Manila, July 24, 2003 (STAR) Native chickens used to be grown in backyards and were intended for family consumption only. Hence, there was no native chicken industry to speak of in the old days.

But Anthony P. Inocencio, who used to be a contract grower for a big food company in the 80's, decided that native chicken could become a profitable industry, provided someone starts breeding it with other foreign breeds on a commercial scale.

In 1997 he decided to mate imported sasso (an acronym for selectione de avecole dela Sartre et sud ouest or selections from Sartre, France and southwest) with local native chickens to produce a superior breed in meat and egg production. SASSO is a cooperative of native chicken farmers in France who bonded together and adopted the acronym as the trade name as well. The biggest farm in France produces 25 million heads a year and the smallest produces 60,000 chicken a year.

In Asia, sassos are being bred with the native chickens in Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan with the later having the biggest production at 100,000 heads.

Inocencio said he shifted from white leghorns to native chickens knowing how they are being pumped with so much chemical medicines and preventive antibiotics the residuals of which are eaten by humans making them more prone to allergies and other diseases such as breast cancer, among others; and b) because free range chicken are healthier since they feed themselves with more greens that in turn get to be consumed by humans.

Besides, he said, there is room for starting a commercial native chicken industry in the country considering that more and more consumers who can afford it are following the Westerners hunger for organic food and the mounting volumes of scientific and medical research showing the ill effects of residual antibiotics and inorganic medicines on humans.

With the GATT in place next year, there is no telling how big the organic chicken market abroad is, which could not be filled unless someone starts an industry now. This early, he said, Germany has required only the sale of table eggs from free range chicken by 2004 and in the whole of Europe by 2007. By 2012, the European market will buy only free range (native) chickens.

The Inocencio Farm, which used to be called Teresa Farms when it was still a white leghorn enterprise, devotes half of its 20 hectares of rolling terrain to sasso chickens, which are kept in existing houses but are allowed to roam freely for the entire day. Though they are fed with the feeds that Inocencio himself formulates, they are left to go around pecking at plants, roots, soil and other things.

The farm contains 10,000 head of chickens at any given time but only 8,000 of this population is for production purposes to produce chicks that would be distributed to other satellite breeders of sasso in the country.

While the price of native chicken is P95 per kilo for live and P150 to P180 per kilo for dressed chicken versus the leghorns' P80 per kilo dressed, there is a huge local market, which could hardly be filled by local sasso production, Inocencio said.

Demand for chicken in the Philippines is at 635 million a year. Chicken is the cheapest protein source.

The breeders produce to four to five times a year and are productive for one to one-half years with those that have gone past their productive stage being put under rehabilitation or are sold as meat (with trade name Tony's Country Chicken) in organic stores including Landmark. A breeder can last up to five years.

A female can produce 150 chicks with the chicks costing P35 a piece, Inocencio said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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