Featherless chicken is a relatively new breed of poultry created through selective breeding in order to combat a very common problem – overheating. However, the so-called ‘naked chickens’ have yet to become mainstream.
Commercial broiler chickens are genetically prone to eat more and gain weight very fast which causes their body metabolism to operate at higher temperatures than that of other chicken breeds. Their hearts operate at up to 300 beats per minute, and while the rapid weight gain makes them perfect for the ever-growing meat industry, it also creates a very big problem – overheating. Raising broilers in hot climate regions requires expensive coolers to keep the birds’ temperature in check, but what if there was a more economical way to keep birds cool without using vast amounts of energy? That was the idea that led to the creation of the controversial featherless chicken.
Israeli geneticist and poultry breeding expert Avigdor Cahaner is the man credited for the creation of featherless chickens. Although many speculate that he resorted to some unnatural and unethical genetic modifications, Cahaner has repeatedly clarified that he only did it by selectively crossing a breed with a naturally bare neck with a regular broiler chicken. “This is not a genetically modified chicken, but a natural chicken whose characteristics date back over 50 years,” the Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor said.
Created in the early 2000s, Avigdor Cahaner’s naked chickens got a lot of attention both for their unusual appearance and the touted benefits of the breed, which included, lower feed consumption, faster growth rate, the ability to withstand higher temperatures without the need for coolers, and an evident ease of plucking. However, it’s not all positive with these unusual-looking birds. The lack of feathers makes them more susceptible to parasites, mosquito attacks, skin diseases, sunburns and temperature variations. Plus, the males have trouble mating because they can’t really maintain their balance when flapping their featherless wings.
But the main reason why the naked chicken breed never really took off in the two decades since its creation is that people never really got used to their “unnatural” look. Some have called them “disgusting” and an “example of sick science”, while others claimed that regular chickens suffer enough, and there is no need to create abominations like this that are even more prone to suffering without feathers to protect them from injuries.
A study by Agriallis Magazine has concluded that the acceptance rate of featherless chickens by consumers “will not be successful due to fact of fear of hormonal usage, unusual animals, fear on health impact”.
For more unusual chicken breeds, check out the tiny-but-pompous Serama chicken, and the Jersey Giants, the gentle giants of the poultry world.