Nine years ago the world was introduced to the bald chicken, a featherless chicken that was being cultivated in an attempt to create a more viable commercially raised chicken. The experiment was designed to study the “economic and environmental advantages” of a natural breed of chicken that is born without feathers.
So why a bald chicken?
According to an Israeli scientist, Professor Avigdor Cahaner of the Hebrew University if Jarusalem’s Faculty of Agriculture, Rehovot, there is a whole list of benefits to a chicken without feathers – specifically in hotter climates. After years of study, Cahaner now claims that there is a clear economic advantage to bald chickens; according to his research, bald chickens grow faster, are more efficient, and heat resistant – all factors that he thinks will benefit the poultry industry.
The problem for chickens in hotter climates is that the feathers of standard chickens prevent dissipation of internal body heat which reduces their growth rate, meat yield, and meat quality. The heat build up also results in the death of a large number of commercially raised chickens resulting in losses to production. Cahaner goes on to explain, ““Currently, these negative consequences can be countered only by expensive energy-dependent cooling and ventilation systems that increase costs and reduce competitiveness of broiler production in hot climates.”
The bald chicken certainly has it’s critics, like Joyce D’Silva of Compassion in World Farming. D’Silva says that the idea of a bald chicken is “disgusting”, and that “It’s a prime example of sick science and the suggestion that it would be an improvement for developing countries is obscene. Factory farming is such an inappropriate technology for developing countries because it uses scarce resources like water, electricity and grain that could be used for human consumption, to produce meat that only the middle classes can afford.”
Another drawback to featherless chickens is that nature gave chickens feathers for a reason. “Naked” chickens are more susceptible to parasites, mosquitos, sunburn, and even slight temperature variations.
And then, there is the problem with mating. Deputy Director of research at the Russian Veterinary Institute for Poultry Farming, Margarita Dmitrieva, points out that “When pairing the rooster may injure the hen with its nails and beak because it has no feathers on the head and the neck. Even now, the nails of two of the rooster’s fingers have to be cut off in order to prevent him from injuring the hen. But in the case of new breed, there will be scratches left on the hen’s skin, while the rooster will have nothing to hold on to with its beak. This can be quite dangerous for the hen because when other birds see an injured hen they start plucking her. This means that the hen would have to be isolated, treated or culled.”
Many of the opponents of the bald chicken claim that they were develop through genetic modification, but the Israeli scientist insist that the breed was developed naturally through natural selection, in a process that involved selective breeding between chickens that naturally had fewer feathers. The Israeli scientists also assure people that “The food prepared from bald chicken does not taste any different from those prepared from ordinary chicken”, That is, unless you happen to see the bald chicken alive – in which case, would you eat it?