Are Chickens Native to Africa?

Red Junglefowl

For many years in the running, poultry farming has become an important industry for most African countries. While they’re often seen in more rural areas, it’s not uncommon to see rare breeds of chicken roaming the grounds in more prosperous cities of Africa.

Economically, chickens are often the meat of choice in Africa as they are cheaper compared to beef. To some, they may avoid eating pork for religious reasons.

Beyond just consumption, however, chickens in Africa also fulfill multiple roles, including for export purposes and. But have you ever wondered how the poultry industry came to be in Africa? After all, are chickens even native to Africa?

Chickens are not native to Africa. Instead, experts have determined that all chickens worldwide – including those of Africa originate from Southeast Asia.

Unfortunately, there is no concrete evidence as to a specific geographical location as to where chickens are native from, but many clues point to areas such as northern India and southern China.

If Chickens Are Not Native, How Did They Arrive in Africa?

While a variety of indigenous African chickens have now well adapted to the continent’s climate, it’s still undeniable that chickens were never truly native to Africa. Instead, many may wonder how these flightless birds could have made their way from Southeast Asia to Africa?

In the past, chickens have been known to reside in the wild and mostly in tropical jungles in Southeast Asia. However, approximately 8,000 years ago, chickens began to gain popularity as a domesticated animal and quickly became a valuable animal for various uses.

Its main ancestor, the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus), was native to areas like sub-Himalayan northern India, southern China, and generally Southeast Asia. Despite this, chickens were never migratory as they were not known to fly, making their shift from Southeast Asia to Africa almost impossible.

As such, many historians believe that today’s chickens are present in Africa due to the movement of peoples in the past. This belief is supported by evidence such as indigenous African chicken breeds having traces of chicken breeds from countries like Malaysia.

Despite this, there is no concrete evidence that could prove when chickens first arrived on African soil. However, most historians agree that the estimated years for chickens to arrive in Africa happened around 2,500 years ago. Subsequently, many also believe that chickens were brought into Africa through North Africa, the Nile Valley, and Egypt.

Whether these chickens were brought in for economical reasons or otherwise, we can now see that they have developed into various African chicken breeds of their own. This indirectly allowed many African farmers to venture into poultry farming, creating a new line of import and export businesses revolving around the various types of chickens and eggs worldwide.

A Guide to the Different Types of Chickens That Can Be Found in Africa

Despite its unknown origins, many non-native chickens from the past have since been crossbred and become known as indigenous African chickens.

Many believe that there could be hundreds – perhaps even thousands of different African chicken breeds, but not all have been officially recorded as native breeds to South Africa. Instead, here is a simple guide to help you recognize the different types of registered African chicken breeds.

The Potchefstroom Koekoek

The Potchefstroom Koekoek is also fondly known as the Cuckoo. Its name was perhaps derived from the fact that it was bred at the Potchefstroom college by Professor Chris Marais and was created in the 1950s.

These birds result from cross-breeding between the Black Australorps, the Plymouth Rocks, and the White Leghorns. It’s a popular breed in most rural areas in Africa, given that it can produce an average of about 198 eggs a year.

Potchefstroom Koekoek chickens are regularly black and white barred, and you can tell its gender from the day it is born as they are sex-linked. For example, if a red or black rooster is bred across from a Koekoek hen, the females produced will have completely black feathers. However, if you see a white spot on their heads, that is the sign that the chicken is born a male.

The Original Venda Chicken

To date, there are no indications of how the Original Venda chicken came to be, except that they were discovered in the Venda area in 1979. They were found by Dr. Nass Coetzee, the Government Veterinary Surgeon of Bloemfontein

The Original Venda chicken is said to carry various colors on its soft feathers – with brown, black, and white being its predominant colors.

Approximately 129 eggs are produced a year by the Original Venda chicken. These birds are widely popular for how well they can self-sustain and develop resistance for diseases and have been used for crossbreeding with other chickens to create the Boschveld chicken breed.

Boschveld Chicken

Although these are the preferred breed for many poultry farmers in Africa, the Boschveld chicken has not been an officially registered breed in South Africa.

Bred as a crossing between the Venda chicken, Ovambo chicken, and the Matabele chicken, the Boschveld chicken was created on a farm in 1998 by farmer Mike Bosch.

Due to its cross-breeding, Boschveld chickens regularly have a beautiful coat of feathers and produce top-quality eggs that encapsulating qualities from the Venda chicken, Ovambo chicken, and Matabele chicken.

The Ovambo Chickens

Perhaps a rare breed of its own, Ovambo chickens is said to have originated from Ovamboland. They are characterized by their unique colors of black feathers with streaks of orange or white feathers in the mix.

Ovambo chickens are known to be agile and occasionally, you may even see them fly up in trees to stay away from its predators. They can be aggressive, although this has allowed them to ensure they survive even the harshest of conditions.

Ovambo chickens regularly produce approximately 129 eggs a year.

Naked Neck Chickens

Naked Neck chickens are an outstanding breed of indigenous chickens in Africa, having evolved in the 17th Century when the original Naked Neck chickens were imported from Malaysia.

They usually have 50% as many feathers as most other chickens and can tolerate heat better than any other chicken breeds. Naked Neck chickens also require less feed than most chicken breeds and have even been exported to France for breeding purposes.

Naked Neck chickens are typically characterized as purebred Naked Necks, where they typically have no feathers on their necks and the non-purebred chickens where you’ll see tassels of feathers across the front of their necks.

In Summary

Despite not being native to Africa, it’s hard to deny the poultry industry’s effects on many parts of Africa. Aside from the obvious economic opportunities, many Africans have also benefited from today’s indigenous African chickens – whether for consumption, export, egg farming, or to place them in the game pit to make money.

Today, most poultry keepers in African are women and young children. While they are not well known in the western countries yet, many farmers believe that the African breeds will continue to flourish and make their mark on the poultry industry someday.


Hi, My name is Rasmus. I am a hobby "polytarian" and a backyard farmer. Ever since I was a baby, I have been surrounded by poultry of all kinds. This blog is my way of sharing what I have learned from my bird-crazy family, books, and my personal experience.

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