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Chick Sexing
November 19, 2007 10:14 AM   Subscribe

"Over and over he scoops up a chick with his left hand, expels its droppings with a squeeze of his thumb, opens its vent with his fingers, peers through the magnifying lenses attached to his spectacles and determines its sex." It's a dirty job (YT). Sexing chicks early is important so that the cockerels can be separated and culled^ or fed to be broilers^. The obvious differences take weeks to develop, so when the vent sexing method was developed in Japan in the 1920s, professional chicken sexers became sought after.

After years of training, they can sex a thousand day-old chicks an hour with 99% accuracy. In many cases the sexer cannot say why he made a particular decision. The method is learned mostly empirically and is not open to introspection, which has made it of considerable interest to philosophers and cognitive scientists. Vent sexing is in decline, however, owing to development of feather sexing (i.e. using breeds with differences in feather length or color).

Would you like to learn to sex chicks? There are plenty of resources, such as A Guide to Sexing Chicks (1935). Better yet, The Specialist Chick Sexer is a modern treatment (there is an extract and another poultry essay available). You can sex all fowl, actually.

Cognitive scientists, philosophers, and psychologists all like chicken sexing. Biederman (of geon^ fame) and Shiffrar showed (PDF) that novices can be trained to decent accuracy with explicit perceptual clues. There's a discussion of chicken sexing in the defunct PSYCHE-B cognitive science listserv (more useful archive here). Scroll down to see it, particularly Bruce Mangan's post.

(There was an earlier post, and the main link is good if you can get access.)
posted by parudox (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just popping in to defuse the "how to sex chicks" joke right away. You'll thank me later.
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Damn you, DU. Damn you.
posted by milarepa at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2007


Birdse.
posted by ardgedee at 10:24 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Let me tell you a little about Dave Rooney.

Dave had a blood disease at 3 1/2 years old. He had both his legs amputated. In 8th grade, he played guard on his high school basketball team. He pitched baseball. At age 15, he saved a buddy from drowning.

Dave also played piano -- he started as a child studying the classica (Chopin, Bach, et al), but switched over to jazz. He eventually foudned his own band, the Dave Rooney Trio. They used to play around Minneapolis, at an old club called Diamond Lils. Popular standards, like Fly Me To the Moon, done with a solid swing.

Dave was a chicken sexer. I kid you not. Studied it at the University of Minnesota. Shlepped back and forth between rural farms when he wasn't pounding the keys.

He's the only chicken sexer I know of, and I only the know the man through his albums, but I'll tell you something: If Dave Rooney is typical of chicken sexers, then chicken sexers are all right by me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:39 AM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Defusing "How to sex chicks" jokes early is important so that the cockerels can be separated and culled
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:40 AM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


It is important so that cockerels can be separated and caponed ( nothing to do with Al )
posted by adamvasco at 10:49 AM on November 19, 2007


I wonder how many weblobgs make use of the cloaca tag, not just once, but twice?
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:50 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I love that Biederman and Shiffrar paper for a lot of reasons, but most of all because they put a black bar over the eyes of the chicken in the picture on top of page 3 of the PDF, presumably to protect the chicken's privacy.
posted by nixxon at 10:52 AM on November 19, 2007 [4 favorites]


Crikey. Watch what happens when I stick my fingah in her cloaca!
posted by stenseng at 10:53 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, sexing one chick every 3.6 seconds is pretty crazy. I wouldn't even be able to pull off 20 minutes.
posted by kureshii at 10:55 AM on November 19, 2007


In that YT-linked "Dirty Jobs" segment, one of the chicken sexers tells Mike Rowe that he tells the difference from the pin feathers rather than from the vent itself.

This is one of my personal favorite segments of "Dirty Jobs", thanks for the keen post.
posted by briank at 10:57 AM on November 19, 2007


"Let me tell you a little about Dave Rooney.

Dave had a blood disease at 3 1/2 years old. He had both his legs amputated. In 8th grade, he played guard on his high school basketball team. He pitched baseball. At age 15, he saved a buddy from drowning.

Dave also played piano -- he started as a child studying the classica (Chopin, Bach, et al), but switched over to jazz. He eventually foudned his own band, the Dave Rooney Trio. They used to play around Minneapolis, at an old club called Diamond Lils. Popular standards, like Fly Me To the Moon, done with a solid swing.

