Why are we watching chickens hatch in plastic boxes?

animals ethics wellbeing Aug 27, 2020

This week, I have seen several posts on social media from services welcoming chicken hatching programs. Let's be clear - these aren't the first services to do this, and I am sure they won't be the last. This article is not designed to shame anyone, simply to shine a light on a program that doesn't sit so well with us. 

Allow me to begin by being up front. I have had a chicken hatching program in a service. I was a new director, but had been at the service a couple of years, during which time we had the chicken hatching program out several times. When that time of the year rolled around again, I didn't really question it. But when the incubator arrived and we really began thinking about it as a team, it just didn't sit right. In fact, when Tash couldn't really get a clear answer about what would happen to the chicks if they were returned when the two week program was over, she quickly began campaigning for our own chicken coop so we could keep them and raise them in a loving environment. 

As the two weeks went on, children (and adults) gathered around the incubator, watching as these eggs hatched. When the little chicks emerged and those tiny fluffballs began cheeping, everyone of course thought they were simply adorable. But as they cheeped and cheeped and cheeped, I couldn't help feeling sad that they didn't have a mother to cheep to. 

That was our last year hosting the chick hatching program. We kept all of the chickens, built a HUGE chicken coop (although the chickens very quickly became free range during the day, wandering the outdoor space and developing beautiful bonds with the children) and loved them. But we never considered having the hatching program again. That was about 14 years ago and I honestly thought that this concept would fade out. But, when my son started Kindergarten a few years ago, I was sad to see the chicken hatching program arrive. Again, worried about the fate of these tiny chicks, we took some home (well, to Nan's house!) where they could live a wonderful free range life and dig through the veggie garden! 

 

What's Really Wrong With Chicken Hatching?

For me, it was a gut feeling. A simple "this doesn't feel natural, they are not with their mama". But, upon doing some research, there are a number of reasons why these programs may not be such a wonderful idea. 

This article from PETA, as well as this one from RSPCA QLD identify some key concerns with the chicken hatching programs, including: 

  • Inexperienced staff being responsible for live animals.
  • Power failure and other equipment malfunctions resulting in eggs /chicks dying due to lack of warmth.
  • Rough handling and inappropriate timing of handling of chicks resulting in injury or death to chicks.
  • Chicks with injuries or disease may not receive proper treatment or appropriate immediate euthanasia.
  • Inappropriate maintenance of the enclosure resulting in disease.

Both articles suggest that the programs send an inherent message that animals are for entertainment and are ultimately "disposable", with both also suggesting that the fate of chicks at the end of the two week program is questioned. Even in instances where chicks are rehomed, there is a risk that should they be roosters, and be in a suburban area, they may not be able to be kept long term due to council regulations. 

 

So what's the alternative? 

I understand that services and educators want to provide opportunities for children to experience and explore the natural world, science concepts and gain an understanding of life cycles, but there are other ways that we can do that, such as:

  • Books
  • Videos and online clips of chickens hatching in their natural environments
  • An excursion (where possible) to a farm 

The PETA Article mentioned above, notes some other alternatives too. 

 

How do we bring about change? 

Change starts with conversation. If your service is thinking about getting a chicken hatching program and you're not feeling comfortable with the idea perhaps ask some questions such as:

"What are we hoping to achieve with this program?" 

"Could we achieve this in other ways?" 

"Does this program align with our philosophy?" 

These may not be easy conversations to have, and some educators may feel confronted by these questions and may even be defensive. That's okay. Change can be hard, and confronting our practice - particularly if it is something we have done over the course of many years - can be difficult. But, as educators, we can't underestimate the importance of reflection! 

The RSPCA QLD article mentioned above has some suggestions for advocating for change also. 

 

Don't Beat Yourself Up... But do make change! 

 

We have all done things in our practice that we wouldn't do now. That's what growth and evolution is all about. The key is not to spend time in a "I feel so bad, we shouldn't have done this" state, but to think "we are going to make change." 

 

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