When my grandfather was a new immigrant to Canada, he arrived with just enough money to buy a few chickens and a rooster. He was trained as a butcher in the old country, and his poultry purchases were part of his plan for the family to survive and thrive in their new world. My father told me stories about how, as the youngest child, it was his job to help his mother feed and clean up after their always-hungry, always-pooping, always-growing, flock of chickens. So imagine my surprise when I read this article written by Bill Gates.

“If you were living on $2 a day, what would you do to improve your life? This is a real question for nearly 1 billion people today. There’s no single right answer, but after doing extensive research, it’s pretty clear that just about anyone who’s living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens. In fact, if I were in their shoes —I would raise chickens. Here’s why:

Chickens are easy and inexpensive to take care of. Many breeds eat whatever they can peck on the ground — although if you can feed them, they’ll grow faster. Chickens need a few vaccines — the one that prevents the deadly Newcastle disease costs less than 20 cents. And it’s good for hens to have some kind of shelter where they can nest, so as the flock grows, you might get some wood and wire to make a coop.

Chickens are a good investment. Suppose you start with five hens, and a neighbor owns a rooster to fertilize the hens’ eggs. After three months, you can have a flock of 40 chicks. Eventually, with a sale price of $5 per chicken—which is typical in West Africa—you can earn more than $1,000 a year. This is a huge contrast with the extreme-poverty line of about $700 a year.

Chickens provide fresh eggs that are rich in protein and healthy nutrients. Malnutrition kills more than 3.1 million children a year. Eating eggs helps eliminate both hunger and malnutrition.

Chickens are known in international development circles as ‘the ATM of the poor,’ because they’re easy to sell on short notice to cover day-to-day expenses. You can raise chickens and earn money for short term emergencies and long term income.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is betting on chickens in their goal to end poverty and hunger. They’re partnering with Heifer International to gift 100,000 already-vaccinated chickens to interested people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It’s inspiring to know that together, the two organizations will help 30 percent of rural families in that region raise chickens. My grandfather would be delighted!

Let’s hope the chicken strategy works as well in Africa in 2016, as it did in Canada in 1899.

Sources:;; Dr. Batamaka Somé, Anthropologist; Donald Organ, Historian.