Easter is coming up, and pet stores and farm stores alike are stocking up on all of the adorable bunnies, chicks, and ducklings they can find!
Now, if you’re actually knowledgeable with these critters and raise chicks/ducklings this post isn’t for you! Just keep doing what you’re doing, you know what to do!
This post is for those who have no clue and decide to get their children a bunny, or a chick, or a duckling for an Easter present.
Coming from working at both a pet store and a farm store in my life, I know people swarm in for these precious little bundles of fluff, but the first thing I will forever say is that it is a huge commitment! These are all pets who can live for 5+ years if taken care of properly
Any pet is a commitment, but chickens and ducklings especially need a lot of care, as for the first few months of their life, they need to be under a heat lamp in a brooder (your room will not be warm enough), and you need to give them fresh food and water, and if I could tell you off the top of my head how many times I have to change water on both my chicks and my full-grown chickens, I’d be a mathematical genius!
Think of it as literally taking care of an extremely needy infant, because you are. Most chicks when they first arrive at farm stores are right around the 3-day-old mark (give or take) They require a lot of room, and you can not just buy one. They are flock animals and require the companionship of friends, and like everything else that’s social, you can not give it the amount of attention that it really needs.
In addition, they grow extremely fast and you often have to either expand or upgrade your brooder, and it doesn’t take long at all for them to be able to jump out if you buy one of the cheap cardboard sets they sell at each farm store. They are also VERY dirty and dusty and stinky… oh do they stink. You also have to watch for things like pasty butt (Where they get poop smooshed all over their vent–Their butt–and it dries) it can prevent them from pooping and they can get very sick very quickly. So yes, you literally have to wipe your chick’s butt. Then you have to watch with hens as they get older that they don’t become eggbound, where they can’t get the egg out, and you have to carefully try to pull it out in either a warm bath or use some form of lubricant and you need to be careful not to break the egg or the shell can kill the hen, but if you don’t get the egg out, it can kill the hen as well. It’s never fun.
They also poop a lot all the time. My yard is covered in chicken poop, which is great for my soil, but it’s everywhere. There is also no guarantee that you will get all ladies. “Straight run” chicks aren’t sexed and most places that sell ducks don’t sex them either. Roosters can be annoyingly loud, aggressive, and super-dominant. While for some people the loudness isn’t a factor because they can live on a farm, a lot of the time people try to do the whole “backyard farm” and the roosters can tick off the roosters.
Not to mention being careful of outside predators. There are stories of chickens being carried away by hawks, eaten by fishercats, foxes, etc. and they’re never to be seen or heard from again. The elements are out to get your chickens as well, many store-bought coops are not well insulated and if you don’t get some form of heater (Heat lamp, or I’ve seen heating pads) for your coop, your flock can freeze to death in cold weather.
It’s never fun.
Ducks also need a place to swim and get their feet wet! A kiddie pool will do when they’re small, but they need a little more room than that, especially if you have a bunch of them!
Diet is also extremely important! You can’t just buy some random bird seed, they need special chick starter/grower feed with chick grit when they’re little. The starter/grower helps them grow properly and gives them much needed nutrients. and the chick grit helps them break down and process the things they eat. As they grow up, they need a layer pellet and a calcium supplement like oyster shell so they can produce nice, strong eggs. They also enjoy fruits and veggies in moderation and they will eat bugs out of your yard, should you let them free-range which is preferable for them. A happy flock is an active one. Obesity can kill your flock just as much as a predator can. Ducks can also eat fish, so if you decide to let them share your fancy koi pond, be prepared for a fish or two to go missing, especially if they’re on the small side.
Bunnies need different care, but it’s still extremely important. As with any small animal, it is super easy for bunnies to get upper respiratory issues. You should not use any pine or cedar shavings for their bedding, and a dust-free alternative is best. Personally, I don’t use bedding in my cage at all, and instead place a litter box in the corner of the cage and put recycled paper pellets solely in the litterbox. Once the bun has become fully litterbox trained, I will then put a blanket in for him/her to snuggle with.
Bunnies are little and adorable and cute, but rarely do you find a bunny who actually likes to be picked up. For a little kid, it’s extremely hard to leave them to sit there and just be cute and let the bunny approach them, and they can actually hurt the bunny if they try to pick it up and the bunny flails, the bunny can break bones if the child is holding it too tight, or if the flailing freaks the child out, the bunny can be dropped and that can cause damage anywhere from broken bones to neurological damage if the bun is dropped on its head.
(I have had more bunnies brought back to the pet store from parents who weren’t paying enough attention to their child or who have walked out of the room and the child has tried to pick the bunny up and they drop it and the bunny starts to act weird whether it’s in pain from a broken limb, or we had a bunny who had a weird head tilt and her balance was off because the parent left the room, the kid took the bunny out and picked it up and dropped it on its head by accident. The vet played out the entire story for us and it became extremely clear what happened when we called the parent to inform him that the bunny would recover and we brought up the vets suspicions and he said it was possible as he had left the room with the child staring intently in the cage)
Bunnies are also startled, and can over-stress very easily, so even if the child holds on while it flails, the bunny can actually work itself into a heart attack. Same thing goes for if you introduce too much new stimuli in too short of a time span (such as a dog or a cat who won’t leave the cage alone or a bunch of pokey kids who keep poking and prodding the bunny, etc)
Diet is also super important for bunnies. They’re not a simple “give it pellets and water” pet. The majority of a bunny’s diet should be some form of timothy hay mix. It’s a well balanced hay with a mix of rich and hearty grasses. For an added treat, you can mix some botanical or oat hays in to add some variety, but timothy should be your base. Then they also need a balanced pellet, not a seed mix!!!! I’m not a huge seed mix person for any small animal (Except I do use bird seed/dried fruit mixes for my rats as it has less or no corn and more nuts and stuff over seeds)
My huge thing with seed mixes, particularly small animal mixes, are they have a lot of dried corn, which can carry mold spores that can be (not always, but why risk it) carcinogenic, it also holds no nutritional value and just adds a bunch of fat. They also are extremely fatty as a whole and just like with any animal, obesity is dangerous for bunnies. Sunseed and Higgins make pellet/seed mixes and I don’t even like those because the bunny will pick through, eat all the fatty seed, and leave the pellet that has all of the vitamins and minerals.
