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10 May 2000 Issue
Replacing School Hatching Projects: Alternative Resources & How To Order Them

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. 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. Body organs stick to the sides of the shells because they are not rotated properly. Birds are born with their intestines outside their bodies. Eggs can hatch on weekends when no one is in school. The heat may be turned off for the weekend causing the embryos to become crippled or die in the shell. Commercial suppliers' eggs hatch an abnormally high number of deformed birds reflecting the limited gene pool from which they derive. Some teachers even remove an egg from the incubator every other day and open it up to look at the embryo in various stages of development, adding the killing of innocent life to the child's education.

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 to be collected for disposal. The school system does not even provide a budget for the veterinary care and treatment of birds and other animals who are used in the classroom. That this lesson sinks into students is shown by the decision of millions of adults each year to "get rid of" a sick, injured, or crippled "pet" rather than pay for veterinary treatment.

Good Homes Cannot Be Found And The Problem Is Getting Worse . . .

Because a child bonds naturally with infant animals, students and even some teachers are misled to believe that the surviving birds are going to live out their lives happily on a farm, when in reality, most of them are going to be killed immediately (most working farms do not add school-project birds to their existing flocks for fear of importing germs), sold to live poultry markets and auctions, fed to captive zoo animals, or left to die slowly of hunger and thirst as a result of ignorance and neglect. Commercial egg suppliers routinely send returned hatching-project birds to slaughter. Baby quails may be used for hunting and hunting-dog practice or recycled into repetitive "nutrition deprivation" experiments. 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 counseling capacity."

Some children do learn the truth, however. At a special education school in New York City, for example, 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 disabled.

School hatching projects increase the number of animals no one is asking for -- those millions of precious creatures, including classroom chickens and other birds, whom we pay people to "euthanize" each year or whom a parent may reluctantly take on, usually temporarily. School hatching projects encourage students to desire to repeat the classroom experience by producing unwanted litters of puppies and kittens. After all, aren't we assured that a "farm" or a "shelter" will absorb our castoffs?

Each year, animal shelters across the country are confronted with unwanted chicks, ducklings, quails, even turkeys and ostriches, 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. Surely there are enough animals who need homes already without adding to the population and perpetuating the behavior that is responsible for the problem.

Increasing urbanization enormously compounds the problem. Residential zones ban the keeping of domestic fowl, while even people who can provide a good home can accommodate only so many male birds. Normal flocks have several female birds to one male. Roosters crow before dawn and during the day. (Crowing is part of the complex visual and communication system evolved in the chickens' jungle habitat.) Unfortunately, half of all chickens born are males.

The Lesson Never Taught: Chickens, Ducks, and Quails are Marvels of Nature

The lesson never taught is that chickens, ducks, and quails are marvels of nature. These birds are energetic foragers with excellent eyesight, strong legs and other features that enable them to find their own plants, seeds, and insects with expertise. Japanese quail mate for life and have strong migratory instincts that are totally frustrated in captivity. Ducks need water not only to drink and swim in, but to ensure the health of their eyes with constant rinsing. Chickens and turkeys have an inborn need to range and be social. Ostriches and emus have a strong family life in which both parents play an active role in the nesting, incubation, protection and teaching of their young.

Hatching project birds have real mothers and fathers . . . somewhere. A mother hen turns each egg carefully as often as 30 times a day, using her body, her feet, and 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. Embryonic chicks, ducklings, quails, turkeys, ostriches and emus respond to soothing sounds from the mother hen. Chicken embryos respond to warning cries of the rooster. Two to 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 distress 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 artificially incubated birds come from machines with no need of a mother or a family life. They do not perceive the parents' role in nest-making, incubation, protection, care, and teaching of their young. Supplemental facts, even if provided, cannot compete with this barren, mechanistic, and decontextualized classroom experience which gets passed on from one generation to the next. For example, a teacher whose students hatched an ostrich in class mistakenly told the newspaper that the only thing baby ostriches learn from their parents is "the pecking process."

Meaningful, Humane, Creative Replacements Are Needed

School 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 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, including respect for the family life of all creatures. Hatching projects need to be replaced with creative programs including colorful books, filmstrips, videos, computer programs, and plastic models that demonstrate the embryonic process in the major stages of development of a bird inside an egg. Easily-adapted programs are already in use in other areas of biology and can be adapted to hands-on instruction based on materials that do not entail the repetitive generation of living beings for a terminal procedure. 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, ducks, and quails 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 ducks can be seen swimming and 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 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, feelings, and family life 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 experiment. If young children are "excited" by classroom bird-hatching projects and the production of litters of puppies and kittens, this is because they are innocently bonding with these baby animals without understanding the true situation. Most of the animals do not have a happy (or any) life ahead, and multiple unwanted offspring result from those who do. The majority of children who learn the truth are emotionally traumatized and justifiably feel betrayed.

Source: United Poultry Concerns <franklin@smarty.smart.net>

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