PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
Ana Hotaling
April 12, 2017

This time of year, my husband, Jae, and I clean and prep the pens in our pole barn with fresh litter, clean the waterers and feeders, make sure the heating units are functioning, and ensure that the barn survived the winter without drafts. No, it’s not chick-hatching time. It’s Easter time.

You see, the holiday is close and, without fail, every year we end up with as many as a dozen chicks dumped on our doorstep during the week after Easter Sunday. No note, sometimes not even a box. Just chicks, peeping sadly by our door.

The first year this happened, we were quite surprised. Jae figured that perhaps someone nearby hatched too many babies and saw that we raise poultry. He was partially right. After two more years of these spring surprises, we figured out that these chicks weren’t overhatches. They were unwanted Easter gifts, and our roadside farm sign was an open invitation for people to discard their unwanted baby birds once the holiday was over.

Easter chick
Ana Hotaling

Don’t get me wrong. Giving a child a few chicks (or ducklings or a baby bunny) for Easter is a thoughtful, wonderful gift, but only if:

  • the child’s parents have been consulted and agree, especially if the gift-giver is not a parent
  • the child and family can meet the many needs of these living animals
  • the child and family can nurture and support the animals throughout their lifespan
  • the child’s home is not part of an HOA, neighborhood or town that prohibits farm animals

Most breeders I know—and even some farm stores—refuse to sell chicks during the weeks leading up to and following Easter to prevent the babies from becoming presents. Still, the problem persists, and it’s understandable. They’re tiny. They’re fluffy. They’re adorable. What child wouldn’t want a delightful chick or two?

Easter chick and bunny
Ana Hotaling

I unfortunately understand this firsthand. As a young child, I lived first with my grandparents, and then with an aunt and uncle, on family farms where chickens (and cows and other animals) were part of my everyday life. Back home in suburban New Jersey, seeing a robin was pretty much the extent of the local animal life. Perhaps that’s why my mother did it: to help me remember my years as a farm girl. Perhaps she simply thought it was an appropriate present. I’ll never know her motivation. I do know that one Easter, we drove out to the countryside and, at a farm, I was allowed to select a dozen baby chicks as my holiday gift.

Of course, I had to share the wealth with my neighborhood buddies, and soon almost every household on Varnum Lane had a chick or two, thanks to my Easter generosity. I’m sure my friends’ parents were thrilled with me and even more thrilled with my mother. I ended up keeping one chick, whom I named Groucho. To this day I have absolutely no idea what happened to Groucho or to any of the other chicks. One day, they were simply gone. I’m willing to bet they got dumped on the doorstep of the nearest poultry farm.

As Easter approaches, you might be seeking the perfect gift for the youngster in your life. If you find yourself leaning toward baby chicks, lean away—fill your baskets with chicks made of marshmallow, chocolate or some other sweet instead. In the meantime, Jae and I will listen carefully for the sound of sad peeping outside our front door.

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