Living Eggs: What Are We Teaching Our Children?

Vegan mammas may have heard of the abomination that is the ‘Living Eggs’ project – those of you without children may have been spared hearing about this particular brand of animal exploitation.

I first encountered it a few months ago when I received a newsletter from Alex’s nursery. I noticed that one of the upcoming activities was the ‘chance to watch live chicks hatching’.

The chicks at Alex’s kindergarten

What is the egg hatching program?

Essentially, it’s where schools and nurseries (kindergartens) can order some eggs that are right on the brink of hatching. The eggs are delivered to the school, along with brooding lamps and other such equipment and some instructions on how to care for the chicks. The chicks arrive, the kids ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ over the cuteness of them, pass them around like a toy and then after a couple of weeks they are returned to the company. The kids have supposedly learnt a valuable lesson on “the cycle of life” and then happily carry on eating their KFC.

Despite claims that the chicks’ welfare is paramount, these babies hatch without their mother (who they will never meet), they are passed around noisy, boisterous toddlers and pre-schoolers – we can only imagine what a distressing and wholly unnatural welcome this is to the world. They must be terrified.

What happens next?

The sad truth is that very few people would consider what happens next to the chicks. 

I got closer to the truth when I asked Alex’s head teacher straight out.  They ‘enter the food chain’ was the gloriously euphemistic way she put it. Yes, after two weeks of living in plastic box, they are headed for the butcher’s knife.

Males for slaughter females for cages and eggs

Now I know, and you know, what is happening to millions of animals around the world every second of every day. And if you’re like me you probably block it out to a certain extent – if you didn’t you’d be heading towards the nearest bridge with a boulder tied around your middle like Homer Simpson.

But today it hit me square in the chest just how much we commodify animals, just how disposable they are to most of us.

I did not want this to happen in Alex’s nursery!

I pleaded with the nursery to abandon this sick plan. I offered them alternative ideas on how to teach children about life cycles but to no avail. ‘The kids love the chicks’, I was told, ‘it’s always one of the most popular activities at the nursery’. Well of course it is – those chicks are damn cute!

Unable to deter the nursery staff from going ahead, I insisted that the chicks be rehomed responsibly. Oh yes, they just love the vegan mother!

When the time came for the project to start I was assured that the chicks were going to a safe place. Further investigation revealed this ‘safe place’ to be a petting zoo type farm where the chicks will be kept until they are fully grown and then, in order to make room for cuter baby animals, they will be ‘sold on’. Well, we all know what ‘sold on’ means. Yes, the baby chicks our children have fallen in love with, the chicks our children have named, will be sold for slaughter.

Trying to rehome the soon to be chickens…

What Shall I do?

Clearly I was not going to let this happen to these chicks. Millions of day old chicks are ground up alive or dumped into bin bags and left to suffocate in the egg industry. I can’t do anything to save them but I’ll be damned if I was going to let anything happen to these babies.

The girls were easy enough to rehome due to their egg laying capabilities; the boys not so much. Not many people want a noisy rooster crowing at them at 5am every morning. After many emails and much searching, I finally found a sanctuary happy to take all six boys. I’ve taken them home until they are old enough to go on the four hour drive. Happily Mario, George, Humf, Lune, Wallace and Alex Jnr (this was the second attempt at naming the chicks. To start with, Alex wanted to name them ALL Alex Jnr!) will not enter the food chain. Which is just as well, I’ve grown rather attached to them!

Humf is my favourite (bad, bad Mummy having favourites!). He’s the runt of the litter but he’s so plucky, sneaking his way through the crowd to get to the food.

I’m trying to use the experience to encourage people to think of chickens as more than just a sandwich filling. I’m posting pictures and videos on my Facebook page, I’m trying to show them as individuals with their own personalities – which is exactly what they are! I told anyone who would listen that the chicks would have been destined for slaughter.

What are we teaching our children?

Will the teachers tell the truth to the children who make the connection between the chicks in the incubator and the chicken on their plate?

Will the teachers tell the truth to the children who make the connection between the chicks in the incubator and the chicken on their plate?

I’m praying that come next year, the nursery will rethink the use of this project to teach the children about the ‘miracle of life’.

After all, what does the egg hatching project really teach children? Instead of teaching our offspring the beauty and value of life, it teaches them that animals are disposable. It teaches them that we can use innocent creatures for our own entertainment and then discard them when they are no longer fun. I would also put money on children being denied the truth if any of them are smart enough to make the connection between the chicks in the incubator and the chicken on their dinner plate.

Alternatives to the “Living Eggs” program

Mother hens thrive when allowed to protect and teach their children; and chicks need the warmth provided by their mother’s wings and the guidance they give them

Mother hens thrive when allowed to protect and teach their children; and chicks need the warmth provided by their mother’s wings and the guidance they give them

Chicks really are not a good choice for the classroom. Apart from the fact that they are terribly fragile when newly hatched, chicks and their mothers form a close bond when given the chance (you’ve heard of the phrase ‘mother hen’ right?) Mother hens thrive when allowed to protect and teach their children and chicks need the warmth provided by their mother’s wings and the guidance they give them as they teach them how to forage and other natural behaviours.

Here are some alternatives:

A school could teach children about the life cycle by encouraging them to plant seeds and watch them grow. However, I can almost see the teachers roll their eyes at this suggestion. Yes, chicks are far more interesting to a 4 year old.

How about tadpoles? At first I thought this sounded like another case where the children’s entertainment is put before the lives of others yet a conservationist (and vegan) friend assures me that by looking after the tadpoles at such a vulnerable stage of their development, you are protecting them and of course when time comes to release the frogs to the wild you are teaching the children a valuable lesson about conservation too.

Or if you have your heart set on having the class meet baby chicks, why not take them to visit a sanctuary where you can view the birds in a more natural environment; an environment where the kids can watch them interact with their mother and display natural behaviours?

If you’re concerned about this type of project happening in your child’s school, please come and visit this page and write or email any school you have heard of participating in the project, asking them to reconsider. 

 

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Editor, Writer & ReviewerVegan Super Mum Columnist

Hi, I’m Clare. I’m a fairly new but highly enthusiastic vegan (as you can probably tell!). I currently live in Glasgow, Scotland with my long suffering husband, two young sons, our rabbit and hamster. When I’m not writing for The Vegan Woman, I’m a freelance copywriter and blogger – I also spend an obscene amount of time baking cakes and running around the local park with my boys.

More about Clare

Check out Clare’s Vegan blog – Baby Steps Vegan

Check out Clare’s company – WordPlay: Copywriting

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