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There is an excellent article in the September, 1996 issue of American Heritage magazine called "The Chicken Story" by John Steels Gordon. The article can be found on pages 52 to 67 and does an excellent job at tracing the development of the modern chicken industry.

A three paragraph mention on the lenses can be found in the article "Decisions, decisions" by L. Wells in the August 1, 1990 issue of Inc. Magazine starting on page 80.






Why chickens are seeing red.

It's hard to believe, but at the turn of the century chicken was considered a delicacy. It was one of the most expensive choices on a restaurant's menu. Both steak and lobster were actually cheaper. 

Nearly one-hundred years later and chicken has gone to the opposite extreme - it's become the food of the common man. 

Of course, this is all due to modern chicken farming. Science has managed to create the superchicken: chickens that grow extremely quickly to a much larger size and produce a greater number of eggs. But this came at a cost - the chickens become more aggressive (chickens were originally domesticated for cockfights, not food). Of course, an aggressive chicken turns around and kills other chickens which in turn lowers the farmer's profits. 

The chicken business has also become a very competitive business. It should therefore come as no surprise that these henhouse owners will do anything to cut costs. 

Long ago, during the 1950's, the farmers realized that chickens raised under red lights tended to be less aggressive and, as a result, consumed less food. An added bonus was that they produced more eggs. This meant larger profits for the farm owner. Unfortunately, the workers couldn't see what they were doing under the red lights, so an alternative approach was needed. 

Someone then came up with the bright idea of putting red glasses on the birds. You know - cool shades. 

But, you can see the problem with this method - the glasses fell right off the chicken's head. 

Plop! 

Oh, well. Stupid idea. Back to the drawing board. 

So enter the latest approach - red contact lenses for the chickens. 

In the early 1960's there was a man named Irvin Wise who managed a chicken farm in Northern California. One day, a salesman mentioned to him that there was a farm where chickens afflicted with cataracts behaved better than those with normal sight. 

Mr. Wise realized that he needed to alter the visions of the birds, but how could this be done? 

I guess you could somehow blind the chickens, but that would be inhumane. In addition, a blind chicken is not the same thing as one with cataracts. They probably would not survive. 

So Irvin decided to design some contact lenses for the birds. Unfortunately, the lenses did what he didn't want them to do - they blinded the chickens. The technology just didn't exist at the time to make a perfect set of chicken contact lenses. 

Irvin's company folded. 

Now enters his son - Randall E. Wise. 

Randall went off to college and founded a very successful computer software company in Boston. After eight years in business, he sold the company for several million dollars to pursue his boyhood dream - designing contact lenses for chickens. 

Of course, he needed to perfect the lenses that his father had been unsuccessful with. It took hundreds of pairs of failed lenses until he hit on a useable design. 

When they hit the market in 1989, the lenses sold for 20 cents per pair, or 15 cents if bought in bulk. 

Fitting a bird with these lenses is quite simple - you hold the bird's head steady for a few seconds and insert the lenses. 

They are supposed to stay in for life. Unfortunately, no one told the chickens that. 

Many of the lenses fell out and the product continues to undergo modification and further testing. 

However, in the flocks that have successfully used the lenses, the costs of producing a single egg has been reducing by a whopping 1/3 of one penny. If you consider that the larger egg farms produce one-half million eggs per day, those red contact lenses have the potential of saving millions of dollars per year. 

It's found money. 

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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