Stop irresponsible hatching projects in schools and care homes
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Every year numerous schools, nurseries and care homes purchase eggs and incubators to watch the hatching process of a new born chick at first hand. Often, little regard is given to the welfare of the chicks whilst they develop nor after the project is finished when they are passed on to unsuitable homes, charitable organisations or abandoned altogether.
Hatching projects have become increasingly popular in recent years with many schools, nurseries and care homes using science project funding to purchase incubators and fertilised eggs from hatching companies. Whilst this provides a couple of weeks of entertainment for humans, the chicks can suffer significantly due to the lack of training and knowledge of well-intentioned but ill-informed individuals and organisations. Eggs removed from their mother rely on artificial means to regulate their temperature and must be turned regularly to prevent deformities in the developing foetus. If this is not done properly, the chick’s internal organs can stick to the inside of the shell causing life-threatening deformities. Often chicks hatch unobserved in environments whose primary focus is on other matters as is the case in educational institutions and care homes, causing the chicks to suffer malnutrition or hypothermia shortly after hatching in such artificial environments away from their mothers.
Dr F Barbara Orlans, former senior research fellow at Georgetown University, has said:
“Young birds need nurturing and rest. Chicks can suffer from malnutrition and dehydration in the classroom that is not even noticed. The overriding message of chick-hatching projects is that human responsibility for these birds is limited, and animals can be discarded like yesterday’s toys”.
Whilst a minority of these institutions may argue they care for the incubated eggs correctly, many do not and the fact remains that this industry unnecessarily promotes artificial incubation of chicks and creates health problems for the birds and a rehoming problem for animal rescue organisations. Chicks are deprived of the nurturing presence of their mother and therefore do not learn natural behaviours nor have the opportunity to develop the strong social bonds they need.
“Chickens have more than 30 types of vocalizations, and 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 negates the educational objective, which is to develop a curiosity about and respect for life.”
Peta.org (accessed 11/3/17 http://www.peta.org/teachkind/humane-classroom/chick-hatching-project/ )
Chicks who do develop normally are often discarded after the project is complete, which is usually a few days after all the eggs have hatched. The vast majority of these projects are undertaken without a plan for the long term care of these chicks, up to 50% of which can be male. Most hatching companies claim to be ‘ethical’, providing incubated eggs on the understanding they will all be rehomed but do not enforce this nor offer any assistance in this regard. As a consequence, many of these chicks are passed onto rescue organisations to await new homes - which can take many months in the case of male hatchlings who are much more difficult to rehome.
It is fundamentally wrong to encourage this practice, particularly in schools (the majority of which are primary schools) where young children do not learn about the wider issues and long-term responsibilities of animal husbandry. Given the primary objective of the project is to educate, failing to promote responsible animal welfare practices, or to address the consequences of poor practices is negligent. Increasing awareness of animal husbandry, promoting responsibility and ethical values is intrinsic to this process and a failure to recognise this is to use hatching projects as a form of entertainment rather than education.
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