Updated: Mar 15
Chick hatching projects have been carried out in schools and nurseries for decades, but it is becoming more apparent to everyone just how cruel they are and that they are completely unnecessary.
What Are Chick Hatching Projects?
School chick hatching projects are meant to teach students about life cycles; fertilised chicken eggs are kept in a in classroom inside incubators until they hatch. The whole point is for children to take care of the eggs, rolling them and making sure that they are warm, as a mother hen would do, until the chicks hatch. The eggs are usually bought from commercial hatcheries, companies that specialise in fertilised eggs and will often sell incubators and other equipment along with the eggs. "Pre-hatched" chicks may also be included in the “package” so that children can watch and hold them while waiting for the eggs to hatch.
So, What's Wrong With Hatching Projects?
There are a few key things that are wrong with these projects, but the main thing is that they are not necessary. No school has to do this but it has become a “normal” practice also no child should be taught that a living animal is a project. Here are some more issues:
Chickens aren’t teaching tools. Chickens are living, breathing, animals, just like us. They are intelligent and value their lives, yet when used as classroom teaching tools, they’re denied everything that’s natural and important to them. As soon as an egg is laid, the chick inside it needs it’s mother as hens will carefully rotate their eggs up to 30 times a day to make sure that the eggs are warm enough, that they are in a good position and that they don’t dry out. Chicks grown in an incubator can become sick and deformed as they develop because the eggs aren’t being looked after as they should be. For example, their organs can stick to the sides of the shell if the eggs aren’t rotated properly. If the eggs hatch on weekends when no one is at school, the chicks are left on their own until someone checks on them.
Chickens are intelligent and have complex social structures. Scientists agree that chickens’ complex social structures and good memories are signs of advanced intelligence comparable to that of mammals. People who have spent time with chickens know that each bird has it's own personality that often relates to his or her place in the pecking order. Some are bold and fearless, while others are more shy and watchful. Some enjoy human company, while others are really don’t and can be a bit aggressive. Just like dogs, cats, and humans, each chicken is an individual, but in chick-hatching projects the birds are treated as nothing more than tools and entertainment in classroom experiments, which teaches students the wrong lessons.
A chicken’s communication skills are incredible. Chickens have more than 30 types of sounds that they make and the each have a meaning. A mother hen begins to teach these calls to her chicks before they even hatch. She clucks softly to them while sitting on the eggs, and they chirp back to her and to each other from inside their shells. Depriving animals of a chance to develop these sorts of bonds—for any reason—is unacceptable and is the opposite of the educational goal, which is to develop a curiosity about and respect for life.
Safety of the chickens and pupils is put at risk. Many schools and nurseries have stopped using chick-hatching projects because of concerns about animal welfare and student safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chicks can look healthy but still carry germs like salmonella, which can make people very ill. Children who hold, cuddle, or kiss them, or even touch things around the birds’ living area, can get dangerous germs on them. The CDC warns that young children are more likely to become ill because their bodies can’t fight of germs like bacteria as well as a grown up can and because children will put their fingers in their mouths the germs can go straight into them. Because of this some schools have completely banned hatching projects.
Chicks are killed once the project is over. Chickens are arguably the most abused animals on the planet. In America more than 8 billion chickens are killed for meat each year, and about 360 million hens are used for their eggs. Most of these animals spend their whole life in what is basically a prison. It is completely wrong to cause more suffering. Also, many schools don’t consider what happens to the chicks once the project is over. Most of the chicks are killed by the company that sold the eggs. A few will be rehomed as pets, or for people to collect their eggs, but this doesn’t happen very often.
One supplier, Texas A&M’s, teacher’s hatching guide says, “Weak or deformed chicks should be disposed of humanely.” But it doesn’t say what they mean by humane disposal, it also doesn’t say what they do with the healthy chicks. Animal rescue centers and rescue farms are already looking after many animals and often can’t take the chicks in. Chickens don’t like being in large groups as they lose track of their friends so taking more chicks when you have enough already is a bad idea for the birds. In some schools parents have stepped in and saved birds, but this doesn’t always go well; I heard one story of a mum that tried to arrange homes for chicks but was verbally abused by the farmer that sold the eggs and she was stopped from saving them. These projects also teach children to care for chicks, they will become attached to their chicks who are then taken away and, most likely, killed. This teaches that it’s acceptable to use and harm weaker beings for our own purposes. That these animals are disposable.
How Can You Help The Chicks?
Pledge to NEVER to hatch chicks in your classroom; share information with your friends and teachers about why you refuse to take part in such a project and tell them about humane alternatives. Ask your parents to contact your school to say that you will not be taking part in any hatching projects, if your parents object the school can't punish you or make you do it. If your school is using animals of any kind as teaching “tools,” voice your objections. You can write a letter to your head teacher, the school board or school council, if you have one. Write an article for the school newspaper, talk to the teachers involved and explain the truth of the egg industry and the dangers of hatching chicks in school, the risks to the chicks and the pupils and the message that using animals in this way gives to pupils. They may not want to listen, but say your piece and then ask them to look into it for themselves.
Companies that provide the eggs for these projects claim that the experience is amusing and exciting. That “It is an inspirational experience that unites all ages, boosts morale and makes learning fun.” I don’t understand how growing an animal and then sending it to slaughter is making learning “fun”, but it seems that some people do and they pay a lot of money for it. One nursery manager said it was “An amazing experience with more ooohhs and ahhhhs than bonfire night.” So it seems that chickens are entertainment now, like fireworks. There was one school that actually kept their chickens. “The eggs project has proved to be one of the best resources that our school has ever paid to take part in. Every single child got so much out of the experience that I can honestly say that it was the best use of my science budget that I have ever spent! Every class focused on different aspects of the hatching chicks and the interest even encouraged our most reluctant learners to want to be involved… After the reaction from the children, our Head was determined to take things further and now we are one of the few schools, that have chickens in our new allotment area.” This sounds great, but it still turns the chickens into an object to be paid for, there is no concern for the health or happiness of the birds.
It seems that more and more schools are moving away from chick hatching projects as the reality of it becomes more widely known and understood. If we all work together we can stop this and make sure that no chick is ever used this way again.
Does your school take part in egg hatching or other animals projects? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments.