Chicken sexing and knowing

Adithya Venkatesan
4 min readMar 19, 2024


Determining the sex of a newborn chick has been a problem that has plagued the poultry industry for centuries.

For a poultry farmer, the male chicken is useless. They don’t lay eggs, their meat is stringy and farmers ideally want to get rid of them as soon as they are born. The problem is, it’s impossible to determine the sex of a chick when it’s born. It takes 4–6 weeks, and by this time, the farmer has wasted enough food and resources to grow them.

This was an age-old problem, until 1920.

A group of Japanese veterinary scientists discovered that the rear end of a chick could be used to determine the sex of a chick. This discovery was announced in 1927, and instantly revolutionized the global hatchery industry.

It birthed a unique job — A professional chicken sexer.

These were hot-shot jobs — the most valuable in the agricultural industry. The best graduates were from the Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing School; whose standards were so rigorous, only 5 to 10 percent of students received accreditation. (yes, there is a school!) But if you graduated from this school, you could earn as much as $500 a day and were flown across the world to… ascertain the sex of chicks.

Chicken sexers were the “AI engineers” of then. 😉

But you see, Chicken sexing is a delicate art. It requires a certain, “Zen-like” concentration, and a “and a brain surgeon’s dexterity”. Why, you ask?

Without getting into the intricacies, turns out, even for the most well-trained folks, ascertaining the sex of a day-old chick was hard. The chick’s rear end had a constellation of folds, marks, spots, and bumps that revealed the sex of a chick. But, these were extremely hard to read.

By some estimates, there are as many as a thousand different vent configurations that a sexer has to learn to become competent at their job. And given that they have to make these decisions in seconds, it became even harder to understand how they do what they do.

Soon, academic philosophers and cognitive psychologists were fascinated with how Chicken sexers did their jobs. Reams of dissertations and papers have been written about what they do, and how they do their jobs.

Turns out, even the most professional sexers were unable to explain how they did their job. It was just… an inexplicable art 😮. Within 3 seconds, they just “know” the sex of a chick. They saw things that a common person simply does not see. Turns out, tt’s a unique art, as much as skill.


That line, resonated.
You hear it often from marketers, designers and… engineers.

“That code is… beautiful”
“That illustration looks… beautiful”
“Her writing… damn… beautiful”


As someone who has dabbled in ‘brand’ marketing for a while now, so much of what I’ve done is… inexplicable.

It’s hard to explain why sentences are constructed as such. It’s hard to explain why we need to take outlandish bets that don’t immediately translate into money. It’s hard to explain why a random game, a campaign, or an activity translates into brand quotient. These are matters of taste, and just… knowing.

And to be fair, a lot of this taste is NOT subjective. When you’re in the job for long enough, you just know what it takes to differentiate a brand. This taste is tangible for a brand marketer. And equally inexplicable, I must add.

Paul Graham explains this rather well from the perspective of a designer 👇

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and another way to articulate this:

Most marketing work (b2b companies especially) falls into this trap. You follow a kind of Jakob’s Law to bring parity by determining what ‘others are doing’. The more you gauge competition, the deeper the trap. Radical work is doing uncomfortable things — that’s the very essence of brand marketing.

To be different, you need to do different.

In the context of the death knell that’s AI, there’s a lesson to learn from Chicken sexers. A marketer’s job is enunciating differentiation. If AI is a learning model trained on what exists, it’s at best the top 10% of what’s out there. That is the arbitrage for a marketer. If you want to foolproof your job, you have to beat the top 10% of an AI model. Good odds, if you ask me 😜

This comes with studying, learning and internalizing to understand what will work for an organization. Then, hopefully, you get the space to experiment and run radical ideas.

The more you learn, study and understand, the better you will get at marketing. After all, Marketing is about… taste. It’s about… knowing.

The story of chicken sexers, and a lot of the language is borrowed from a fascinating book — Moonwalking with Einstein. I highly recommend you read this towering work.



Adithya Venkatesan

Brand Marketer. Twitter: @adadithya. Travel fanatic. Wildlife lover. Voracious reader. Cenosillicaphobic. Logophile. Past: @gojektech @reuters @ACJIndia