Chickens have a great ability to keep their heads stable. Our bodies use a gyro-like mechanism in our ears which has 3 mutually orthogonal inertial measurement devices. Modern motion processors use something called an Inertial Measurment Unit (IMU). These devices provide movement data which can be used to compensate for the movement. Chickens apparently have the same type mechanism only with a higher update rate.
Chickens have feathers for a reason, or at least that’s how nature intended it. Nine years after the first information on featherless chickens became known, the attention of the public and world media has once again focused on this experiment designed for one purpose–to create a commercial chicken under the assumption of economic and environmental advantages.
The Israeli scientist, Professor Avigdor Cahaner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Agriculture, Rehovot, listed
expected benefits of the featherless broilers, especially recognised for hot climate countries.
Now, after genetic modifications and many trials, Cahaner says that all the expected benefits had been proved. He is convinced that there
is a clear economic advantage of growing featherless birds in hot and humid regions.
Cahaner claims the chickens are more efficient, faster growing, heat resistant which will ultimately benefit the poultry industry. It’s necessary to understand how scientists such Cahaner think to better understand their motives in genetic experimentation.
Cahaner explains that in hot conditions the feathers of standard chickens prevent efficient dissipation of excess or internally-produced heat. Consequently reducing their actual growth rate, meat yield and meat quality. Also, many die before marketing. “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.”
Indeed, featherless chickens do not need any artificial cooling or ventilation, and may improved marketability, however when did scientists stop questioning whether they should instead of persisting with whether they could.
Broiler chickens have been bred to gain weight rapidly. But in the process they generate a lot of heat. Farmed chickens are kept at about 20 degrees C – the optimum temperature for weight gain. But in warm countries, expensive air conditioning is necessary to keep to this temperature – and this cannot be afforded by poorer farmers, Cahaner says.
Critics say past experience with feather-free chickens resulting from random genetic mutation shows they suffer more than normal birds. Males have been unable to mate, because they cannot flap their wings, and “naked” chickens of both sexes are more susceptible to parasites, mosquito attacks and sunburn.
“Featherless birds would also be very susceptible to any temperature variations – especially as young birds,” says Tom Acamovic, of the Scottish Agricultural College in Ayr.
The chicken is “disgusting”, says Joyce D’Silva of Compassion in World Farming. “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.”
The opponents of the new species have accused the Israeli scientists of having created a genetically modified chicken, reports The Voice of Russia. But the scientists dismiss these charges and insist that the new chicken comes from a natural breed. From the scientific standpoint, it’s an ordinary chicken except for the fact that it has no feathers. The new species has been bred through natural selection. The geneticists have spent a long time interbreeding broiler chickens with birds with fewer feathers.
Russian experts have found another serious drawback in the new species of chicken. The absence of feathers will create discomfort during mating, says Deputy Director of research at the Russian Veterinary Institute for Poultry Farming, Margarita Dmitrieva:
“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,” Dr Dmitrieva said.
The Israeli geneticists agree with their Russian colleagues but continue to breed bald chickens. The team of researchers led by Avigdor Cahaner is carrying on the experiment. They weigh and measure the newly breed chickens, compare with the conventional breeds and monitor their population, feeding and growth. “The food prepared from bald chicken does not taste any different from those prepared from ordinary chicken,” say those who have just tasted the food prepared with bald chickens, as long as you haven’t seen those horrible creatures alive.
Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.
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