Dave was a chicken sexer. I kid you not. Studied it at the University of Minnesota. Shlepped back and forth between rural farms when he wasn't pounding the keys.

He's the only chicken sexer I know of, and I only the know the man through his albums, but I'll tell you something: If Dave Rooney is typical of chicken sexers, then chicken sexers are all right by me."


And now you know ...

...the rest of the story.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:07 AM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]



Wow, sexing one chick every 3.6 seconds is pretty crazy. I wouldn't even be able to pull off 20 minutes.


Wasn't that already diffused? And in case it isn't:

'Blimey indeed! I'm not sure I can pull myself off more than once in 20 minutes!"*





*Yes. Yes, I am getting old. And also, I like to tease myself. It gets lonely here. :(
posted by Brockles at 11:09 AM on November 19, 2007


I think cloaca might be my favorite word.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:18 AM on November 19, 2007


From the paper: "It is necessary to sort male chicks from female chicks as early as possible before considerable feed costs are invested in a useless bird." Ouch.
posted by smackfu at 11:18 AM on November 19, 2007


You think chick sexing is funny? Wikipedia sez: "Jizz is the term used by birders to describe the immediate recognition of a bird from the briefest of glimpses. This perception of the essential characteristics of a bird, whether colour, size, shape, sound or likeness, is only something that can be demonstrated after much experience."
posted by parudox at 11:41 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


A chick walks by you wish you could sex her/
But you're standin' on the wall like you was Poindexter

posted by bullitt 5 at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


So when you're good at sexing, you can jizz right away?
posted by Flashman at 11:58 AM on November 19, 2007


*speechless*
posted by loquacious at 11:58 AM on November 19, 2007


If this isn't the Best of the Web, it's certainly the best of something.
posted by tommasz at 12:02 PM on November 19, 2007


Nice bullitt 5. Very nice.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:09 PM on November 19, 2007


These guys really are sexperts.
posted by bassjump at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2007


this thread is useless without an animated gif.

you know the one i mean.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:32 PM on November 19, 2007


There's a great picture of feather sexing (I think) in action in this article.
posted by parudox at 1:42 PM on November 19, 2007


I hope that I am never hungry enough to study for this job.
posted by Cranberry at 2:18 PM on November 19, 2007


Whenever I hear about jobs like this, I always wonder... do they have business cards? Do they actually put things like Professional Chicken Sexer on it? Do they carry around a handkerchief for the inevitable spewing-of-the-drink when their conversation partner asks what they do for a living?
posted by Zinger at 5:06 PM on November 19, 2007


i recall that one of our own is, or was, either an elephant or dolphin masturbator for a living, but i can't seem to find it right now. biologist type, doing artificial insemination in zoos, or something.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:21 PM on November 19, 2007


Waxing the Dolphins' Dolphins R Us.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:01 PM on November 19, 2007


From the paper: "It is necessary to sort male chicks from female chicks as early as possible before considerable feed costs are invested in a useless bird." Ouch.

Particularly because the male chicks apparently go almost directly into a grinder -- I mean, "macerator" -- for disposal.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:06 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


In my college town of Fayettville, AR (and NW Arkansas in general), there is a preponderance of Chinese restaruants in town. It's the home of Tyson's chicken, and the story goes that Tyson has hired so many Chinese over the years as chicken sexers, there's a large community in NW AR, and hence, lotsa Chinese restaurants. Apparently the Chinese used a...well, ancient Chinese secret.
posted by zardoz at 9:26 PM on November 19, 2007


Particularly because the male chicks apparently go almost directly into a grinder -- I mean, "macerator" -- for disposal.

Yes. Here's how it happens.

(utterly mesmerising, but not safe for the squeamish. could tempt you into vegetarianism)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:04 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


(the sexing is at 1:03, the macerating at 1:25, in case it isn't obvious)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:07 PM on November 19, 2007


So *that's* how McNuggets are made.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:33 AM on November 20, 2007


obiwan: the truth is far, far worse.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:40 AM on November 20, 2007


I could have sworn there would be an animated GIF involving a chicken and sex in here somewhere.
Need to go scrub brain.
posted by IronLizard at 3:50 AM on November 20, 2007


It's a thread about chicken sexing and it's funny and light and oh
by the way the extra male chicks are thrown into a grinder.

posted by JHarris at 9:27 AM on November 20, 2007


"i recall that one of our own is, or was, either an elephant or dolphin masturbator for a living"

No, it's just a hobby.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:55 AM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


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