School Hatching Projects: Poor Lessons For Children
The Needs of Developing Birds are Not Likely to Be Met
Every year, kindergarten and elementary school teachers and
their students place thousands of fertilized eggs in classroom
incubators to be hatched within three or four weeks. No one knows
how many eggs are used, but in 1994 one egg supplier sold 1,800
eggs to New York City schools alone. These birds are not only
deprived of a mother; many grow sick and deformed because their
exacting needs are not met during incubation and after hatching.
Chick organs stick to the sides of the shells because they are
not rotated properly. Chicks are born with their intestines
outside their bodies. Eggs can hatch on weekends when no one is
in school to care for the chicks. The heat may be turned off for
the weekend causing the chicks to become crippled or die in the
shell. Some teachers even remove an egg from the incubator every
other day and open it up to look at the chick in various stages
of development, thus adding the killing of innocent life to the
When the project is over, these now unwanted birds may be
left in boxes in the main office for many hours without food,
water, or adequate ventilation waiting for the district science
coordinator to collect them for disposal.
Good Homes Cannot Be Found for the Chickens
Because a child bonds naturally with infant animals,
students and even some teachers are misled to believe that the
surviving chicks are going to live out their lives happily on a
farm, when in reality, most of them are going to be killed
immediately (working farms do not assimilate school-project birds
into their existing flocks), sold to live poultry markets and
auctions, fed to captive wild animals, or left to die slowly of
hunger and thirst as a result of ignorance and neglect. As one
egg supply farm explained, "We don't tell the school and kids the
truth because they become emotionally involved. The emotional
involvement of people goes beyond our counselling capacity."
Some children do learn the truth, however. At one special
education school in New York City, the custodian flushed deformed
live chicks down the toilet, while at another special education
school, the teacher twisted the deformed chicks' necks and then
flushed them--significant lessons for children who are themselves
Each year, the ASPCA, United Poultry Concerns and other
animal shelters across the country are confronted with unwanted
chicks, many of them ill, from educators who never thought of the
fate of the birds, or could not find homes for them, adding to
the tremendous burden already borne by the shelters. (Virtually
all of the chicks turned in to the shelters are immediately
euthanized because there are no homes and because they arrive
sick.) Fortunately, more and more parents and educators are
urging alternatives to these insensitive projects. As ASPCA
president, Roger Caras, writes, "Each year, the ASPCA receives
numerous calls from public school teachers and science
coordinators asking for alternatives to the chick hatching
project. These caring educators have demonstrated their concern,
as well as the concern of their coworkers and the children's
parents, as to the unusual amount of cruelty to animals that this
project entails and its negative educational value."
Increasing urbanization enormously compounds the problem.
Residentially-zoned areas ban the keeping of domestic fowl, while
even people who can provide a good home for a chicken can
accommodate only so many roosters. Normal flocks have several
female birds to one male, and roosters crow before dawn.
Unfortunately, half of all chickens born are males.
The Lesson Never Taught: Chickens are a Marvel of Nature
The lesson never taught is that chickens are one of the
marvels of nature. A mother hen turns each egg carefully as often
as 3O times a day, using her body, her feet, nd her beak to move
the egg precisely in order to maintain the proper temperature,
moisture, ventilation, humidity, and position of the egg during
the 3-week incubation period. Unhatched chicks respond to
soothing sounds from the mother hen and to warning cries of the
rooster. Two or three days before the baby birds are ready to
hatch, they start peeping to notify their mother and siblings
that they are ready to emerge from the shell, and to draw her
attention to any discomfort they may be suffering such as cold or
abnormal positioning. A communication network is established
among the baby birds, and between the baby birds and their
mother, who must stay calm while all the peeping, sawing, and
breaking of eggs goes on underneath her. As soon as all the eggs
are hatched, the hungry mother and her brood go forth eagerly to
eat, drink, and explore.
Instead of teaching these valuable lessons, school hatching
projects mislead children to think that chicks come from machines
with no need of a mother or family life. Supplemental facts,
even if provided, cannot complete with this barren, mechanistic,
and decontextualized classroom experience.
Meaningful, Humane, State-of-the-Art Replacements are Needed
Chick hatching projects teach children (and teachers) that
bringing a life into the world is not a grave and permanent
responsibility with ultimate consequences for the life thus
created. Elimination of this destructive idea from our schools is
a practical extension of the socially responsible atmosphere we
are trying to create for our children. Chick hatching projects,
which began in the 1950s, need to be replaced with state-of-the-
art teaching programs including colorful books, filmstrips,
videos, computer programs, overhead transparencies, and vinyl
plastic models that demonstrate the embryonic process in the
major stages of development of a chick inside an egg. Easily-
adapted programs are already in use in other areas of biology.
One example is the human pregnancy series models that are
mounted on individual stands showing the human uterus with an
embryo and fetus in the major stages of development. Another is
the Frog-Biological Model, a plastic chart with removable organs.
Educators can help by urging educational supply companies to
develop alternative programs, and by purchasing existing
alternative programs, creating a demand.
In addition, an understanding of the natural life of
chickens incorporating the fact that they are birds can be
encouraged by quietly observing a nest of wild birds including
pigeons, sparrows and other birds who have adapted to city life.
Field trips to places where chickens can be seen socializing,
sunbathing, dustbathing, foraging and enjoying themselves outside
will help students to see these birds in a sensitizing and
appealing perspective. Field trips in conjunction with the local
Audubon Society or other local nature study organizations can
incorporate holistic projects in which students observe the
fascinating ecology of many kinds of birds.
What Educators and Others Can Do
- If a hatching project is being considered at your school,
please use an alternative project, or urge the science curriculum
coordinator or whoever else is responsible to use a replacement
that respects the life and feelings of all creatures. In doing
so, you are helping to build a society in which it will one day
be considered unthinkable to generate a living being simply as an
- Purchase UPC's informative new booklet, Replacing School
Hatching Projects: Alternative Resources and How To Order Them.
Send check or money order for _____ to United Poultry Concerns,
P.O. Box 59367, Potomac, MD 2O859.
UPC is grateful to Sheila Schwartz and Esther Friedman of
the United Federation of Teachers Humane Education Committee and
to Julie Bank and Stephen Zawistowski of the ASPCA for their
extremely valuable information on school hatching projects. We
extend our sincerest thanks to everyone who sent donations to
help provide for this much needed humane education campaign.
Next, please help us get our booklet into the hands of
teachers by enclosing a tax-deductible check or money order to
United Poultry Concerns, Attn: School Hatching Projects, P.O. Box
59367, Potomac, MD 20859.
Yes! I wish to make a tax-deductible contribution to UPC's
Alternatives To School Hatching Projects Campaign. Enclosed is my
check or money order for _____________. Thank you!