Don’t Count Your Chickens

Let’s be honest; if there is one thing that can brighten up the exhaustion of the second week of Fall Term, it’s baby chickens. Did you see the way they dashed after their imprinted students? The way they fell asleep in someone’s cupped palms? They’re up there with the cutest things on the planet.

As detailed in this week’s News section, the chickens were the subject of an experiment in animal imprinting, part of Andrea Bailey’s Animal Behaviors Biology elective. For nine days, students played with, trained, and raised newly-hatched chicks in an effort to get the birds to recognize them as their “mother.” There was certainly understandable excitement surrounding the new pets on campus, but some took things a bit too far at the expense of their chick’s safety.

During the first few days of the experiment, the most critical 36-hour period for imprinting, chicks were passed from friend to cooing friend, needlessly stressing the small birds. Attempts to force chicks to perform daring stunts led to videos of chicks being dropped, falling off beds, and scrambling through throngs of moving passerby being recorded and distributed using Snapchat.

The program benefits both human and poultry in the long run. According to Bailey, students’ emotional investment in their temporary pets helps them better retain the knowledge they gain from the experiment, all while enjoying the outdoors and engaging with an animal with which they might not have otherwise interacted. Additionally, even if the chicks fail to imprint on their assigned students, it does not harm them developmentally because they have long outgrown the need for the survival instinct. And their lives post-Andover with other poultry and waterfowl at the family farm of Stephanie Cormier, Student Program Coordinator, will be much better than those of most chickens.

According to Bailey, her spring research-based Animal Behavior elective might repeat the experiment with chicks or another kind of young fowl, and a student survey for feedback on how the experiment might be improved has already been distributed. In order to keep this privilege, next spring’s students must take care to treat their chicks as living beings with their own autonomy.

Loud, chaotic spaces will stress any animal if it believes it is in danger, according to Bailey. Be cognizant of this and keep them away from large groups of people in the safety of their warm shoebox. Any incidents of chick abuse should be brought to Bailey. As Seniors and Uppers at Andover, we should be able to rise to the level of responsibility necessary to take care of an animal, as most of those taking the elective this term have. We cannot let a handful of students abusing this privilege ruin the engaging program for students in future iterations of the elective. The bird that you’re interacting with is just as valuable as any other living creature, and should be treated as such.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXL.