Incubation Programs: Educational or Edu-Wasteful?
By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed. – A Note from the Teacher
As the warm weather comes in each year, thousands of school and educational centers use the miracle of incubation as a teaching tool to demonstrate to children what happens when egg-laying animals reproduce. Teachers love to use hands-on lessons, and kids are equally enamored with the small, fluffy chicks, ducklings, or goslings that emerge from their shells. But as with the classroom dissection debate that arose several years ago, more and more people are wondering if hatching unnecessary eggs each year is educational or just plain wasteful.
What happens to the birds? This is the question that most adults tend to ask when they see incubation programs, but don’t really want to know the answer to. Whether for fear of offending parents or because they just don’t truly know, many teachers explain that the birds will be “sent to a farm’ to live. However, the truth is that farms generally have all of the birds they need for their own businesses, and birds raised in a school are not likely the breed or age needed. If birds are sent to farms, they are generally raised as meat birds and killed within a season. While a few birds may be adopted by families from within the school, there is no way to guarantee placement for all of the birds produced each year.
Are incubator chicks healthy? The answer to this question depends on the conditions of the incubator and the quality of the eggs. Most time, teachers are not experts in the care and maintenance of incubation equipment, and schools are closed all weekend, leaving room for extended periods of error. These conditions can create hatches of chicks that are weak or malformed, or some may not hatch as all. Although Charlotte’s Web paints a beautiful picture of a human saving a weak animal from disaster, reality is that chicks that are not healthy when they come into the world shouldn’t, and often can’t, survive for more than a few minutes or hours.
Where are they kept in the classroom? Many classrooms do not have adequate facilities to house a number of chicks for an extended period of time. Glass aquariums can build up fecal odors and moisture, adding to the potential for illness in cramped situations. Wire cages can allow small chicks to become stuck or escape through the bars. Also, chicks require heated conditions, and improperly installed heat lamps are a significant safety concern. Some schools allow children to bring the animals home for an overnight visit; however, this exposes the animal to unnecessary bacteria, diseases, and possibly poor living conditions. These birds often do not survive in the long term.
So what are the alternatives to school incubation programs? Online illustrations, videos, and demonstrations are available to teachers for teaching purposes in their classes. Children get to see the process without actually hatching the eggs. Second, by making arrangements with a local farm that is hatching their own eggs, children may get to visit the farm as the process is going on in the real world. This shows the birds in the habitat they will actually be used in, and will allow the farmer to give real information about the birds’ life cycle. Finally, some animal organizations, such as the MSPCA in Massachusetts, have devised educational kits that help to teach kids about the incubation process without the need for live chicks.
In this time of advanced technology, it is admirable that people are trying to give children the opportunity to have a hands-on experience with an animal few of them will ever see again in their lifetimes. However, children would benefit more from visiting an actual farm that shows them the life cycle of animals and plants realistically. The quantities of animals being produced in order to fulfill an artificial interest in one very small part of an animal’s life is not teaching children responsibly. The kids involved are too young to fully appreciate the difficulties that arise from their lessons, so the teachers and parents of school-aged children need to look beyond the fluffy chick in the classroom and help answer the question: Is there a better way?