Indigenous chicken populations are known for their ability to produce with limited feed resources and minimum management. Although phenotypic characterization is important for improvement and genetic conservation those populations are not fully characterized. A study was conducted to identify and describe phenotypic characteristics and document diversity of the indigenous chicken populations of northwestern Tigrai, northern Ethiopia. A total of 320 indigenous chicken aged above 20 weeks (120 male and 200 female) were sampled from the randomly selected three districts. The sampled chicken were from lowland (141) and midland (179) agro-ecologies. Qualitative traits like plumage color, earlobe color, comb color and type, eye color, and head type, and quantitative traits including body weight, body length, breast circumference, shank length, wing length, wing span, wattle width, wattle length, comb length and comb width were collected. The result indicated that majority of the indigenous chicken population of northwestern Tigrai had red (27.2%) and gray/gebsima (25.3%) plumage color, white and red (50.6%) earlobe color, white (44.1%) shank color, red (97.2%) comb color, single (65.6%) comb type, yellow (39.7%) eye color, and plain (71.6%) head type. Chickens at lowland (1.44kg) had higher body weight than chicken populations at midland (1.29kg). The mean values of body length, breast circumference, shank length, wing length, wing span, wattle width, wattle length, comb length, and comb width of the indigenous chicken population of the studied area were 38.9, 26.3, 9.6, 16.0, 41.9, 2.55, 2.18, 4.43 and 1.95 cm, respectively. The quantitative traits were different (p <0.05) among sex and agro-ecology except breast circumference of cocks and hen. According to this study it was revealed that indigenous chicken population of the area had important economical traits which are potential for improvement by designing and implementing appropriate breeding strategies even under the available management systems.
Keywords: Agro-ecology, cock, hen, morphological traits, sex