{A-Z:Veganism} H is for Hatching Project

H is for…

Hatching project.

This is Sarge:

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Sarge the rooster.
Photo used with kind permission of B. Carmody.

Here is Sarge as a chick, with his sister and brothers:

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Chicks dust-bathing.
Photo by author.

I first encountered Sarge when he lived in an egg. His egg, his world, was part of a school hatching program.

The fragile inhabitants of those 12 eggs emerged into an incubator, to a motherless existence. They did not experience the welcoming chirps or body warmth of a nurturing mother. A heat lamp set to 37 degrees Celsius was their only warmth and comfort.

What is a hatching project?

Hatching projects are promoted as ‘fun and easy do-it-yourself programs that enable children to see chicks actually hatching from their eggs’. School teachers are encouraged to use hatching projects  in their classrooms.

One company, Living Eggs , asserts that their program provides children with ‘the opportunity to experience the miracle of life first hand…’. Hatching projects are promoted as ‘hands-on’ enhancements  for life cycle studies.

When participating in the Living Eggs hatching program, schools are provided with an incubator, eggs, a brooder box for the chicks, educational resources and chick feed.

The company aims for the chicks to hatch on a Wednesday (‘please inform us Wednesday afternoon if there are no signs of hatching‘), and instructs that all chicks should be moved to the brooder box by Friday afternoon. It is requested that a ‘responsible person’ take the chicks home over the weekend.

On Monday, the chicks are ‘ready’ to be handled by the students. On the twelfth day, at the completion of the program, the chicks are collected, along with the incubator and brooder box.

What do hatching projects teach children? 

According to the companies that provide this ‘experience’ for pre-schools and schools, children are learning about ‘the life cycle’.

A testimonial on the Living Eggs home page states:

 ‘A wonderful stimulus for work across the curriculum. It gave the children an amazing experience of a real life-cycle’.

Perhaps the chicks were a ‘wonderful stimulus’, however, I do not agree that there is anything ‘real’ about this set-up. A hatching project is not indicative of a ‘real’ life cycle. It is totally artificial!

Another testimonial exclaims:

Brilliant!  One of the most unique bonding experiences ever.’

Huh!? Who bonded? The kids? The kids and teacher? Or the kids and chicks? Perhaps the teacher and the chicks bonded?

It is disappointing that there is no concern for hen-chick bonding –  the bond between mother and baby.  I am curious to know what the children are told about the ‘absent’ mother.

In fact, one of the criticisms directed at hatching projects is that the chicks may ‘imprint’ (bond) with the children who are caring for them, only to experience separation anxiety when they are removed from the school a few days later.

Opponents of hatching projects assert that children are being taught to regard the fragile chicks as mere ‘teaching aides’, not sentient beings. This is further enforced when the chicks are collected at the end of the project. The chicks are disposable.

A classroom environment can not emulate the role of a mother hen, who rotates her eggs up to 30 times a day to ensure proper embryonic development.  A mother hen communicates with her offspring while they are still inside the eggs, welcoming them and guiding them as they emerge from their eggs.

This particular ‘educational experience’ patronises children. We only give them part of the story. Yes, the avian egg is fascinating. However, the ‘life cycle’ that is demonstrated to school students is a false one.  A mother, a hen, is essential for the life cycle. She is the layer of eggs, the one who gave them life.

Not just Chicks

I was dismayed to discover that one company,  Hatch n Grow , provides duckling eggs as part of its hatching program.

The Hatch n Grow website provides the following cautionary announcement:

‘PLEASE NOTE: Ducklings can drown if you don’t provide a step for them to get out of the water by themselves. It’s always best to supervise the ducklings in the water and if at any time they look tired or cold put them back near their heat light for a rest.’

It is very unlikely that a duckling would drown under the guidance and supervision of her mother, but in a busy classroom a tired or struggling duckling  may go unnoticed.

The web site also states that their program is:

Great for keeping the kids in the neighbourhood occupied at home during the school holidays.’

