"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."
Dr. F. Barbara Orlans, Senior Research Fellow
So you think you want to hatch baby chicks in your classroom. Please think again.
The Humane Society of Missouri urges teachers to quit the classroom practice of incubating baby chicks:
- The procedure often places stress on the chicks while they are hatching without a full-time biological mother,
- The class project traumatizes students when the chicks die,
- Furthermore, the surviving chicks can carry and transmit salmonella to unsuspecting children when handled. (A 1999 analysis of chicks in Seattle schools found that nearly all chicks tested were infected with E. coli and salmonella, leading to a ban on all hatching projects in Seattle schools. Read more.)
It's your project until it becomes our problem.
Incubating chicks is often more challenging than humans expect. Chicks that are not incubated properly die or are born deformed. The surviving chicks don't fare well after they are dismissed from the classroom. As a poorly-thought, insulting alternative, the incubation kits' materials instruct teachers and parents to give the abandoned chicks to a local animal shelter for "disposal" as the proper procedure; they believe it is the animal shelter's job to accept and either care for or kill the baby birds. Most shelters are either under-funded divisions of city health departments or volunteer-driven, non-profit organizations; both types of shelters are already inundated with homeless dogs, cats, puppies and kittens. Many shelters will accept the orphaned chicks rather than allow them to suffer, but - with no resources to raise the chicks - will euthanize them. Thus, the classroom's disposable "life" project becomes the animal lovers' responsibility and heartbreak.
The Humane Society of Missouri's Longmeadow Rescue Ranch is one of a very few facilities equipped to handle farm animals, but the non-profit facility is overflowing with more than 350 horses, cows, pigs, goats and chickens in need of permanent homes. According to Earlene Cole, former director of Longmeadow Rescue Ranch, raising chicks in the classroom is more daunting than teachers realize. "The surviving chicks require special feed that is not readily available in most big cities. If not properly fed, the chicks die or become deformed. Once they're born, you can't tell if a chick is going to grow up to be a hen or a rooster. While some families with acreage can adopt another hen, most already have a rooster, and roosters often don't get along with each other. If we can find a home for a rooster, they'll need tolerant neighbors who will put up with the crowing."
Cole cautions parents and teachers about the types of chicken produced by the classroom eggs. Even if a compassionate student wanted to keep the chicks and raise them, sometimes that isn't possible due to genetic engineering. "These days, there are three types of chicken eggs. One type of egg grows into a chicken that most people are familiar with - a chicken that lays eggs but can also be eaten for meat. There is another type of egg that grows into a chicken that only lays eggs. And there's a type of egg that grows into a chicken genetically altered to not lay eggs. This 'meat chicken' grows too large to even walk, so they couldn't possibly be someone's pet."
Cole says classroom ducklings are also a problem for over-crowded animal shelters. If the ducklings survive the classroom, they encounter further perils when a teacher or parent inappropriately releases them. "Domestic ducks can't fly very far, so they often get attacked by dogs, coyotes and foxes. Finding food is difficult," Cole continues. "They usually survive the summer and fall, but finding enough to eat during winter can be a struggle. Often people will feed bread to domestic ducks, but bread is not nutritious enough and is not typically fed to them on a regular basis. Furthermore, because people feed them, the ducks don't fear them and become victims to abusive people as well as stray or wild animals."
Teach your students to become humane adults.
Please end the irresponsible practice of hatching and abandoning chicks and ducklings in your classroom and urge other teachers and students to do the same. Lessons in creating a humane biology classroom are available via the following sources:
United Poultry Concerns (757) 678-7875