Middle Child: Hatching Project Reject to Humane Educator
By: Betsy Farrell-Messenger, New York State Science Teacher and Humane Educator
Egg-hatching projects are conducted in schools all over the United States in an attempt to show school age children life cycle processes. Fertilized eggs are placed in an incubator some of which are 18 inches square and 3 inches high. Often, the incubator’s thermostat doesn’t have manual controls; this can lead to dehydration and cooking of the unborn chicks. When their specific environmental needs are not met during incubation, chicks may hatch with deformities. Some newborn chicks need help breaking through the shell because the conditions in the incubator are not optimal for growing embryos and can change the properties of the eggshells, making it difficult for the already weakened chicks to break through. If the chicks hatch over the weekend, there is no one present to care for them. Deformed or sickly chicks may be “euthanized” by being placed in a freezer. When an embryo successfully grows into a chicken, the issue becomes what to do with the chicks when the project is over. Some schools give the chicks to a farm to grow and later slaughter. Others send chicks home with young students whose families are completely unprepared to care for the specific needs of a young chick, let alone keep a chicken – quite possibly a rooster – long term. In urban areas, chicks are typically discarded in dumpsters, abandoned in alleys or just left loose to fend for themselves.
Middle child (MC) the rooster, along with his two brothers, was the discarded result of a school egg-hatching project. The three roosters were found, rescued and placed at a farm animal sanctuary. MC’s living quarters and run at the sanctuary were built in a location at the bottom of a steep hill, which flooded during a storm. For a long while he and his brothers had to live in a much smaller area inside until his new coop was built. MC really protested this confinement; he got angry and started attacking some of his caretakers. Over the years MC grew a reputation among some staff and volunteers as an aggressive rooster; however he only attacked certain people and definitely had a preference for people he liked. Fortunately, MC liked me. I don’t know why, but we got along great from the beginning. He would make happy sounds when he saw me and loved to be held.
Many school groups came to the sanctuary for educational programming. It didn’t take long for MC to take on the roll of my “co-teacher” because I recognized he was a great ambassador for chickens and especially roosters. He helped change the perspective of many people thinking roosters are mean and violent. MC loved being out around people, he would just sit relaxed, cradled in my arms. Then when I transferred him to the laps of visitors he just stood tall with a calm confidence. MC was very tolerant of people touching his legs and feathers, he especially liked the underneath part of his wing petted. I felt a real trust between us.
There was a point in which I was going to visit a school. I felt that this was a great opportunity for both of us. Middle Child was hatched in a school setting and now was going back into the classroom to teach compassion towards chickens. MC adjusted to riding in a car almost instantly. We started by just sitting in the car together with the windows rolled down, then the next time, I turned my car on, and over time took him for short rides. When the day came for our school visit, he just sat down on my lap in the driver’s seat; at stop lights he’d stand to look around. Yes, we got many funny looks and we loved it. The children were amazed to see a rooster in their school. They were very attentive listening to his story and learning about chickens. MC stood as calmly and patiently as ever as the children petted him gently and asked thoughtful questions.
Middle Child is a great rooster and taught me a lot about not “judging a book by its cover,” recognizing and drawing out an individual’s potential, and having an open, patient heart.