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The Easter Bunny and the Spring Chicken

Updated: Mar 25

Baby ducks are not temporary purchases to enjoy for Easter. Neither are baby rabbits, and neither are baby chickens. They aren't toys, they are commitments.

One may be surprised that this would need to be explained in this day and age, and yet each year thousands of these animals are treated as disposable playthings gifted as Easter pets.

Most of these traditional Easter pets will be gifts for children. These are typically impulse purchases made with little thought given to the needs of the animals. No pet purchase is more likely to end tragically than one that’s based on nothing more than cuteness. Many of the chick and ducklings will die within a few days or weeks, killed by neglect, improper care or unintentional mishandling by children. Those birds that do make it to adulthood are often turned loose to fend for themselves, once parents realize how unsuitable these farm animals are as urban and suburban pets. If you’re tempted by the idea of a chick, duckling, or bunny, please pay attention to the following words: Get over it.

Farm fowl need appropriate housing, special food and access to an exercise area whether that is your house or a yard. If housed outside they need to be protected from predators who would love to add chicken or duck to their diet.

Rabbits come in a gorgeous variety of body types, fur lengths and coat markings, all united by their potential to be wonderful pets. At this time of year, baby bunnies are everywhere, with many pet stores stocking up on what has been a traditional child’s gift for Easter. But before you pick up one of these babies for your child, those in the business of caring for yesterday’s impulsive pet purchases would like you to consider the varieties of rabbit that sadly seem most common of all: abandoned. Which is why shelter and rescue groups implore you; if you’re considering giving a child a pet for Easter, please think long and hard, and accept the fact that if you go through with it YOU will be the one responsible for the animal's care. Furthermore, and contrary to popular belief, rabbits are not usually suitable as a pet for young children. Rabbits are fragile and can be fatally injured if improperly held. If not handled gently and with respect, they can become nippy in self-defense or fear. For older children, though, and especially for adults, these quiet, gentle animals are excellent pets. But they do require a rather spacious cage, a water bottle (cleaned and refreshed daily) and food (replenished at least once a day). You’ll get a lot more out of a pet rabbit if you bring the animal into your house and your life. As with any companion animal, the amount of proper care and time you give is paid back many times over.

But if you're going to do it, do it right...

Your rabbit needs a cage that’s at least big enough to stretch out and hop around, and tall enough so he can stand on his hind legs without his ears touching the top. The bigger the better, but a general rule of thumb for minimum size is 3 times the length of the rabbit, and tall enough for it (once it's an adult) to stand on its hind legs and not touch the top of the cage. If the floor is made of wire, then at least a portion of the cage should be covered with something solid - something that will give the rabbit relief from standing on the wire all the time.

Rabbits are meant to run, which is why the life of a caged pet can be both sad and short. Indoor rabbits can roam around the house under supervision (pick up all power cords and hazardous items from the floor). Rabbits kept outdoors need running time too - a half-hour of unfettered activity once a day in a protected area and under close supervision is sufficient. Take precautions to keep dogs and cats away from the rabbit when it is playing outdoors, or else a flight response could be triggered, and the subsequent stress can be fatal. Cat toys, dog toys and even the cardboard tubes inside toilet paper rolls are fun for rabbits to play with. Rabbits are social but can also be aggressive. Because of this it is often best for inexperienced keepers to keep only one rabbit and allow the family to fulfill the social needs of the pet.

An impressive outdoor setup for rabbits

Fresh, clean drinking water and good quality hay and grass should make up the bulk of your rabbits' diet. A rabbit's digestive system requires hay or grass to function properly, so a healthy supply is extremely important. You can supplement with leafy greens and a small amount of pellets. It is best to not allow the pellets to become the bulk of the diet.

Chickens can, surprisingly, sometimes be kept similarly to rabbits. You'll want to ensure an enclosure of an appropriate size. Again, bigger is better, but in the case of chickens (which should generally be kept in small groups or at least pairs) they require foraging space. Estimate the adult length of your chicken from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail. Multiply this by 10 and that is your ideal minimum length for an enclosure, multiply it by 3 and that is your ideal minimum width, multiply it by 4 and that is your ideal minimum height. This is a general enclosure sizing rule for hens but go as big as you can. Additionally, chickens can be trained as indoor pets.

Vegetables and grains will keep chickens happy and ensure they are receiving a nutritionally balanced diet. Good choices include leafy greens, cooked beans, corn, non-sugary cereals and grains, berries, apples and most other fruits and vegetables. 50-70% of their diet (as supplied by you, because they will also forage for insects) can be commercially prepared chicken feed. Once they are old enough to begin laying, periodic dietary supplementation with calcium additives like ground oyster shell may be very beneficial and can help prevent eggbinding.

DO NOT PURCHASE DYED CHICKS. Dyed chicks are mass produced and covered in potentially toxic chemicals to drive sales and profit. These usually die, but even if they don't the color washes away. It's an inhumane practice that nobody should support.

Ducks are another can of worms altogether. Waterfowl are messy. Very messy. And they stink. Sometimes they stink a lot. Ducklings are no exception, and when they grow up their smell only magnifies thanks to the increased amount of waste. But they're incredible creatures, and if you can provide a good home for them, they are very rewarding to keep.

Ducks needs space, and lots of it. for a pair of ducks, you should provide a minimum space of 20ft by 10ft. The enclosure doesn't necessarily have to be tall, but it does need to be covered to prevent hawks from attacking them. They will also need access to clean drinking water and access to bathing water. Ducks require access to a pool that is big enough for them to completely submerge themselves in order to provide mental stimulation and to help facilitate the natural process of waterproofing their feathers (after bathing they preen, meticulously sliding damp feathers through the tooth-like ridges in their bills to distribute waterproof oils). To provide clean drinking water just make sure the drinking source if relatively small and is suspended so they cannot get inside it and cannot knock it over. I find a small hanging bucket works perfectly. Change this drinking water at least once a day, ideally more often. Additionally, ducks can be trained as indoor pets.

Some great food options are lettuce, cabbage, dandelion greens, peas, broccoli, tomatoes (occasionally), and most fruits (avoid citrus). Watermelon is an especially beloved treat. They can also be given commercially prepared duck feed in addition to the food mentioned above, not instead of. Ducks will also forage for insects and will often eat grasses and weeds. If you are privileged enough to acquire both ducklings and chickens, keep in mind that ducklings should not be fed chicken feed. The types of medications often included in chicken feed, along with the calcium additives in it, can sometimes cause problems for baby ducks and even, occasionally, adult waterfowl.

An additional consideration before adding any farm fowl to your family; they can carry various viruses and diseases with them into their new home. If you have other avian dinosaurs on your property (other chickens, ducks, geese, swans, Guinea fowl, parrots, parakeets, finches, quail, etc.) they could be at risk. Take precaution by acquiring your new birds from reputable places.

If you aren't equipped to handle these creatures Longterm, then do not purchase them. Consider getting your child the chocolate versions of these instead!

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