A disposable life: What teachers need to know about chick hatching programs
Are you planning on teaching your students about the lifecycle of a chicken this spring? Before you make a quick decision about trying out a chick hatching program, here are some things you need to know first.
Spring is a popular time for students to learn all about the amazing wonders of lifecycles. Whether it’s looking at the various stages of a flowering plant from pollination to germination, or witnessing the enchanting metamorphosis of a legless tadpole turn into a frog, the study of lifecycles brings a very unique level of fascination and intrigue into any science classroom.
And of course, with an opportunity this good to make learning as fun and interesting as possible for students, there are tons of resources on the market claiming to help teachers add an extra bit of magic to the experience.
The ‘chick hatching program’ is one of them. The initiative claims to bring real embryo eggs and incubators into child care centres and primary schools, so that children can hatch their own chicks in the classroom.
What is a chick hatching program?
Each year, thousands of baby chicks are born in preschools and primary schools across Australia. Chick hatching programs deliver fertilised eggs to school classrooms as well as an incubator for chicks to hatch. The hatching project is supposed to teach young children about the marvels of lifecycles.
The week old chicks are then either returned to the supplier where their fate, especially of roosters, is uncertain, or are taken by families of students who may or may not have any experience with caring for chickens.
While it might sound like a pretty fun way to deliver your next lifecycles lesson, there are some important things you need to know before you make any decisions.
Mothers know best … not electronic thermostats
If you’ve ever lived with pet chickens before, you’ll know that mother chickens are highly protective of their babies – and for good reason. Providing adequate care to a hatching chick is a lot of work!
Mother chickens go to great lengths searching for a safe and quiet place to lay their eggs. Afterwards they turn their eggs continually with their beaks and feet to make sure the temperature is constant.
Classroom incubators are no substitute for a mother hen. Teachers must be prepared to deal with incubators switching off or malfunctioning, resulting in dead or crippled hatchlings, which the RSPCA (as well as dozens of emails ThinkKind receives from concerned parents) note is not an uncommon occurrence at all.
50% of chicks will suffer the terrible misfortune of being born male
That probably sounds a bit strange – what’s so unfortunate about being born male? But for half of the chicks in your artificial hatching box who will be born male, their days are numbered.
Unsuitable and often illegal to be kept in suburban backyards, male chicks (who grow up to be roosters) that come out of chick hatching programs mostly cannot find homes. And because of the growing numbers, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for unwanted males to be taken into shelters and pounds. Sadly, most are killed as waste products.
A compromised education
Rather than the usual 21 days it takes for a chick to hatch, schools are given the option of having their eggs delivered in less than 3 days before hatching. Children observe an electronic thermostat replace a mother hen to keep the eggs warm, and an artificial hatching box serves as a replacement for a proper and more natural nesting area.
The problematic message that’s been given to students
Probably one of the biggest problems with chick hatching programs is that the life of a living being becomes trivialised, teaching children that animals are easily disposable objects that only exist for human use.
In an article published in Animal Liberation’s Release magazine, ThinkKind Director Valerie Wangnet writes:
“Along with providing a highly compromised education on the natural lifecycles of chickens, these programs teach children that chicks are disposable objects and are there only for our use. Further, they reinforce the troubling mentality that it is acceptable to end our responsibility to others when a problem or inconvenience arises.”
Learning about animals is a fantastic opportunity to develop empathy and responsibility in young children (that’s the whole purpose of our work here at ThinkKind!). However, projects like these not only waste the opportunity, but often achieve the absolute opposite. After students have become attached to their chicks after a week of caring for them, they are prompted to return them the moment they’ve become an inconvenience and are no longer useful. After all, are you really thinking about keeping those chicks later as school pets?
Animal welfare concerns
Edgar’s Mission, an animal farm sanctuary located in Victoria, have been working for a while now to ban the use of chick hatching programs. After rescuing and raising countless chickens from slaughter, abuse and mistreatment, they report:
“Chicks often imprint on their child carers and when they are given up, the chicks 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.
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 without giving due consideration to the many responsibilities that go into caring for a living creature.”
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.
So, what are the alternatives?
“In choosing an alternative you are helping to build a society in which it will one day be considered unthinkable to generate a living being simply as a lesson for young children.” – Animal Liberation Queensland
Concerned parents, education professionals and animal welfare groups are joining forces to ban these programs in school and implement more humane methods of providing a valuable, ethical and more accurate educational experience. These include excursions, watching videos and documentaries and reading books.
Another very useful alternative are egg hatching model kits, in which students can actually see the stages of development of a chick via several cross sectional eggs that are able to open up and be explored.
By choosing a kinder alternative, you’re providing your students with a more meaningful insight into the life of other animals, to enjoy a true sense of curiosity and respect for the natural world.
Check out these kinder resources instead
- Chicken life cycle set: http://www.teaching.com.au/servlet/au.mta.ns.is.ItemDetailServlet?KEY_ITEM=LER2733&KEY_ALIAS=LER2733
- Bird watching as an alternative to chick hatching: http://www.edgarsmission.org.au/birdwatching.pdf