Very often a school will acquire a fertilised egg from a hen and then, in-class, monitor its progress until it hatches. While this may be interesting and educational, many people are unaware of just how detrimental such schemes can be to the birds involved. As a result, we at The Farm Animal Sanctuary and numerous other animal charities are calling for schools to end this practice.
Firstly, it’s impossible to know how many chicks will hatch. These chicks then have to go somewhere, and may end up being destroyed or used for meat. Very often school eggs are provided by companies, and the birds, once hatched, are returned to them. There is often no future for the birds that are born – especially if they are male (see below).
Secondly, as the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWF) notes, even the most attentive teacher can’t hope to provide the same care for a fertilised egg as its hen mother. An egg needs turning – a mother hen will do this up to 30 times a day – to avoid the chicks inside getting stuck to the inner eggshell, which can lead to injury or even death. This turning won’t happen even during school time, let alone at night or on weekends when the egg is left completely unattended.
Thirdly, and most importantly, hatching schemes are fuelling the rise in unwanted cockerels, i.e. male chicks. Since these don’t lay eggs, they often end up unwanted. Sanctuaries such as ours are then asked to look after unwanted cockerels, and often they do not have the capacity. We have even had boxes of cockerels dumped on our doorstep overnight twice this year!
This isn’t a new problem. In 2017, Helen Cooper, who runs the Big Red Rooster Cockerel Charity, started a petition to get such in-school schemes banned.
As she told the Daily Telegraph at the time, “[Schools] are left with something alive which they have no intention of keeping”, adding that cockerels were “surplus to requirements”.
What you can do
So what can you do? If you’re a parent and your child’s school runs such a scheme, complain to the head and get other parents involved too. The head may be totally unaware of the unethical and harmful implications of such schemes and will hopefully be receptive to your concerns.
While it’s great that schools and their students take an interest in animals and life around them, it’s vital that this is encouraged in an ethical, sustainable way that does not result in birds being quickly forgotten once they hatch.