Blood, Gore, and Violence:

Teaching Children to Kill Chickens in High School

This discussion derives from my article “Culturally Rationalized Forms of Chicken Sacrifice: The Kaporos Ritual and the Chicken Project,” pp. 6-7 in the November-December, 2010 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE, the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide. In print and online at

Initiating children into society through rituals of animal slaughter is traditional in rural communities and in towns where rites from a rural past are retained. Where I grew up, in Altoona, PA, schools were closed on the first day of hunting season – they still are – so boys could “go huntin’” with their uncles and dads. On the farm, 4-H projects initiate children into the “realities” of life, and a farm boy or girl must learn the rituals of conduct and speech fitted to these occasions. In 4-H, a child is given a young animal to raise. When the animal is grown, the child enters him or her in an agricultural fair to compete for a prize, after which the animal is auctioned and hauled off to slaughter. Competing for a prize and auction money helps divert the child’s emotions from the harm impending to the animal who has been innocently raised. The 4-H experience culminates in sacrificing the animal in a ritual meant to maintain the agricultural way of life. It also involves sacrifice of the child’s feelings of tenderness and love for the animal.

A 4-H participant goes typically from a condition of happy innocence to grief and tears, leading to final acceptance of the “necessity” of these sacrifices. Within a few years, the soul of the youngster who wept over his or her first cow, pig, or sheep has effectively been slain. The young adult may thereafter participate in raising animals for slaughter by the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands.

Occasionally a child refuses to submit to the sacrificial process, which leads to consideration of a class activity called the Chicken Project (or “Broiler Project”), which has been conducted in some schools in recent years, and which United Poultry Concerns is actively working to prevent.

In the Chicken Project, the school purchases 20 or so baby “broiler” chicks from an industrial hatchery for students to raise for six week and then kill, under the guidance of their teacher. Following the slaughter, the remains are consumed at a school banquet. Any raw or residual grief or awful memories the students might have about killing their chickens, watching them suffer and die in buckets of blood, is absorbed into a festival of food and manufactured “pride” that the teacher and school officials tell the students they should feel as a result of having “raised their own food” instead of purchasing “factory-farmed meat” at the supermarket.

In some cases, the Chicken Project adapts the traditional 4-H experience to a more recent trend known as the “locavore movement.” Based on the idea that people should consume only food that is grown or slaughtered locally, to reduce the environmental cost of long-distance food transport, the locavore movement is also about eating “clean,” preferably organic food, as opposed to the “unclean,” chemically embalmed garbage of factory farming.

Factory farming is decried, but what has come to define and energize the locavore movement above all is the argument crystalized by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that while industrial animal production is nasty and cruel, human beings are designed to eat animals, so slaughtering one’s own animals, or buying slaughtered meat from local, allegedly “sustainable” and “humane” farms, is the most reasonable and ethical solution. Thus, while a high school Chicken Project inspired by locavorism may include a vegetable garden and related assignments as part of a Food Unit, the course is weighted with the idea that the most important and “realistic” food choices are between “factory-farmed meat” and “meat” you kill yourself, or as nearly as possible. Whether the project is part of a traditional Animal Science course, or a trendy Food Unit, the official rationalization in both cases is that raising and slaughtering their own chickens benefits students with a “real life” lesson on “where their food comes from.”