This Easter, Leave the Chicks and Ducklings on the Farm

Duckling in a house
Chicks and ducklings are cute and fuzzy, but they're not necessarily the best pets.

Easter is here, and what do many of us think of when we hear about this holiday? Easter eggs, bonnets and, of course, baby animals, especially cute little fuzzy chicks and ducklings. But before you rush out and purchase or adopt one of these irresistible mini creatures, you might want to consider some things.

1. Little doesn’t stay little forever.

In fact, within just a month or two, those adorable little birds will lose all that fluff, develop a full set of feathers, grow to several times their original size and become quite squawky. Most people don’t consider these long-term consequences when all they see in front of them is a cuddly ball of soft down. Just remember, all big hens — whether chicken or duck — start as tiny chicks and then grow to full size. Unless you’re ready to keep these birds once they’re grown, don’t get a chick or a duckling.

2. Tidy, they’re not.

Chickens and ducks are really messy. They poop all over and shed feathers constantly. They drop food as they eat and splash water as they drink. They are generally not litterbox trained, and they like to kick up their bedding when nesting. So if you’re not prepared for mess, these feathered friends may not be for you.

3. They carry diseases you can catch.

Many people are aware that uncooked eggs may contain salmonella bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal upset if ingested. What most people don’t know is that both chickens and ducks can pass salmonella and other bacteria, as well as numerous parasites, not only in their eggs but also in their stool. If people accidentally consume the stool through inadequate hand washing, they can develop severe illness. As there is no way to ensure these birds are salmonella free, anyone handling these birds needs to wash his hands routinely so that he doesn’t inadvertently ingest fecal material that can make him sick. To get rid of parasites and to help ensure they are healthy, chickens and ducks need regular preventive veterinary medical care, including routine fecal analysis — a factor many people are neither aware of nor budget for when they adopt chicks or ducklings on Easter.

4. Indoors and outdoors — they need both.

While both chickens and ducks need an inside area, such as a coop, to keep them safe from inclement weather and from predators, both species are largely outdoor birds. They need to be outside regularly to be exposed to direct ultraviolet light from the sun, so that they can make vitamin D in their skin, which enables them to absorb calcium from their food. Without direct sunlight, their skeletons don’t form properly, their bones become brittle and susceptible to fracturing, their nervous systems don’t function normally and egg-laying female birds that need calcium to form eggshells become at risk for egg binding — a life threatening condition in which eggs get stuck inside of them. If they are kept “cooped up” during the winter due to inclement weather for long periods of time, they should also have an ultraviolet bulb shining on them inside the coop. Also, ducks are water birds that need to swim regularly to keep the bottoms of their feet from developing sores, to maintain healthy feathers and to help ensure they get proper exercise. At minimum, they need a large wading pool in which to paddle around. Many people who get little chicks and ducklings keep them inside their homes, initially often in small boxes, and don’t plan for the fact that these large birds need to run around outside or even swim to remain healthy.

5. They are not for little kids.

Many people think little chicks are perfect for little children. But they’re not. When these birds get bigger, they can peck, bite and cause injury. They also are often stressed by children’s rough handling, plus they can carry serious diseases that can spread to children who forget to wash their hands after touching them. While chickens and ducks can be great pets for older children under the supervision of adults who have the time and resources to help care for them properly, they aren’t appropriate pets for young children.

So this Easter, enjoy the chicks and ducklings at the farm but bring the chocolate and marshmallow versions home instead!

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