Hatching a Good Idea
Meet Tigga and here's his story. Tigga along with his buddies Togga and Fluffy are three happy, healthy, vibrant and vocal roosters and they live at a sanctuary. Life is good but it wasn't always so. The result of a school chicken hatching project, they were lovingly taken home by a student at the project's end. All was good until it was realised they were roosters....
Chicken hatching projects, a fun and benign learning experience? Think again.
Described as being a fun and educational way to learn about chickens, chicken hatching projects are proving to have serious animal welfare consequences and are sending poor messages to children.
Mother Nature knows best
Mother chickens are very protective of their young and go to great lengths to lay their eggs in private, turning them continually with their feet and beaks to keep the temperature constant and ensure the embryo does not adhere to the shell. They will even 'talk' to the unborn chicks. Classroom situations are unable to replicate this and have seen instances where incubators have accidentally been turned off resulting in dead or crippled hatchlings.
The welfare needs of hatched chicks can often be compromised as many schools do not have a budget for veterinary treatment and lack expert knowledge of their care.
It does not pay to be male
Nature dictates that 50% of the chicks hatched will be male with very few finding suitable lifelong loving homes, leaving thousands to uncertain fates. Unsuitable, and often illegal to be kept in suburbia and increasingly being unable to be taken in by shelters and pounds already struggling to cope with the burgeoning number of unwanted animals, the fate of roosters is bleak.
Being unproductive, it is highly unlikely they would be taken in by working farms and even hens would present a challenge as many farms would not want to introduce foreign pathogens to their flocks.
Animal welfare concerns
Chicks often imprint on their child carers and when forced to give them up the young, and still bonded hatchlings, will suffer from the separation and possible social dysfunction. This is intrinsically cruel and sends a very poor message about responsibility to animals who have become dependent on a human for emotional enrichment and care.
While most children want to treat animals carefully, not all do and some children can be cruel to these defenceless creatures.
Given that chickens can live for up to ten years, many of the families taking the chicks into their homes cannot see that far down the track and take the chick in on an emotional whim and do not give due consideration to the many responsibilities that go into caring for a living creature. Cases have been sited where parents and students have not been fully provided with basic information required to care for the chicks. In one instance the family relayed that they had not been told a fox proof enclosure was required and in several others 'hens' had morphed into 'roosters'.
The Australian code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, 7th edition Section 6, clauses 6.1.1 and 6.1.4 outline a school's main responsibilities when deciding to use live animals in a teaching activity. These refer schools to consider both;
- the need for a given activity to continue and
- the need to replace traditional, animal based models with alternative learning pathways.
Health issues for children
Children can be at risk of pathogens carried by the chickens and poor hygiene practices.
Chicken hatching projects are wrong on so many levels. They fail both the human participants and the animals. Life is trivialized as sentient creatures become mere teaching aids rather than living beings that require a lifetime of care and commitment. In instances where children are forced to surrender chicks at projects end, they are inadvertently taught that responsibilities to others whose care we have taken on, (and in this case actively brought into the world) can be terminated at a time of our convenience without due consideration for the other parties welfare.
Children invariably form strong attachments to their chicks and it is troublesome today that we are seeing a growing emergence of bullying and violence amongst the young. Many researchers find the reasons for this stemming from a lack of empathy for others. While the ability to feel empathy varies from individual to individual, children appear to regulate this emotion by a variety of factors, with many learning empathy from interactions with their pets and other animals. If we fail them on this level by providing lessons of detachment, desensitisation and shirking one's responsibilities we are missing a great opportunity to create a generation of people who will think and act ethically towards others.
But I want to learn!
Take an excursion, watch a video, use an egg hatching model kit or read a book.
With so many ways one can learn about the life cycle of a chicken that does not involve live animals it is hard to see why the addition of hatching chicks can be justified!
Give your class a lesson in Kindness and find an alternative!
Just some of the many alternative resources. An excellent kit exists which provides 21 eggs showing the different stages of development of the unborn chick. No live animals are involved, yet students are able to see the stages of development of a chick within an egg via twenty one cross sectional eggs that they are able to open up and explore. A process that is not possible using live animals. The kit comes with a little booklet full of informative fun facts about chickens and eggs.
The kit is reusable and far cheaper than the cost of living eggs...why not order one?
An observational study in the wild, school yard or at an animal sanctuary, can give a far more meaningful insight into the real life of animals while creating respect and interest in the natural world. A great bird watching resource booklet is available.
There exists numerous professionally produced 'nature documentaries' on birds and their life cycles as a scan of what's available from your average ABC bookshop or National Geographic shop will reveal.
A 'Google' of egg hatching videos produces over 2,000,000 results!!
Please spread the word and download a Hatching a Good Idea Flyer.
For more great alternative ideas go here.