Is that the value we truly wish to place on living beings? When we use living beings as ‘occupiers’ of our children’s time, we treat them as a novelty. The ducklings are reduced to the status of a play thing, a toy.

Ducklings are very cute, undeniably so. I am sure that  my kids would love to hold one. But, this is where our influence and guidance as parents is so important. It is essential that we instill in our children a belief that ducklings (and other beings) are not play things, that they have inherent value as living beings.

At all stages, we must ask: Is this action beneficial to the duckling (or chick)? Is it kind, is it right? This process requires empathy.

We must also ask: What are my children learning from this experience? Are these the types of beliefs that I want them to develop about animals?

I do not want my children to regard animals as toys. This belief, therefore, influences the type of activities  that I would seek for my children to be involved in.  Hatching projects in the home are definitely out.

Sarge’s Story

I rescued four of the chicks from the school hatching project that Sarge was a part of, and took them home to my suburban backyard.

My sister and I named the chicks according to their unique features: Sarge appeared to be ‘the boss’, the benevolent leader. Tails grew her white tail feathers first. Lionel’s tail feathers appeared as distinct ‘lines’. Baby was the smallest.

They were tiny, precious and fragile- and we fell in love with them.

As they grew, two things became apparent-

1. Three were roosters, Tails was the only hen;

2. They were ‘broilers’ (meat chickens), not ‘egg laying’ chickens. The company had stated that the remaining chicks, Sarge’s siblings, were going to a ‘free range’ egg facility.  I had not believed this assertion at the time and, as our chicks ‘grew’ into broilers, we confirmed the claims to be false.

Broiler Chickens

As the chicks grew, deformities began to emerge. And grow they did. Rapidly. Broiler chickens have been bred to gain weight fast. They are commonly slaughtered at approximately 30-35 days old (but no later than 55-60 days old). They are just babies.

I felt so relieved that I had brought the chicks to my home. What fate had awaited them otherwise?

Before long, the chickens could barely carry their own weight. Any amount of exertion would render them exhausted. At times it seemed conceivable that their fragile legs may snap under the weight of their unnaturally large bodies. Eventually, Lionel could only walk short distances at a time.

At the time that we shared our lives with Sarge, Lionel, Tails and Baby I had not eaten chicken for 4 years. I had read about broiler chickens and their crippling deformities. I had seen photos of them.

Now, I was sharing my life and home with broiler chickens. I observed their dust bathing and their exploration of the backyard. My heart ached as I watched them struggle to walk.

I wanted everyone to meet them. To know them. To know what these beings endure in order for humans to eat roast chicken and chicken nuggets. They were just babies. Do people realise that they are eating babies?

There was a happier ending for Sarge, Tails, Lionel and Baby.

A New Home

Once Sarge, Lionel and Baby began crowing each morning, it became apparent  that it was time to find them a more suitable, more rural home.

That is when Bede Carmody came in to our lives. Bede was living on a property that was home to ex-battery hens. He agreed to provide a home for our 4 friends. For this act of kindness and compassion, I will be grateful to Bede, forever.

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Tails, resting at her new home.
Photo used with kind permission of B. Carmody.

Bede updated us on the lives of our broiler friends with photos and letters, and it became apparent to me that he had welcomed them into his heart.

Sadly, all of  these precious chickens died before their first birthday. 

Unlike millions of their kin, however, they died FREE. They were not slaves, they were not subjected to the stress of transportation or the horrors of a slaughterhouse – and they knew kindness. In a chicken production facility, they would have been slaughtered before they reached 2 months old.

A Poultry Place

Bede Carmody now runs a no-kill sanctuary called A Poultry Place in Southern New South Wales. A Poultry Place (APP) is home to rescued and unwanted hens, roosters, ducks, turkeys and geese. No doubt, some of the roosters in residence are former hatching project chicks. APP celebrated its 12th birthday this week.

