Chicken sexers in Japan lament the decline of an industry

Tue Aug 31, 2010 2:17am EDT
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By Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Chicken sexers in Japan once enjoyed well-paid careers with overseas travel and job security but industry changes mean their expertise is not needed so widely and less people are seeking to join the profession.

Chicken sexing -- or determining the sex of chickens -- is critical to lower costs as farmers need to know the sex of newly hatched chicks to match them to their next destination. Females are kept to lay eggs while a few males are retained for meat.

Chicken sexers can manually sort poultry at a speed of 8,000 chicks per day and 99.7 percent accuracy by learning to identify the external appearance of the birds' sexual organs that are located within their bodies.

Most experts in so-called "vent" or "cloaca" sexing come from Japan, where the method of distinguishing patterns of birds' sexual organs at one day-old was invented in 1933 and helped revolutionize the poultry business, with Japanese sexers in demand internationally for their skills.

But as Japan's youth migrates to cities, fewer people want the job.

"I just got two emails from Denmark and Hungary asking to send over Japanese experts but I have nobody at hand," said Atsushi Nodera from Japan Livestock Technology Association, a sexer with over 30 years experience.

"Young people now want a degree and to become a doctor. The effect is that we have plenty of jobless doctors and no one to carry on our profession," added Nodera who spent 10 years in Spain and Germany working as a chick sexer.

But the poultry industry is also changing, with chicken imports eroding the need for sexers at some Japanese hatcheries.   Continued...