It’s Easter time once again and children are filled with visions of the Easter Bunny hop…hop…hopping down that bunny trail with all sorts of Easter goodies. And parents are filled with visions of their children snuggling up to cute little bundles of cuddly downy feathers – in the form of tiny Easter chicks, a popular gift at this time of year. If you are considering giving your child a cuddly chick for Easter, think again.
According to the American Humane Association, while some of these animals come into homes where they are well cared for, the majority of baby chicks that are given as Easter gifts suffer and die from lack of proper care and stress within a few weeks of the holiday. Most purchasers give little consideration to the special feeding, care and handling their new pet requires and after the novelty wears off, do not have the time, facilities or adequate information to care for these animals properly.
Then, too, young children squeeze and cuddle baby animals, resulting in broken bones, internal injuries and death for these delicate creatures. Many are killed and injured by dogs and cats. As the animals grow and the children get bored, these animals are neglected in backyard pens or dumped outside to return to the wild, where they die from predation, starvation or exposure. Many of them flood into shelters where they must be killed because nobody wants them.
If you are considering a little chick as an Easter pet, learn all you can first. Chickens are not low-cost or low-maintenance (as many stores will tell you). They are as big a responsibility as a larger pet and require as much care and interaction as a dog or cat.
Chickens need a brooder, a place where they can run around but also be protected from the family dog or cat. You can use a large cardboard box, which can be covered to keep predators out. If you are concerned about other pets you can place the brooder inside a wire cage. In just a few short weeks, however, those cute little chicks won’t be so little anymore, and they will need bigger accommodations, preferably a chicken coop, and room to run around.
The brooder needs to be warm and free from drafts. Start your chick out at 90 degrees Fahrenheit and reduce the brooder temperature by 5 degrees each week until you reach 70 F. If nighttime temperatures remain chilly, you can turn the heat back on at night. A light bulb (60-watt) can provide adequate heat.
Baby chicks require special feeding. Start your chicks on crumbles, then switch to whole grains and grit to enable digestion. A chick feeder is a good idea, especially at first, as this will help keep the feed clean. Later, you may choose to feed chicks on the ground where they can scratch for the feed, but this is less sanitary and may contribute to the spread of disease. Fresh, clean water is an absolute must. Chicks also need litter. Anything clean, absorbent, and nontoxic to the chicks will work.
Don’t forget that these cute, fuzzy animals will grow up to be significantly larger adults. Chickens can live up to 16 years. You must be able to commit to care for at least that long.
Children may be at risk for acquiring Salmonella infection from these pets after they receive them as gifts. Instruct your children that they need to wash their hands thoroughly after handling or playing with the birds. The acute symptoms of Salmonella gastroenteritis usually begin 12 to 72 hours after exposure and include nausea, abdominal cramping, diarrhea and headache.
What You Can Do Instead
While baby chicks are cuddly and cute, they usually require more care than the average household can give. Consider other alternatives as gifts for your child.