The purpose of ODI was to develop a product that could partially blind chickens, which would lead to their consuming less and saving farmers money over the duration of the chickens’ life. The product that ODI developed was a contact lens for chickens. This lens was to be an improvement upon the situation for chickens, which previously were debeaked by farmers to prevent the pecking order from getting out of hand and the chickens progressing to cannibalism. Debeaking was a process by which chickens literally had their beaks cut off at different angles, weakening their ability to peck one another. The issue with debeaking, however, was two-fold: first, it produced serious trauma on the chicken, and resulted in hens not laying eggs for at least a week; second, it caused the farmer to have to fill the feed trough 3/8’s of an inch higher because the chickens’ beaks were now smaller.
Thus, while debeaking helped reduce the rate at which chickens killed one another, it did not actually solve the problem of pecking. The ODI lens was a new product that looked to address directly the issue of hen-pecking. By putting lenses in the eyes of the chickens that impaired their vision and reduced their range of sight to just 12 inches, the farmer could control how well the chicken could see. Because part of the aggressive, pecking nature of dominant chickens is to hold their heads up high, the lenses worked to make all chickens look weak and submissive: if a chicken could see no more than a foot in front of its face, it kept its head lower to the ground so as to better find food. Plus, it could not recognize the combs of chickens (a way to establish pecking order) and so there was no more pecking — with lenses in their eyes, the pecking order was neutralized (Clarke, 2009, p. 5).
This was really an ingenious method that was discovered by accident when in the 1970s a chicken farmer realized that the chickens with cataracts on his farm were less aggressive and consumed less. This got a few entrepreneurs thinking about how they could replicate this stigma in the chickens. Blurred lenses became the solution (Clarke, 2009, p. 1).
However, now the company ran into a new problem: how to fund the business and penetrate the market at the same time. As Clarke (2009) acknowledges, “Chicken farmers are an independent-minded breed of men” (p. 7) and would not pay high prices for a new product that they had not personally tested. Thus, a box of lenses was priced at $20. While this would produce a low profit margin for ODI, it was felt that this was the best way to penetrate and saturate the market — if the box was priced any higher, farmers might be less willing to give it a try. On the other hand, once purchased and tried, farmers would likely be hooked and prices could then be raised. Getting the farmers hooked first through the use of advertising, salesmen and finally through actually trying out of the product, was the first thing.
This case study of ODI is very interesting and tells a lot about the kinds of things that chicken farmers think about and how entrepreneurs go about starting a business — getting the patents, perfecting the product, analyzing start-up costs and then trying to figure out how to penetrate the market.
Ethical concerns that might be raised by ODI’s product today could focus on animal cruelty. Deliberately blinding a chicken so as to reduce farmers’ feed costs and loss of chicken life might seem cruel, but it makes sense too from a chicken’s perspective and could be seen as a safeguard against chicken killing and vicious pecking by other chickens. There are other products that perform a similar service without having to impair the vision of the chickens, but it is uncertain whether they are as effective, theoretically speaking. For example, HenSaver produces an apron that the chicken wears on its back that is meant to protect it from vicious pecking (HenSaver, 2015).
Nonetheless, the ingenuity that went into the development of the ODI product is impressive and it would be interesting to see how the company did, whether it actually got off the ground and succeeded or whether it ultimately failed to find a foothold in the market. A cursory search on the Internet yielded no solid results other than promising webpage that initially looked like the company’s page — but upon inspection revealed itself as a page dedicated to the ODI case study and had actually no affiliation with the company whatsoever.
Thus, in conclusion, this is one case study that could use a follow-up: how the company solved its issues (or if it ever really did) and whether the lenses ever took off among chicken farmers — these are points that I would like to know, as they would give a better sense of how the company solved the problem of penetrating the market. If I were the company, I would consider giving out free samples first — and that would really hook farmers (no cost up front other than the labor of installing the lenses). This would not require salesmen because the lenses could be easily distributed to the farms without needing to actually make a “pitch.” Then, later, once tried by the farmers, the demand will produce the income. This would give the company an opportunity to save on upfront costs (hiring multiple salespeople) and would reduce the risk of farmers not willing to buy a box for their chickens. It would cost the company in terms of giving lenses away for free — but this is a small investment really in the company’s future going forward.
Clarke, D. (2009). Optical Distortion, Inc. (A). Harvard Business School.
HenSaver. (2015). Chicken Saddles. Retrieved from http://www.hensaver.com/hen-saver-hen-apron-saddle.html
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