Spring is here!!! And, with spring comes the tubs of baby chicks in the feed stores. Their cuteness is almost irresistible. Even as an adult who has raised chickens for over five years and knows all of the work involved, I can barely walk into the store without taking a few home. So, I completely understand the temptation to surprise your kids with a cute little fluffy-bottom on Easter morning. But, before buying baby chicks for kids, consider this.
Over the last few years, I have seen various articles explaining the realities and long-term effects of people taking home animals without the proper pens or education, and I agree wholeheartedly! However, I have seen how my own kids have grown and matured with the responsibility of caring for their animals. I also love that they are growing up knowing where their food comes from and everything—the joy of new life, the pain of death, the act of putting the needs of a sick animal before themselves—that goes into it. I am saddened by how far removed a lot of kids are from a basic knowledge of nature and our food system. And, I am passionate about doing what I can to change that.
So, I feel conflicted and hypocritical telling parents that they should never buy these animals for their kids. I understand that not everyone can move to a farm and have the ideal situation of seeing the whole process, but I believe a basic awareness is better than nothing. And, my hope is that any exposure kids have to farming will peak their interest and inspire them to do what they can with what they have as they grow. Maybe that little girl that had some chicks for a few weeks will grow up to have a few hens and a highly-productive garden in her backyard. Maybe that little boy will remember the joy of new life and the feel of dirt on his hands and consider a career in agriculture.
If you want to give your kids that experience, please understand that you are taking on a big commitment. Lack of education and planning before buying baby chicks for kids WILL result in a bad experience for you and an even worse experience for the animal.
Here are some things you need to consider before buying baby chicks for kids:
- Chickens need more than a cardboard box in the garage. Baby chicks are kept warm by the mother hen until they are able to regulate their temperature. They will need a safe heat source for the first several weeks of their lives. Many cardboard boxes with lights clipped to them have resulted in fires. They also need a constant source of fresh water, bedding, feed, and grit. Please research proper brooder set-ups (where the baby chicks live until they are able to move outside with the other chickens). Their bedding will need to be changed daily. They poop a lot! It stinks!
- Chicks are fragile! You will need to teach your child how to handle the chicks properly and supervise all interaction if your child is not old enough to be trusted to treat the them gently. They also need to wash their hands before and after handling the chicks to prevent the spread of diseases.
- Within a couple of weeks, the chicks will not be as cute. They will enter an awkward juvenile stage as they get their feathers and lose their cute fluffy down. They will poop even more! And when they do poop, they will do it in their food and water so you can clean them again. I’m pretty sure that is their goal in life.
- Chickens can live to be ten years old or more! Are you ready for a ten year commitment?
- Are you able to keep a full-grown chicken…actually, at least two? Chickens are social animals and need to live in a flock. Are you willing to provide them a coop in your backyard to keep them safe from predators? Are they allowed in your city/neighborhood?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then you need to make arrangements for your chicks’ forever home BEFORE YOU BUY THEM! I have offered to take chicks at a few weeks old in order to let friends’ kids experience them. I am more than willing to discuss what the chicks do and don’t need to be happy and healthy until they come to live with me. However, I do have requirements. For example, I only have heavy breeds and don’t want to add bantams to my flock.
I suspect a lot of farmers or small homesteaders would do the same if you speak to them ahead of time and find out what their wishes are for breeds, sex, feed, etc. Having this discussion ahead of time shows that you are being responsible and thoughtful about your purchase and respectful of the homesteader’s time and resources. Do not be offended if the answer is “no” or “not right now”. With Avian Flu and other diseases being a problem, a lot of homesteaders quarantine any animals coming onto their property. This requires additional cages and space, as well as additional work for several weeks. Sometimes, our lives are too full to take on the additional work. Also, be aware that if you give your chickens to a working farm, they may become dinner. It’s just the nature of the job.
If you are unable to find someone willing to give your chickens a home, there are companies that rent chickens and incubators! You can rent laying hens and everything they need for a summer of entertainment and farm fresh eggs. If it’s babies you’re interested in, you get an incubator full of fertilized eggs. After watching the chicks hatch, you can enjoy them for two weeks. This is a great science project for home, schools, enrichment programs, etc. Both programs give you the experience of having chickens without the long-term commitment! Click here to see if either program is available in your area!
I know this seems like a lot, but doing the proper research and planning before buying baby chicks for kids will prevent a bad outcome for you, the chick, and whoever has to deal with the consequences of an impulse animal purchase. Thank you for reading, and please pass this info along! Do it for the chickens. 🙂