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Eliminate Chick-Hatching Programs
Many of the birds used in hatching projects become sick and deformed as they grow because their needs are not met during incubation and after hatching. Their organs sometimes stick to the sides of the shells because the eggs are not rotated properly. Schools may turn the heat off for the weekend, causing the embryos to become crippled or to die in the shells. Eggs often hatch on weekends when no one is at school, and chicks are left on their own until someone checks on them.
Educators Are Saying 'No'
Many educators have stopped using chick-hatching projects to teach embryology because of concerns about animal welfare and student safety.
Fecal tests have revealed that chicks used in classrooms have tested positive for E. coli and four different strains of salmonella, one of which was antibiotic-resistant. Any school that conducts chick hatchings is a potential breeding ground for these and other pathogens, including West Nile virus, which domestic fowl can contract. After learning about these risks, Seattle schools implemented a ban on all hatching projects.
What Happens After They Hatch?
Many schools neglect to think about where the surviving chicks will go once the experiment is over. Animal shelters that already have more unwanted cats and dogs than they can comfortably handle are left to deal with chicks every spring. In most urban areas, it's either illegal or impractical to keep adult chickens, and commercial farms will not take chicks who come from schools because they could pass diseases onto their flocks, so the chicks are usually killed. Some chicks are sent to 4-H clubs, and farmers raise them for their eggs and flesh.
Teaching children to care for chicks to whom they will undoubtedly become attached and who will later be killed sends the very dangerous message that it is acceptable to harm weaker beings.
What should schools use to replace chick-hatching experiments? United Poultry Concerns (UPC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the plight of chickens, recommends several alternatives to chick-hatching projects. UPC's suggested resources include the following:
Egg: A Photographic Story of Hatching by Robert Burton (with photographs by Jane Burton and Kim Taylor) looks at the egg-hatching process through close-up photographs. The book follows the first crack in the eggshell to the moment the chick breaks out of the egg.
A Home for Henny, written by UPC founder Karen Davis and illustrated by Patricia Vandenbergh, tells the story of a grade-school chick-hatching project and a chick, Henny, who was going to be disposed of but who finds a happy home at a sanctuary thanks to a student named Melanie and her parents.
The Virtual Incubator guides students through every step of the 21-day chick-hatching process in one sitting. Students are required to monitor the health of the "eggs," weigh and rotate them, and check the humidity of the incubator.