Chick hatching programs occur most commonly at kindergartens and in prep/foundation and lower primary school grades.
A chick hatching program is where a school is delivered fertile eggs which hatch a couple of days after arrival. Classrooms are supplied with an incubator, brooding box, food and substrate/bedding for the chicks. This hatching kit is left at the school for 2–3 weeks and, at the conclusion of the program, the supplier collects the hatching kit along with any chicks that are being returned.
There are many potential welfare issues associated with chick hatching programs. Schools are therefore strongly encouraged to think carefully about the use of live animals in classrooms and the outcomes they wish to attain from such activities.
Teachers must understand how to operate equipment and have an adequate knowledge of chick biology to look after the chicks appropriately and have the resources to deal with chicks that become ill and need treatment.
Some of the welfare issues with chick hatching programs include:
- Power failure resulting in eggs/chicks dying from lack of warmth
- Handling eggs/chicks at inappropriate times resulting in death of the chick
- Chicks receiving no or delayed treatment when unwell
- Rough handling resulting in broken limbs or death of chicks
- Inappropriate maintenance of the enclosure resulting in disease
- Inadequate food or water resulting in starvation or dehydration of chicks
- Inappropriate location of incubator or brooding box resulting in heat or cold stress and potentially death of chicks.
Chicks may be sent home with school children and this can lead to chicks becoming stressed for a number of reasons, including stress associated with transport, separation from the other chicks, inappropriate home environment, and inappropriate handling. As the chicks grow, they may be unwanted either because they are male (don’t lay eggs) or because of their lack of productivity. The fate of chicks being returned to the supplier is also largely unknown.
The RSPCA believes that all teaching using live animals must be carried out in accordance with the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes which requires proposals to be assessed and endorsed by an animal ethics committee.
The RSPCA does not support the keeping, breeding or use of living animals in pre-schools or schools other than agricultural high schools. In general, there are insufficient facilities and trained staff to adequately protect the welfare of animals in this setting (including such aspects as housing, proper handling, veterinary care and humane killing).
A review of chick hatching programs at schools in Australia can be obtained from RSPCA Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.