It's been a busy, snowy winter at Tamerlaine and we're very much looking forward to the spring! Gabby is busy planning the garden where we grow food for all the sanctuary residents, as well as ingredients for sauces, jams, and (of course) hot sauce we sell to raise funds for the animals. We've brought on a few new fantastic interns to help us out with farm and gardening work, fundraising efforts, and our social media happenings. Hannah, our new full time farm intern, just survived her first week on the job! Congrats, Hannah! Peter is training for the upcoming race with his competitive vegan running team, Strong Hearts, who will graciously be helping to promote us and fundraise on our behalf. And I've been up to something particularly exciting: naming some of our newest residents!
At least in one corner of our little sanctuary, spring has seemed to arrive early. A few weeks ago, we took in 19 baby chicks who are all really, truly, painfully adorable. They are healthy and happy and growing fast! And while we are so thrilled to welcome them to our family, their origin story is not so cheerful.
Our little babies, sadly, came to us through a teacher who had acquired them through a hatching project he had conducted in his classroom. Hatching projects are pretty popular, and it's easy to overlook their faults. It seems like a really fun and engaging way to do some hands on teaching. Some schools use the opportunity to teach about biology. It also seems like a great way to educate kids about responsibility and how to be gentle and treat animals with respect. However, some often overlooked aspects of hatching projects make them important to reconsider...
I vaguely remember a hatching project from my own childhood. I don't recall a lesson plan or what I learned about the biology or anatomy of a baby
chicken. I remember the sticky looking heads of the new born chicks and marveling at the miracle of a new life being born before my eyes. I remember yellow fluff and the exciting sound of little peeps. I remember feeling happy. I didn't question where the eggs had come from or what would become of the baby chickens. I instinctively assumed that everyone had the best intentions in mind for such beautiful, fragile babies. I'm sure most people don't give much more thought to the fate of hatching chicks than I did when I was a kid. Surely, anyone bringing any kind of baby into the world would ensure it's safety and well-being. But of course this is not always so. This is a lesson we all slowly learn as we grow up. For humans and animals, the world can be a treacherous place despite, or due to, the intentions of others. I'm sure most individuals conducting hatching projects find no immediate fault with the programs. The excitement of seeing babies born, and watching children witness it with wonder in their eyes, is enormously fulfilling. But despite best intentions, hatching projects can do more harm than good.
Common criticisms of hatching projects include chicks being born with deformities or early fatalities if eggs are not handled properly, and the effect it can have on the children witnessing their pain. Concerns have been raised about chicks being born outside of school hours that may not get the immediate and motherly attention they require. Many educational alternatives exist to teach kids about the scientific lessons included in the project. But, of course, the major appeal is interacting with the baby chicks. Personally, my biggest concern comes at the end of the project. Where do the chicks go when the project is concluded and the chicks need homes? While some teachers find placement for the chicks before the project begins, I don't find this to be a common occurrence. The teacher who contacted us was instructed to send the chicks back to the hatchery the eggs originated from, but reached out to us when he discovered they were to be raised for meat. Understandably, many adults feel guilty sending chicks off to an ill-fated end after watching the children become so attached to them in the classroom, and after growing fond of the chicks themselves. Animal shelters report dealing with unwanted chicks from time to time—and given limited space or resources may choose to euthanize them. Working at a farm sanctuary, I'm aware of how hard it is to accommodate these chicks even if they do find a forever home. It's hard to tell how many will grow up to be roosters—and roosters like to rule their own coop. Oftentimes, even roosters raised together from birth will fight aggressively when they near their
maturity, making it hard to find them their own safe and comfy living space. Additionally, chickens have rather complex health issues at every stage of their lives. Unfortunately, they are prone to disease and can carry e. coli and salmonella (among many other contagions), making the handling of chicks risky and the introduction of new birds to any backyard flock or sanctuary a complicated process involving thorough health checks to make sure the new additions don't make other birds sick, and vice versa. While all these reasons seem to make hatching projects look like more hassle than they're worth, I think my own bottom line comes down to this: There is simply no need to bring any more animals into the world who will be in need of homes. While I am so happy to welcome our 19 chicks to the sanctuary, and they are incredibly loved here, they fill space, time, energy and resources that could be used to save animals who are already in the world and are in need of rescuing. This is not unlike the prompt to adopt companion animals rather than purchase them from a pet store. So many animals are already in need, and so many shelters are overwhelmed trying to find forever homes for animals. We simply do not need to bring any more chickens into the world. Many of our residents here at Tamerlaine were adopted from other sanctuaries so they could make room to rescue others.
We made a deal with the teacher who reached out to us. Please, no more hatching projects! And in return, we'll do a presentation at his school educating kids about the animals at our sanctuary, and what they can do to help animals, too. If a sanctuary is nearby, a field trip instead of a hatching project could be an extra special way to interact with animals, and offer a memorable learning experience.
If you know of a local school conducting an annual hatching project, please encourage them to do some additional research on why they can be less than ideal and offer some creative alternatives.
We'll be getting you acquainted with more of these babies as they grow, but in the meantime we have an exciting opportunity for you! All but four of our munchkins have been named, and we are letting our fans and supporters come up with names for our remaining chicks. To help raise funds for the additional supplies we need to care for them, we're requesting donations of $5 or more for each bird you'd like to submit a name for. To submit names, please visit our donation page for complete details!
Amelia was the first chick we named, and it came pretty naturally. Amelia is named after the daring world explorer, Amelia Earhart. At just about two weeks old, she was gracefully flying up and perching on the edge of her little coop, well before any of the others. And it seems Amelia is a pretty good teacher. We split the flock in half after they started getting bigger, and quickly noticed that three or four other birds were eagerly flying their coop with Amelia, while the chicks in the opposite coop stayed cautiously on the ground. While we assumed Amelia must have a serious case of wanderlust, it also turns out that she just likes spending lots of time with us humans. When we sit down in their larger play area, she'll fly up onto our backs and trot her way onto our shoulders, to sit and curiously watch the others. When she perches on the edge of her coop, she doesn't search for a way down like the others, but looks up at us as if she wants in on our conversation. "Hey, guys! Whatcha talkin' about?" She is a sweet and fearless little bird, and so lucky to have found a safe place to live her whole life through.
Stay tuned for more introductions to the animals here at Tamerlaine, and some exciting plans for Spring! We will be eager to have volunteers to help us out once the weather improves, so if you are located near the tri-state area, consider a weekly trip to the country!
Until next time, chickpeas :)