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Thirteen qualitative and six quantitative variables taken from 303 adult chickens (95 cocks and 208 hens) from three locations/districts were used to phenotypically characterize the indigenous chicken populations in pastoral areas of South Omo Zone, Ethiopia. The studied traits were influenced by the effect of location and sex, where chicken populations from Hamer district and females of all districts were the smallest and lightest. Qualitative characteristics of the studied chicken populations such as normal feather morphology and distribution, plain plumage pattern, flat head shape, triangular body shape, and dominant red eye, earlobe and plumage colour suggest that they constitute previously undescribed populations. Chest circumference, wingspan and body length were the three most important morphometric traits used in discriminating the studied chicken populations. On average, 61% of the sampled populations were classified correctly into their respective locations. The multivariate analysis results discriminate the chicken populations into two groups: the Hamer group and the Omo group (chickens from Bena Tsemay and Male districts). However, such grouping should be confirmed and advanced to ecotype level using further genetic characterization studies as the observed phenotypic differences might be due to genetic or environmental variations. Such confirmation is important to design breeding programmes (for sustainable utilization) specific to each ecotype.
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