So why chickens?
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.
“I, like many other educators, heard the rumours that hatching chickens assist with the sustainability component of your Assessment and Rating. I did it, albeit blindly, believing these rumours. What I found out was nothing further from the truth. The more I researched, the sadder I became about the welfare and plight of these innocent creatures. I found out about chickens dying before hatching. What happens to the unwanted roosters is even more disturbing. The kids weren’t even that interested. The whole project did not resonate well with me and I would NEVER do it again!”
– Keryn Johnson, Managing Director, Leap Ahead Learning
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The truth is, organisations like ours are few and far between and we simply cannot take in every rooster in need. The RSPCA, along with many shelters and pounds, rarely accepts rooster for rehoming. The alternative often offered is euthanasia or contacting Edgar’s Mission. The RSPCA goes even further in encouraging facilities to reconsider the use of chicken hatching programs under the replacement, reduction and refinement guidelines. Their Review of chicken hatching in schools report concludes, “We need to examine whether the compromise in the welfare for the thousands of chicks used in these activities each year is appropriately balanced against the learning outcomes and enjoyable experiences for the students.”
Mother Nature knows best
“The chicks at my child’s school are picked up, dropped and one day I just happened to be in the classroom when one was almost trampled. These vulnerable babies have no place in the classroom and the children aren’t learning anything about empathy toward others in this type of situation.” – Alexa*
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
“It was too late once the chicks grew up and started crowing, upsetting my neighbours. The only options I was given was to euthanase them or send the back to the ‘supplier’ where they would be killed but no longer my responsibility. It’s just so unfair, nobody told us the situation we were getting into and my children are heartbroken. These projects are irresponsible and must stop.” – Sarah S*
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
“A chick hatched out at my child’s school that appeared to be having seizures. We reported it to the teacher and principal, however nothing was done. The school had no budget for vet care so the poor animal was left to suffer. I paid for the vet care myself and had the chick seen by an avian vet. The poor chick was deformed, most likely from the incubator being turned off for periods whilst the chick was still in the egg. Her deformities were incompatible with life and she was euthanased. It breaks my heart to know just how much that poor chick suffered. And really, it taught the children nothing. Nothing positive anyway.” – Jason*
Few facilities have the knowledgebase to care for avian species, let alone the financial budget to cover their specialist veterinary care. Whilst there are many intentional educational outcomes from chick hatching projects there too are many unintentional ones as well. The short-term period in which the chicks remain in the classroom and the poor outcomes for roosters can inform that animals are mere teaching aids and disposable objects once our pleasure ends. For many children, their first lessons in life about responsibility and empathy come from interactions with animals. With beings more vulnerable and voiceless than themselves. Desensitizing them to this can have very serious ramifications that can last a lifetime.
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 beings.
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.
In early 2019 we received a phone call from a distressed mother. I’ll call her Sally, Sally rang seeking sanctuary for the family’s beloved chick, Popcorn, who had morphed into a rooster over the holiday period. Sally had been referred to Edgar’s Mission via the RSPCA. Initially Sally was very calm and composed but as I explained the situation Sally’s voice changed. I could tell she was crying, it was heart-breaking for us both. Sally went on to say that she had never considered the situation and whilst she was initially in favour of chicken hatching projects her experience had changed her mind. Her family had come to love Popcorn and she did not know how she was going to explain the situation to her children. Whilst my heart wanted to provide Popcorn sanctuary at Edgar’s Mission, my head knew it would just be opening a floodgate to the rooster dilemma our society experiences. To do this would not be addressing the problem, if anything exacerbating it. Sally and I are now working through our rehoming facebook page to find a happy outcome for Popcorn. Sally’s call as you can imagine is not the first of this nature, but with your help, it could well be the last.
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 beings 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!
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.
Alternate lesson ideas:
What makes a dinosaur lesson plan
A ‘Google’ of egg hatching videos produces over 2,000,000 results!!
Beak, Wings and Feet
Please spread the word and download a Hatching a Good Idea Flyer.
For more great alternative ideas go here.
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