THE outbreak of anthrax in several places such as Southern, Western, Eastern, Lusaka, Muchinga and North-Western Province has resulted in some consumers temporarily abandoning beef and opting for chickens.
In Ndola, sprawling townships such as Masala, Pamodzi, Chifubu, Ndeke and the central business district (CBD) around the Zambia Railways premises are currently teeming with customers looking for live birds.
The birds are being sold in the range of K100 and K250, depending on the size of the chickens, and whether they’re broilers or village chickens.
Chicken is one of the most popular products on the Zambian menu.
It is not surprising that some people raise broilers in the backyard using charcoal braziers if they are not connected to Zesco supply or to a solar energy source.
While village chickens were in the past popular in the countryside, these birds, just like broilers, are the vogue in urban areas because they are providing a quick income.
At the Zambia Railways premises in Ndola, chicken sellers are seen disembarking from the train coming from rural parts of Southern, Central and Copperbelt to sell the live birds at a good price in Ndola.
When the chickens arrive in Ndola, the Zambia Railways premises located on the northern end of President Avenue are normally besieged by customers eager to buy chickens.
A plate of nshima with chicken in a restaurant that would normally be sold at between K30 and K40 is now fetching in the range of K45 to K60.
Of late, the demand especially for village chickens in some parts of the country has more than tripled owing to the outbreak of anthrax.
But this not to imply that consumers have completely done away with consuming meat products as some customers could be seen purchasing meat, although the traffic in terms of people flocking to meat butcheries has drastically reduced.
Farmers who spoke to the author explained how they were cashing in as well as giving insights on chicken rearing.
According to Mailoshi Mukwatu, a chicken seller in Ndola who hails from Chikonkomene area of Central province, a broiler matures in about six weeks while a village chicken matures in six months, the reason village chickens are pricier.
He said some consumers don’t enjoy eating broilers because of the chemicals given to the birds. They prefer eating village chickens, causing a higher demand while supply is low.
Mr Mukwatu said it is difficult to make a profit quickly with village chickens, especially in rural areas, because most farmers who haven’t connected their chicken runs to electricity or solar supply need to wait for 21 days for the eggs to hatch before the chicks grow into adults in six months.
He said unlike broilers or layers which survive on being fed, the advantage of village chickens is that they normally feed on insects, maize corn and different kinds of cereals which they scavenge from the ground.
Stella Chola, another farmer, explained that village chickens are more resistant to diseases than broilers.
Ms Chola said layers are grown specifically to produce eggs and they can lay eggs for 18 months and if kept for longer, they stop producing eggs and should therefore be sold immediately.
She said broilers are also prone to diseases and their environment is supposed to be kept clean at all times while their drinking water must be changed often.
Ms Chola said the outbreak of anthrax has come as a blessing in disguise for the chicken farmers who were cashing in.
She said while farmers sympathize with their colleagues whose animals have been affected by the animal disease, they were elated that the Government is vaccinating domesticated animals to contain the spread of anthrax.
Recently Southern Province Minister Credo Nanjuwa said more than 96, 000 livestock have been vaccinated against anthrax.
The vaccinations have captured cattle, sheep and goats.
Chilije Mtonga, a Kitwe-based medical doctor, says anthrax normally affects livestock such as cattle and wild animals. These get infected by eating the bacteria found in the soil.
People, on the other hand, are infected by consuming contaminated meat, or when anthrax spores come into contact with their skin, or when they inhale the spores.
When the spores enter the human body, the bacteria can then multiply, spread out and produce toxins. This leads to severe illness and fatalities.
Dr Mtonga said one of the prevention measures of anthrax include members of the public not eating raw or uncooked meat products or avoiding buying meat from unregistered butcheries.
The fear of getting infected with anthrax has caused some members of the public to look for alternatives such as chickens and fish.
A veterinary expert on the Copperbelt who declined to be named explained that most birds such as chickens are naturally resistant to anthrax because of their higher body temperature.