opened this month!
Here at the farm, this is our off season for chick production, as the older flocks are mostly in their moult. The hens will be starting their second, third, or fourth year of production in April/May, while a group of 60 younger hens will soon be laying. The young roosters are crowing up a storm and are fighting some too, so we will soon be selecting the biggest and healthiest roosters to change out the older roosters, and become the father's of the next generaton of happy chickens!
Thanks again to all our supporters!
Loloma Love from Fiji, Grandpa Austin
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