Spring not only brings baby chicks, it also heralds the yearly observance of Easter … and sometimes, the two turn up together. Although many breeders and farm-supply stores halt the purchase of peeps just prior to the Spring holidays, not everyone respects the philosophy that chicks—and ducklings and baby bunnies—are not gifts to be given on Easter.
As a result, there’s always a well-meaning relative who arrives for Easter brunch, a beribboned basket of peeping baby poultry in tow.
I have experienced this conundrum from three different prospectives. As a child, an older family member presented me with one dozen golden chicks to celebrate the holiday. I was thrilled with the fluffy little babies … but it soon became abundantly clear that a suburban home—at least back then—was no place for poultry. To this day I have no idea what my mother did with the poor birds.
As a breeder, I’ve had to turn away doting grandparents and loving aunties looking for Easter chicks so often that I’ve lost count. I’ve always done my best to politely explain why I don’t sell holiday peeps. More often than not, my explanations were met with puzzlement.
A few years ago, I finally stopped hatching chicks prior to Easter. That unfortunately didn’t resolve my Easter issues. Usually a month or so after the holiday, someone anonymously gifts us with juvenile poultry. In other words, our farm frequently serves as a dumping ground for unwanted adolescent chickens and ducks, most of which have been so malnourished and improperly raised that few survive.
Should a kind-hearted but misguided soul present your family with a gift of Easter chicks, follow these five steps to ensure these infants’ health and well being.
Active babies need a safe place to roam and call home, even temporarily. Find a large cardboard box, a storage tote or a high-sided basket to serve as a brooder. Line the bottom with an old towel or rags. If you have pine shavings or straw, use these.
Never use newsprint, as its slick surface can lead to leg development issues. Place this makeshift brooder in the warmest, least drafty part of your house. If you have a portable heater of any sort, set it as close as possible to the brooder, since newborn chicks require a constant temperature of 95 degrees F their first week.
Be sure to keep your pets away from the brooder.
Use your most shallow saucer to offer the chicks water. Use pea gravel or marbles in the dish to help prevent accidental drownings. As for food, mash up unseasoned hard-boiled eggs and serve them in a shallow container.
Newly hatched chicks can go up to two to three days without eating, but older chicks will require food a couple of times per day. Finely chopped oatmeal can be mixed in with the mashed egg to extend the food.
If you are unable or unwilling to keep the chicks, you’ll need to find them a new home as swiftly as possible to avoid the expense of outfitting a proper brooder. If your neighborhood or town has a community bulletin board—actual or virtual—post about the chicks there and include a photo.
Contact your local feed shop or farm-supply store to see if they can recommend nearby farms that might be interested in adopting the chicks. Petting farms and animal sanctuaries are other options to consider. Check with your friends, too … you never know if one or more of them might be thinking about starting a backyard flock.
When All Options Fail
If you cannot find anyone to adopt your Easter chicks, don’t despair. Call your local Humane Society. Some locations will take the chicks in. Others may have a database of organizations, farms and individuals who can accept the birds.
You may also consider taking a long drive around your closest rural or agricultural areas, looking for small farms with Fresh Eggs signs. Approach these flock owners and explain your situation. With luck, your chicks will have a new home soon.
Your Own Microflock
The gift of backyard chicks might end up being a fortuitous one if you already keep chickens or are looking at starting a flock of your own. You’ll still need to outfit a brooder correctly for your Easter peeps, but the time and energy you would have spent trying to find them a home can now be spent on raising your little ones and watching them grow.