Spring is in the air, and it seems everywhere I go. For me, spring means a lot of things- fresh air, the angelic songs of the spring peeper frogs in the creek behind my house, birds are making nests, everything is blushing green after a long, grey winter….but it also means chick days! Admittedly, among my circle of friends, I *might* be the crazy chicken lady. But in all honesty, I manage a backyard flock of a very utilitarian size. They provide my family with plenty of eggs, as well as some to sell, and they are some super fun pets as well.
Backyard chickens used to be in EVERY backyard. During World War II, when food rationing was the order of the day, it was part of every citizen’s patriotic duty to not only tend a Victory Garden, but to keep backyard chickens as well. And you may have heard the term “backyard chickens” recently too, as their popularity is increasing at an astronomical rate due to soaring food costs and an increase in people’s interest in becoming more connected with their food, as well as saving money and moving away from “factory farms”. But I digress, we will get to more on backyard chicken keeping in our next installment.
This week, I want to talk about Easter, Ostara, and the other egg/bunny/chick related spring holidays. And why you should strongly consider the reasons why you should or should not buy chicks or bunnies for your family or kids.
I would like to state here that I would LOVE to say “everyone should buy chicks and bunnies for Easter because they are cute, fun, awesome pets that give back in so many ways”. But let’s be realistic here. Not everyone is zoned for them. Nor is everyone cut out to butcher Peep or Fluffy to feed their family. And certainly not every child is ready for the responsibility of a pet that requires feeding and watering every day and may require vetrinary care. And not every parent is ready for the expense of housing that $3 chick.
So, here are some of the things you should know. Bunnies live a long time, sometimes 15 years or more. If you buy a bunny as a pet for your preschooler, you may still have Bugs when that preschooler goes to college. That’s a long committment. As I said before, you could always raise bunnies for food either for you or for another pet (they make excellent dog food for dogs on raw diets), but I personally just don’t have the constitution to, ahem, dispatch a pet. Bunnies are also smart and naughty, and when kept indoors seem to be particularly adept at finding all manners of mischief to get into, such as eating through the middle of every cord in your house or chewing the legs of of Grandma’s wicker chair (Why make a chair out of food, if not to be eaten?) Bunnies are fantastic pets, but one needs to be prepared with adequate housing, food, and also to be prepared to interact with them. There’s my tiny blurb on bunnies. I by no means consider myself an expert, but would urge anyone to do their research before getting any “holiday pet”.
Which brings us to the adorable little fuzzballs that fill feed stores from March through May every year during “Chick Days”. For me, chicks and chickens are kind of like potato chips, I can’t stop at one. I originally started out wanting a flock of 7 and figured that would keep my family in plenty of eggs. And somehow 7 turned into 17. I’m not a bird person, but once you hand raise those adorable little peeping balls of fluff, you find that they really are quite endearing, and have a lot of personality packed into a small package. And one day, when they are about 6 months old, they will provide you with eggs (assuming you don’t have roosters). And they are so blasted cute at the feed store you want to buy one of every kind! But what I’m here to tell you today is not how to keep them alive to adult hood, or how to build them a coop (we will get to that later), but today I AM here to tell you that chicks are not disposable. They are living creatures, worthy of respect, who are only a couple of days old when they are being sold at the feed store, so they are delicate and really not so great for young children. They are prone to chill, and will die in short order if they get too cold or if their food or bedding gets damp. If you want to get chicks for your kids as an Easter novelty, I want to prepare you to take care of them so that they survive. And whether you are going to be giving your Easter chicks away or keeping them to start your own backyard flock, you will need to have a brooder set up and ready to go when you bring your little darlings home. Again, brooder setup will be covered in another segment.
So when the Spring Chicken starts to beckon you with thoughts like “oh, wouldn’t pictures of Tommy and Jill with chicks be adorable?!” or “Bunnies are so cute, I should have the Easter Bunny bring one for Paige”, you need to be ready to care for those babies or perhaps come up with an alternate plan. I would strongly advise looking up your local ordinances before you commit to either.
For example, a friend of mine approached me to use chicks of mine for pictures. This works out well for both of us, as my kids get their pictures taken by a photographer, and my photographer doesn’t have to buy chicks, care for them, ensure they have food and water during the photo shoot, and don’t get over stressed or injured. If you can find a photographer who is offering “spring packages”, this would be a great route to take if you either don’t want a pet, or aren’t zoned for chickens or rabbits.
In short, just like Christmas, animals really aren’t “gifts”. They can be a lot of fun, and everyone loves baby animals, but please do these creatures a favor and do your research to ensure they are properly cared for once you make the committment, or don’t commit to buying them at all.
Happy Spring! Be sure to come back for our next installment from the Crazy Chicken Chick about how I started my backyard flock, and how you can too!