LAST week, the Gazette investigated chick hatching programmes in Basingstoke primary schools, finding chicks were being hatched in 'cruel' conditions.

We found that 19 'poorly treated' chicks had been rescued from Oakridge primary school by animal rescue service, Helping Dogs and Cats UK Rescue.

Rescue manager and founder of the Basingstoke-based rescue service, Kirsty Wrightson told the Gazette they found the chicks covered in dirt and what she assumed was urine, and they were hungry.

She said: “The chicks came all wet, covered in dirt and absolutely starving. We were really annoyed that they hadn’t been looked after.

“They were picked up in a plastic box with no food, they were all wet and they were starving. We were happy we had got there.”

In response, Libby Searle, early years manager and assistant headteacher at Oakridge Infant School, said: “We get them from a reputable company that goes into a lot of schools and provide equipment. They deliver the eggs and we’ve been doing it for four or five years. The children get a chance to see the eggs hatch and staff take them home over the weekend - children are taught what needs to help keep them fed and safe.

“It’s a good opportunity to see first-hand and get an opportunity to look after the chicks. There is an option to rehome chicks or company we got them from can take them. We also called out to members of community who can come and take them."

Our readers didn't take to the story lightly, with Chloe Jane Etheridge commenting on Facebook, "So cruel poor chickens. Can’t schools use sea monkeys (brine shrimp) to teach stuff like this, not chickens?"

Commenting on the original online story, Beaker2 said: "I remember when we had pet rabbits, hamsters ect in school. They were loved and cherished classroom pets. And they taught children how to love and care for them. Not a disposable teaching tool."

While Scot wrote: "What are they thinking new born animals no mother to follow and imprint on disgrace and then pulled about buy children that's not teaching that's abuse."

Putting her point across, Facebook user Samantha Lee commented on the Gazette's Facebook post, saying: "Shame on you Oakridge infants! Glad my little girl no longer goes there, well done to the receptionist for making animal rescue aware. This should stop now, not fair on the chicks atall, fun for the kids, but not for them."

Underneath Ms Lee's comment, Cheryl Jane Standing commented saying: "The whole thing is cruel I think most schools and nurseries used to do this including my own but you soon realise it’s not cute. The hens hatched this way are predominantly male & all get killed when returned so as cute as the children find hand rearing them for a week or 2, they don’t know what happens as soon as they give them back."

Responding to Ms Standing, Susan Matthews wrote: "Absolutely agree with you. This a cruel practice."

On the original story, Frances_H wrote: "Unfortunately millions of animals suffer cruelty before they die so that the can be eaten and chickens are probably the worse of all, leading a very short sad life! Maybe children could just be shown videos so that they can go on to make informed choices about whether they want to eat meat, although I appreciate pictures of animals being killed in abattoirs could be distressing for small children."

Chick hatching is popular among schools across the nation, where children are able to watch chicks hatch from the moment it is incubated to the moment the eggs are ready to hatch. Schools typically then keep the chicks for an average of ten days before being sent off.

Speaking generally about the egg hatching programme, Kirsty said: "I think it’s cruel because they’re being bred to show children how eggs hatch and then they’re being killed. It’s not nice for them because [they can be] left at school overnight. Handled by children and they’re not that gentle."