This lesson plan is designed to help teachers present animal rights issues to their students. If you’re an educator, please feel free to adapt this material to fit your needs, and contact us if you need help incorporating this activity into your curriculum.
Suggested grade levels: 6th–12th grades
Objectives: To examine the ethical issues surrounding modern-day egg production; to become familiar with the standard procedures and tools used in the egg industry, such as debeaking and battery cages; to understand the ways in which some laws create double standards; and to become familiar with the individuals and groups working to change them
Where do eggs in grocery stores really come from? Some students might say from chickens, some might say from farms, and some might even say from factory farms. Use this lesson to help students understand where the majority of eggs that are sold in grocery stores come from and how the egg industry affects the lives of chickens.
Check out the information in “The Hidden Lives of Chickens,” and print out copies of the text to distribute to your students. Read through it as a class, discussing some of the more surprising facts. Ask students, “How are chickens similar to cats and dogs? How are they similar to primates? Why are most people unaware of the cognitive abilities of chickens?” Note the many characteristics that humans share with chickens.
Let students know that chickens are also the most abused animal on Earth because so many chickens are used for food in the egg and poultry industries.
Inside an Egg Farm
Before showing the undercover investigative footage below, pull some facts and photos from this feature about the egg industry, and explain to students why egg farms use battery cages and the process of debeaking. Point out that since male chicks are useless to the egg industry, they’re disposed of—sometimes just tossed live into grinders. Have students think about the facts that you discussed earlier showing that chickens are living, feeling beings and that, on factory farms, they’re treated as inanimate objects.
Once your students are familiar with some of the terms and practices of the egg industry, watch this undercover investigation as a class. Please be aware that the footage is graphic and may not be suitable for younger students. We suggest that teachers review all materials beforehand and use them at their own discretion.
As your students watch the video, have them write down their answers to the following questions:
- What is a battery cage?
- Why aren’t injured or sick hens given veterinary care?
- At what age does a hen’s egg production decline?
- Why are illnesses and injuries so common to chickens in battery cages?
- The horrific mistreatment of egg-laying hens has been documented time and time again. Why are chickens kept in these kinds of conditions? Is it fair?
Ask students to spend a few minutes quietly reflecting on the following questions:
How would you feel if …
- you had to spend the rest of your life trapped inside a wire cage with numerous other people and not enough space in which to turn around, run, or do anything else?
- you were no longer allowed to bathe or shower or see a doctor?
- you were never allowed to do anything that you enjoy, such as exercising, participating in sports, reading, watching a movie, etc.?
Explain that this is exactly how chickens used in the egg industry feel every single day.
Discuss as a class the double standard in the laws that protect animals: If someone treated a dog or a cat the way chickens are treated on farms, he or she could face felony cruelty-to-animals charges. Why is it, then, that this routine abuse is inflicted upon chickens with no repercussions? Explain that chickens, along with other birds, are completely excluded from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act—meaning that they have no federal legal protection.
If chickens share the same capacity for fear, pain, and suffering (as well as many other characteristics) as cats and dogs, why would federal law deem the abuse of chickens legally acceptable while the abuse of cats and dogs is unacceptable? Make the point that just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s right. Ask students to think of other instances, either current or historical, in which this has been the case.
Ask students to research the ways in which some groups and individuals have campaigned or taken action to improve the treatment of animals on factory farms. Discuss the following ways that they can get involved and take a stand:
- They can research the issues and become informed, then share what they’ve learned with other people.
- They can lobby legislators to ban cruel practices by writing, calling, and meeting with their representatives to express their concerns.
- They can adopt a vegan diet so that they are no longer supporting factory farms.
As a homework assignment, ask students to explore the ethical problems with viewing living beings as property rather than as individuals. This happens with humans as well as other animals. Why does this happen? What are some examples of this? How can we change it? Get your students thinking about the many ways in which they can make a difference!
Become a TeachKind teacher and sign up for tips and more on humane education!