The Professional Chicken Sexer

A day-old chick

A day-old chick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A statistics gem to tweet about and use in math class:

“In the 1960s, one hatchery paid its sexers a penny for each correctly sexed chick and deducted 35 cents for each one they got wrong.  The best in the business can sex 1,200 chicks an hour with 98 to 99 percent accuracy.”

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (p. 51) by Joshua Foer

What’s a chicken sexer? Never thought I’d learn about such a subject, until…well, I read Foer’s book. Here’s the rub. Male chickens are not as desirable on a chicken ranch as their female counterparts, but it takes roughly four to six weeks to identify the sex of a newly hatched chick.  This is a costly problem on a chicken ranch.

In the 1920s, veterinarians from Japan figured out a way to tell the males from the females of day-old birds. The discovery of such a method helped ranches increase their profits.  Those who graduated from the Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing School were quickly employed in the agricultural world and earned celebrity status. These so-called chicken sexers turned a handsome profit, earning as much as $500 a day, in steep contrast to the scenario above.

9 thoughts on “The Professional Chicken Sexer

  1. Hi John!

    I hate to think about what happens to the chicks labeled as “male”.

    Some things I’d like to know:
    How much money did they make if they were 100% accurate, 99% accurate, 98% accurate?
    At what percent don’t you make any money?

    And how do I use this in a classroom of immature 8th graders? They would probably only wonder what the method looks like. Are you just feeling around for the chicks naughty bits? Actually, I’m kind of wondering that myself.

  2. If you account for 3% inflation, then the daily rate for 1920 in today’s dollars ranges from $420-$960. The claim of $500 a day may not be that far off.

    • Good point. But I read it as $500/day in 1920s money. From 1927 (when the trick was unveiled at the World Poultry Congress) to 2013, with the 3% inflation rate, the $500 would turn into $6353/day in 2013. That seems even crazier. Hmm…

  3. See, I do learn something new every day. The book itself looks interesting. Sheesh, this would be the 4th book this month that I’m buying because I read about it in a post (like yours) or saw it on Twitter. Not enough hours in the day! Fun post, John, thank you!

    (I would ban Nathan Kraft from commenting if I were you.)

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