Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: George Yamada Interview
Narrator: George Yamada
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Spokane, Washington
Date: March 15 & 16, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-ygeorge_2-01-0031

<Begin Segment 31>

MA: What was a typical day like for you at, doing the chick sexing?

GY: Oh, gee whiz. My work was in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and one day in say a 24-hour to 48-hour period, I worked in five states. I think it was New York, Connecticut, I even ventured into New Hampshire to work up there, sexed up there. We were getting in the neighborhood of around one and a quarter cent per chick, one point quarter for a chick. In the smaller hatcheries, we were getting a nickel a chick, and we also sexed turkeys, turkey poults, and we got anywhere from a nickel to seven cents or a dime a poult, as I remember. And it was real decent money for what people in the country were making at that time.

MA: How many chicks could you sex in an hour, say?

GY: Well, the fastest I was able to go with a sustained speed was around 1,200 chicks an hour -- with accuracy, that's what's important. Japanese, the Niseis were very, highly accurate. If you had a thousand laying hens, you would find maybe one or two roosters in the entire batch. In other words, if you had a hundred thousand laying hens and you only had ten roosters, they have to be destroyed because there was no, nothing for, like the broiler industry, they don't generally eat Leghorns. Leghorns' known for its laying capability, whereas in the broiler industry, you want a fatter, heavier chicken, and quicker.

MA: So that's why the accuracy was so important?

GY: Oh, yes, for egg laying. Well, actually, for broilers, too. In broiling end of it, they kept both the male and female and raised them. But in the egg-laying industry, they destroyed all the roosters, primarily. If you had a million roosters, a million pullets, you would destroy 999,999 of the roosters. They kept some for meat purposes, but you don't get that much meat out of an egg-laying male chicken.

MA: Why do you think the Niseis were so adept at chick sexing?

GY: I think it could be that it was good money, of course. It was a fascinating career, I thought, to be able to travel, only Orientals were in it at that point, good money, and maybe for those people that, you know, it was a better-paying job than being a laborer or whatever else, a farmer, say, for instance. It was just sort of a fascination for me. I can't speak for all the rest, but for me it was traveling, living in a different part of the country. And I got to know a lot of good hatchery owners.

MA: So the people who would hire the chick sexers, so they would specifically recruit or focus on recruiting Niseis?

GY: Well, not really. They would write to Amchick and say, "We would, our capacity is so many hundred thousand or million, million eggs, and we would like to have chick sexers serve us. Our hatching" -- then they would give them the hatching schedule, and hopefully it would tie in with our scheduling. And sometimes it really is a madhouse. You have a lot of traveling to do, and some hatcheries will produce, oh, I don't know, hundred thousand, two hundred thousand in one hatch, day. And out of a hundred thousand, you would assume there would be fifty thousand females, fifty thousand males, generally speaking. And you have this one hatchery that has hundred thousand chick capacity, and so you call in other chick sexers around the area, and you get a system going where maybe three, three, two to five chick sexers, or two to four chick sexers would do a hundred thousand chicks. And then you go to another hatchery and meet there, and do another quarter million chicks. And you go to another hatchery -- this is all in one day's time. And to have another hatchery that's, wants broilers sexed, and they would have several hundred thousand themselves. So it wasn't a matter of just a few thousand per day, it was, it was in the hundreds of thousands of chicks that we had to process.

MA: Yeah, that's interesting. I guess I'm trying to understand the connection between, you know, this sort of art form coming out of Japan, the vent sexing, and then so many Niseis working in the industry. That connection seems interesting to me.

GY: Well, I guess maybe because during the war years, the majority of the people, if they weren't in the military, were idling away in the camps. Or they came out of the camps and worked in the sugar beet field or a place in New Jersey that hired...

MA: Seabrook?

GY: Seabrook Farms, that hired Japanese. They believed in them, they believed in their ability, they believed in the, keeping their nose to the grindstone, so to speak, and that was the typical Japanese of that era. They worked hard, and they just went about their business. So I would assume that chick sexing was good advertising, that a lot of the Japanese went towards. There were a few girls also in that.

MA: Nisei girls?

GY: Yeah, Nisei girls with very long fingers, that it looked like it was just real easy compared to a man's stubby fingers. And the fingers and fingernail was important in chick sexing.

MA: What was sort of the record number of chicks that were sexed in one hour, say, that you heard of?

GY: Oh, good lord, I don't remember that at all now. Oh... gosh, I, it would be, it would be well in the millions on a one day. It could very well, let's see, a hundred thousand, two hundred fifty thousand, yeah, it could be in one day where you had anywhere from five to seven chick sexers that would split the work, and they would come in and the lead, the guy that, the Nisei that is the boss of that hatchery, would say, "Well, I want two hundred thousand chicks sexed. Two hundred thousand, then you guys can go." And the lead man always stays there as all the other guys say, "Well, I got my twenty thousand in," or, "I got my five thousand in," and they would leave. And gradually it would come down to one or two left, the lead chick sexers. So I really don't know how many hundreds of thousands of chicks, but it was close to a million chicks. We had some very, very large hatcheries during that period, and I think up in the New England states, they're mostly Jewish-owned hatcheries. They were good businessmen, and they provided well for us. We had to fight for, you know, pay raises and stuff like that.

MA: What sorts of things, how did you, how did you fight for that, for the pay raises?

GY: Oh, we just called for a meeting. Called for a meeting, went into the office, and we generally asked for half a cent raise.

MA: That's half a cent per chick?

GY: Per chick, yes. And well, it was an argument, anyway. [Laughs] Eventually we got it; we had to, we had to barter. But we cut into the owner's profit, you know.

MA: Was there a union?

GY: No. I don't know about now, but there wasn't a union then. And I'm not sure if I would have gone for a union if we had to vote for one. They were talking about unionizing later, much later on, but nothing came of it.

MA: Why don't you think you would have voted for a union?

GY: Well, you would have always antagonized the hatcherymen, and they were, we were all independent contractors income-tax wise, and I'm not sure what the union could have done for us. You know, if you went on strike, that wouldn't have helped the industry. All it would have done was made them go broke, or cut down on his chickens, and going to maybe broilers instead. But anyway...

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.