Scientific name: Gallus gallus domesitcus
Country / Place of origin: Ovamboland in Northern Namibia
History: The Ovambo is a native Southern African chicken, typically with dark black and red plumage (though the plumage of the hens is often more variable). Like another South African native chicken, the Venda, they are known for associating with grazing cattle where they pick off ticks from the skins of the cows. It is believed that the early ancestors of this breed were introduced by the earliest European visitors to Namibia and the German colonists of the 18th century. The survivors of these earliest introductions survived and cross-bred to produce the Ovamba, a breed that could survive by scratching out an existence in the barren semi-desert. Natural selection due to predators meant that birds with dark plumage and which could fly into trees to escape predators survived. Thus the Ovambo is a dark-plumaged bird which is small in size, aggressive and which roosts in the tops of the trees. In fact, the behaviour of the Ovambo is very similar to that of the native guinea fowl of the region. The Ovambo is a very hardy breed and a true omnivore. They are adapted to surviving on insects, edible weeds, greens and household scraps. Despite being very wild in nature, they are valued as village birds as they will catch and consume vermin like mice and even rats. When food is scarce they can range over a 1 hectare area of land in a single day. Ovambos reach sexual maturity in 143 days, they will lay up to 130 eggs a year with the eggs weighing, on average, 52.5g. Though not as broody as the related Venda the Ovambo chicken is still known to be a good mother.
Current Uses: Meat, Eggs, Pest Control
Appearance: Typically Ovambos are dark to black in terms of their main coloration (though some Brown, red and Partridge Leghorn are often seen in the hens). The roosters are smart birds, with an upright stance and horizontal backs with erect tails. The base feather colour is black, but the necks, wings and rumps have red plumage as well. Combs and wattles are long and typically bright red in colour. Beaks and legs are yellow and the legs are sturdy with long, slender, toes for gripping branches.
Average weight: 2.5 - 5 lbs.
Diet: The Ovambo is the ultimate scavenger and a true omnivore. They will eat grass, seeds, kitchen scraps (including peelings) and insects. They are also known to hunt for rodents and lizards (up to and including rats). Because they can fly, they can alight on cattle and many cattle farmers often place some of these birds in movable coops so that they can roost near their cows. They can scratch and scavenge for the entirety of their diet, but they can be raised more intensively and perform better if fed commercial chicken feed. If there is no natural water source, fresh, clean, water should always be provided.
Housing: Under typical 'village' conditions the chickens are left outside to scavenge for themselves all year round. As good brooders, they will even lay, brood and raise chicks with no human intervention. This breed will fly and roost in trees if no coops or other housing are provided and this makes them one of the most predator-proof of all Africa's native chickens. On more intensive farms where there are cattle they are sometimes housed in coops which are moved with the animals and the Ovamba are used as natural pest control (though the Venda is increasingly taking over this function, being tamer birds).
Health issues: Ovambas are naturally healthy and robust birds, due to their mixed genetic ancestry. They are known as a vigorous breed that can forage for the entirety of their diet.
Behavior / Temperament / Activity level: This is a very active bird that can fly long distances. They are known for being feisty and rather aggressive in temperament (they have the hunting abilities of gamefowl but the appearance of domestic chickens). Essentially these are very low management chickens that are kept as much for their pest control abilities as for their eggs and meat. When threatened the roosters will hold their own in a fight against a mongoose or even a village dog.Written by Dyfed Lloyd Evans