Israeli bald chicken
A scientist who unveiled the first genetically modified featherless chicken yesterday claims that it is environmentally friendly, fast-growing and low in calories - although it might catch cold in the British climate.
Featherless fowl: the high-speed future of chicken farming
The Israeli geneticist Avigdor Cahaner crossbred a small, bare-skinned bird with a regular broiler chicken to engineer the featherless fowl.
His red-skinned prototype - called the naked chicken - might have looked faintly ridiculous at its first official outing yesterday, but it is being heralded as the high-speed future of chicken farming.
Not only will the birds not need plucking, so speeding up the slaughter process by vital tens of seconds, but cooler chickens grow faster.
By ridding them of their feathers, Dr Cahaner believes the birds will direct energy otherwise used to keep cool into growing faster.
"Broiler chickens consume a lot of energy to grow rapidly, but in the process they generate a lot of heat," Dr Cahaner said. "They have to get rid of it, otherwise their internal body temperature will go too high and they will die.
"That's why the growth rate of broilers is significantly reduced in hot seasons or hot countries, and why poultry meat is expensive in these countries."
According to Dr Cahaner, of the Rehovot Agronomy Institute near Tel Aviv, the featherless fowl's benefits do not stop there. As well as producing leaner meat - no feathers means less subcutaneous fat - he claims the chicken is environmentally friendly.
He said his naked birds would save poultry farmers large amounts of money on ventilation needed to prevent their chickens overheating, and the absence of feathers would conserve large quantities of water used to pluck chickens and cut down on pollution.
"Feathers are a waste. The chickens are using feed to produce something that has to be dumped and the farmers have to waste electricity to overcome the fact," he said.
Dr Cahaner has already produced several dozen featherless birds but hopes to perfect the still rather short fowl so that it stands as tall as normal boiler chickens which are the mainstay of the poultry industry.
However, attempts to produce featherless fowl have been condemned by animal rights campaigners as "walking roast chicken factories".
And previous bald chickens - freaks of nature produced by random genetic mutations - have suffered a host of problems including sunburn and constant mosquito attacks.
Even worse, male featherless chickens were unable to mate because they could not flap their wings. Dr Cahaner conceded that his featherless chickens would not be suitable everywhere. "They might catch cold in chillier climates.
"This is not a chicken for the open fields of England in the winter," he said.
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