I have not seen Bede for many years, but I look forward to the day that I can hug him and thank him again for his kindness.

I eagerly anticipate  the day that Mat and I visit  A Poultry Place with our children.

For this is the appropriate place to gain a ‘hands on’ educational experience about chickens and ducks (and others).  I want my children to learn about the lives of the precious beings who reside there, to understand that the residents have been blessed with a  second chance. I want them to hear about the personalities, habits and ‘quirks’ of Bede’s feathered friends.

My kids can also gain some ‘education’ by helping Bede with some of the never-ending jobs that stack up at an animal sanctuary! I’m thinking cleaning, shoveling, feeding…..that is very ‘hands on’!

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Sarge and his pals at dinner time.
Photo used with kind permission of B. Carmody.

Have you visited an animal sanctuary? Please let me know in the comments. 

An alternative to chicken hatching programs, a lesson plan called Beak, Wings and Feet is available here.

More information about A Poultry Place is available here.

You may also want to check out my post E is for Eggs

References:

Edgar’s Mission

World of Animal Welfare (WOAW) 

In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

Ally

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About Ally
Mamma. Vegan. I blog at Made of Stars.

17 Responses to {A-Z:Veganism} H is for Hatching Project

  1. uberdish says:

    Oh, I love this post Ally!! We have the same hatching programs here in our schools and it has always stressed me. I would love to pass this post along to my teacher friends. We have never visited an animal sanctuary, but would love to. I guess you can say that our home has been one, off and on. Our 2 cats and bunny are rescued. In the past, we have rescued guinea pigs and hamsters. We’ve also helped our neighbourhood chipmunks, birds, and raccoons. 🙂

  2. thombeed says:

    Hi Ally Thanks for posting this. Its a very well written and true reflection of their lives. Yes I remember in my school we had hatching programmes and looking back I never wondered when I was a kid what happened to the chicks. Society lies to school children (all of us I suppose) on the reality of the lives of all animals. I am going to a farm sanctuary on Sunday in Dayboro. It s an open day and although its just starting out the person that started it has said that they have had a huge amount of interest and this is perfect as the place will be an education place for people to interact and hopefully connect with the animals as vegans have done. If I am in the area I will visit the Poultry Place you have mentioned. Thanks 🙂

    • Ally says:

      Oh I look forward to reading about your trip to the sanctuary in Dayboro. I have never been that far north, so I had to look at a map 🙂 Have a lovely visit.
      I am happy that you enjoyed this post. I actually started writing it months ago, but had to wait until I got up to H 🙂 I have been waiting to introduce the broiler chicks and A Poultry Place. I hope you can visit APP one day!

      • thombeed says:

        I hope that the opening day goes ahead. We have had a lot of rain and the weather guys are predicting a lot more. Yes I enjoyed your post very much. We think the same and also I know Xiomara does too. Yes I would love to visit APP one day. We could meet up there or some else for a coffee 🙂 Enjoy your weekend

      • Ally says:

        Oh we are getting some of that rain too. In fact, I enjoyed your frog photo, as we have a chorus of frogs singing in the rain as I type!
        A coffee meet up sounds great! If we head north or you head south, we could definitely arrange it.
        🙂

  3. Xiomara says:

    Yes, my school loves hatching ducks. I tried engaging in conversation once but was not equipped with adequate info. Plus it’s hard to argue with “kids witness the fragility of life” and “they go to a farm where people love the ducks”.I could go into it, but then would sound like a crazy vegan person who wants to deprive kids of a “wonderful” learning experience.

    Oh and coincidentally I just posted about my trip to an animal Sanctuary! 🙂

    • Ally says:

      Poor ducklings 😦
      It’s tough being the only crazy vegan in a crowd 😉 I can relate!
      I am going to check out your sanctuary post now. I look forward to reading it.