Oxbow Young Rabbit is one of my favorite bunny foods (and I say young rabbit because stores seldom sell rabbits over a year old which is when Oxbow recommends switching to the Adult formula) Most of my favor for the food stems from the fact that is it a fully balanced, nutritional pellet food, without anything added to the mix.
You can add healthy vegetables to the mix like dark leafy greens like romaine lettuce, arugula, kale, dandelion greens daily, and you can even add carrots and bell peppers and such and it can be a great, healthy treat if fed in moderation but they have higher amounts of sugars than leafy greens so they need less per day. (Note: when starting to feed fresh veggies, start small. The water content in fresh veggies is VERY high and they’re a lot richer than the dry hay they get, so it can give the bunny the runs at first. with any new food, introduce it slowly.) Some fruits can be given as well, but they are very high in sugars and calories, so they’re best used as a treat.
For the fresh portion of the diet, I run by these rules: 75% should be leafy greens, 15% Non-Leafy veggies, and 10% Fruits every day. Also, rotate your veggies. You’d get bored eating the same thing, so do they. Also, some greens (like spinach, parsley, mustard greens, etc.) can be high in oxalic acid which isn’t bad in small amounts, but in excess amounts it can cause symptoms such as skin and mouth tingling and–in worse cases–kidney damage. The recommendation from a site I’m going to post the link to (it has a wonderful list of fruits and veggies that are safe for your bunny) is to feed a minimum of three different leafy greens every day, two from the low oxalic acid group, and one from the higher oxalic acid group, and switch them up frequently.
After diet comes other basic care: like most rodents, bunny’s teeth don’t stop growing, so wood chews are a necessity in your bunny kit. Anything from plain wood chews to little lava blocks give a great chewing source and they keep their teeth nice and filed down. They also like to flip things around and they have a lot of energy, so out of cage time in a safe environment is important for a healthy, happy bunny. A tired bunny is a happy bunny, so let your bunny out and let him run! Do not let him outside without a properly fit harness or a well guarded and well build outdoor pen, not a puppy pen, but a run made, fully surrounded by hardware cloth (I like the 1/2″ x 1/2″ because little critters can’t get in, and your bunny certainly can’t get out.) Remember bunnies are burrowing critters so you need to make sure that A: you’re watching your bunny, and B: if you can’t keep 100% eye on it, either dig into the ground and put a fully enclosed pen in there with a bottom, then put the dirt in over it so he/she can dig around without fuss, or C: or if you can’t watch it and don’t want to put that effort in, don’t bring the bunny outside.
They also need their nails clipped. Anywhere between 6-8 weeks is usually the average for the need for nails clipped. If you don’t feel comfortable clipping them yourself, there are plenty of vets or even some groomers who can do it for you. If you don’t cut them, they are obviously sharp and can hurt you or your kid when you try to handle them, but they can also curl and it can hurt the bunny too.
Cage size is very important as well. A bunny needs a cage that he can at least run around back and forth in if you’re not there throughout the day. He needs space to stretch out and take his naps, and he needs plenty of room to flip his toys around. If commercial cages of a larger size are too awkwardly shaped/sized to fit the room you’re planning to keep your bunny it, you can also build your own custom-made rabbit cage and fit it exactly the way you want it, and I’ve seen some people build some that look just like furniture that could fit perfectly with the scheme of their house.
To sum it up, The main thing to remember is that any animal is a commitment, and will take a lot of work and time, and as a parent, you can’t expect a young child to be 100% up to that responsibility, and you shape the way your child views how to treat animals. If you don’t want to take care of the animal, don’t buy it for your kid and rely on the kid to take care of it, because they won’t, and then either dropping it off at the shelter, or rehoming it just teaches your child that they can have anything for a little while and then if they get sick of it, they can just throw it aside. It’s not okay, and it leads to a lot of neglect of these poor little fluffballs.
After Easter, Shelters fill with drop off rabbits, chicks, and ducklings and it overwhelms them, and some people don’t even get that far and just drop them off somewhere or send them to a home that could continue the neglect, or worse. (Some people do give these critters a nice home, but consider it enabling the people who didn’t want to put the effort in in the first place.) (Not shaming those who rescue the pets at all!!!!!!! Good for you, you’re awesome!!!)
These critters aren’t Easter Presents, they are living, breathing animals, and if you wanna give your kid something cute and fuzzy, go for the stuffed versions in stores instead.
If you do want to get your child any pet, make sure you fully research the pet you want and make sure this is something you are willing to care for when your child gets bored!