  4. Great post, Ally. Thanks for the reminder; I really never thought much about this. Way back in the day, I remember my preschool having a hatching program. I never interacted with the chicks myself much, and at the time I was sad, but I was probably fortunate to have been spared forming an attachment, although the chicks were hardly so lucky. And yes, they mysteriously vanished from the preschool, presumably after they grew out of the marketably cute phase.

    And I totally agree with you on the point of animals being turned into toys. I know many love their pets as respected companions, but I do find it troubling to see highly bred (really, inbred) dogs being tucked into purses as accessories to a lifestyle. Using an animal as a toy when the only intent is to turn it into a food source seems even more perverse. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to see your rescue chicks struggling to move around 😦 The things humanity does…sigh… I’m glad you were able to rescue a few guys and help them live out their lives happily and comfortably.

    • Ally says:

      🙂 Hi! Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting reply. I am happy to say that my school never hosted hatching projects. The one that Sarge came from was hosted by a pre-school that I did casual work at when I was a Uni student. It is the first (and last, thankfully) hatching project that I encountered.
      The deformities of broiler chickens are awful. Lionel ended up with arthritis, Baby ended up with (suspected) heart failure, Tails had respiratory problems. I am content knowing that they had some enjoyment in their short lives, and that they didn’t end up on a dinner plate.

      Ah, I agree about puppies and purses. Dogs as fashion statements! Aargh.

  5. susykat says:

    Thanks for this post, Ally. It brings back memories of our lovely chicken friends, Sarge, Tails, Baby and Lionel. I remember they all had distinctive personalities so it was easy to tell them apart. It was heartbreaking watching their bodies start to betray them as they gained weight and became weak. I will also always feel indebted to the wonderful Bede for taking them in and giving them a beautiful home for the rest of their days.

    • Ally says:

      Oh they were so sweet, weren’t they? So tiny and fragile to begin with, then suddenly they were large and lame. I remember them just sitting down a lot. I love the photos of them as chicks (I’ve got one in my E is for Eggs post). They were well enough to explore the world and dust bathe, then.
      Sarge seems to have fared better than the others.
      I am so glad you found Bede, and that he agreed to adopt them. 🙂

  6. MeShell says:

    I was just reflecting on my “Hatching” experience in elementary school and found your post today. I had asked where the chicks went, and I can remember being told an idyllic farm story about happy chickens laying eggs and picking at grain, which I now know to be false.

    I can only hope that when I have children, we can avoid this artificial hatching nonsense, or else we might also end up with a couple of rescue chickens in our backyard as well.

    Thank you for your post.

    • Ally says:

      Hi MeShell, 🙂
      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it. It is interesting that you were also told that the chicks return to an idyllic farm life. It is probably a standard line used by most of these companies.

      I am fortunate that our children have not encountered a hatching project at their pre-school or school.

      Thanks for dropping by.

  7. carmen says:

    Excellent article as all your posts are, well written and thought-provoking!

    We rescued a baby chick that was part of a hatching project. It is truly sad to see these orphaned chicks without a mom to tuck them under her wings! We had her under a warming lamp on a soft towel in my son’s room till she got big enough. My son loved her and took good care of her as best as a human can but that is no substitute for a hen.

    She grew up in our home and we had her for a year before the neighbours complained. She did no harm to anyone. The neighbour’s dog barked constantly but our hen just peacefully forged around the garden, minding her own business and never bothering anyone. She was so fun to watch from my kitchen window and always made me smile.

    We went to a chicken farm to buy feed for her and that’s where I saw firsthand the horror of how hens are stuffed into battery cages!! As I entered the barn, the stench burnt my eyes and almost knocked me over–unbelievable!!! My husband couldn’t even go in, it was too hard to breathe! I don’t buy eggs ever since.

    As we got back to our car, a station wagon arrived to pick up ‘spent hens’–no mercy for these poor hens who have suffered a confined, abused existence, they were thrown live into crates like sardines. The image causes me grief to this day. Where is compassion? Where is mercy? How can they do this? The answer was, “They’re just chickens!”

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