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Are cries of outrage over local Rent-A-Chick program justified?

Local business, Steve’s World of Pets, is experiencing significant backlash on social media this week after posting their Annual Rent-A-Chick Program to their Facebook page. According to the event page, they have been running this program for over a decade. So, why now the outpouring of opposition?  Likely, due to the power of the internet.

For the record, I feel I need to state up front that I do not support this particular program, as they seem to be marketing these chicks to individuals as a temporary pets, not as an educational experience. I do, however, support the idea behind it. In fact, there are similar rent-a-chick programs held by small farms every year through out the U.S. often in conjunction with 4H programs, schools and educational facilities, and rural communities that have experience rearing livestock and poultry. Often these programs provide materials, and extensive access to education on how to handle and raise healthy chicks. This local program, appears to lack that component, as it’s not a farm supply store, nor is there information posted on their social media or website.

So, for those that are intent to rent-a-chick, some of the information you need to know has been provided below. Please note, that this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to chick rearing or ownership, I would encourage anyone to do their own research before bringing any new animal into their home.

Although I am not an expert in poultry, at a very early age I was introduced to horseback riding and farm life by my father. A passion that I pursued over the decades. I’ve owned, raised, and trained over 40 horses, buying them from auctions, or backyard sellers. I would work with any behavioral issues, sharpen up their training to make them “good citizens,” then work find them loving homes, often at a great financial loss. Throughout that time, I also owned a menagerie of animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, cats, dogs, fish, pet rats, a hedge hog (named Edward), and chickens.

Family and friends of mine are farmers and every single one of them is gentle and loves their stock, not least of all their poultry. Something our urban readers may not know, chickens are generally very curious, and have distinct personalities, ranging from shy to aggressive. They live in groups called a flock. They can be kept as pets, or raised as egg layers, or for meat.

Everyone should have the opportunity to discover the joy and hilarity of being around free range chickens. There are social media videos of chickens giving young children “hugs,” or allowing themselves to be put in bike baskets, etc… I hand raised my chicks, and as adults they would jump on my lap to be petted, and would fall asleep in my arms.

Tractor Supply, the largest farm and equipment retailer in the U.S., sells chicks and ducklings every spring, which you can “visit” in their stores. However, if you try to purchase a chick or duck from these stores, you are required by law to purchase a minimum of 6 animals. The purpose is two-fold, one it’s more humane as these animals should be reared in a flock, two it is meant to discourage people from buying these animals as temporary pets. Local TV news station, WIVB News 4 Buffalo recently sat down with Gina Browning, Erie County SPCA, to discuss the legalities of renting a young chick. It turns out the law does not address the “rental” of chicks. Thus, the practice is allowed to continue because of a language loop hole. You can read more about the regulations here.

With this article, I very much hope to discourage individuals, who may have little to no knowledge of chick rearing, from taking baby chicks, who are extremely delicate, outside of their social group, to be handled by children, on the hope that they survive to be returned to the store, put back in a flock, then shipped to an unknown meat market.

If you do insist on bringing a chick home, I have found some care instructions and chick facts that I encourage you to read. Please note, as an amateur farmer, I lost baby chicks. This is part of the responsibility that you take on when bring another creature into your home. There is nothing more devastating. Baby chicks are fragile, and if you are not careful, are easily broken and killed. They have no concept of gravity or depth, and will leap from your hands. They can squeeze through spaces smaller than you can imagine.

Example of a brooder box from Pinterest

If you plan to raise chicks, you will need the proper equipment and set up:

  • Plastic container, high enough that they can’t jump out or a screen lid, that allows one-half square foot of space per bird.
  • Bedding – non cedar bedding, or dust free shredded newspaper that you can pick up at a local pet store.
  • Bag of feed labeled specifically for chicks.
  • Temperature thermometer like this one.
  • A properly rated heat lamp. Be careful as these can become fire hazards.
  • A safe place to store the container away from other pets, and free of cold drafts.
  • Provide constant access to fresh water, in a small container, not large enough for them to stand in. Do not allow them to get wet. They are too young to swim. No bathtubs or sinks.
  • Please keep the chicks/ducklings safely away from dogs, cats, and other animals that could harm them.

HEAT: Buy a heat lamp that is designed specifically for this purpose. Some sites will tell you that you can use a desk lamp, I advise against it. Pay very close attention to how the chicks behave. If they crowd under the heat source, then they could be too cold. If they avoid the heat source, then they’re too hot. The temperature should always be between 75 and 80°. You can reduce the heat by raising the heat source away from the container. Note: It is important that the lamp is secured and not knocked over, and is away from the edge of the container that it won’t start a fire. Do not let children touch the lamp as it is VERY hot and could cause burns.

SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: Salmonella, a common cause of food borne illness, can also be spread by direct contact with animals, like chicks and ducklings, that carry the bacteria.

  • Avoid contact with poultry manure. Adults should clean bedding as needed.
  • Carefully and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water after handling birds or anything in the chicks’ environment.
  • Do not nuzzle or kiss chicks.
  • Keep birds out of areas where food is prepared.
  • Supervise children when handling, and ensure they wash their hands before and after contact with the chicks.
  • Children less than 2 years old, people with weakened immune systems, and women who are pregnant or may be pregnant should not handle chicks.
  • Watch carefully for chicks that are lethargic, weak, or not eating or drinking.

Facts about Chickens

Taken from Tractor Supply’s website

  • With more than 25 billion chickens in the world. The chicken is more numerous than any other bird on the planet.
  • The United States alone consumes 8 billion chickens a year, and around 250 eggs per capita.
  • There are approximately 280 million laying hens producing 50 billion eggs in the U.S. each year.
  • Adult male chickens over a year old are called roosters in Australia, Canada, and the U.S., but are called cocks in the U.K. Males less than a year old are called cockerels, and castrated males are called capons. Adult females are hens, and young females less than a year old are called pullets, although in the egg-laying industry, a pullet becomes a hen when she begins to lay eggs. Young chickens are called chicks.
  • Chickens begin communicating before they are hatched, when the mother hen makes a purring noise towards her eggs and the chicks peep back at her from inside the unhatched eggs.
  • There are approximately 30 distinct vocalizations that chickens use to communicate with each other.
  • Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat seeds and insects, but also have been known to eat mice and lizards.
  • Chickens can recognize around 100 different faces.
  • Chickens can’t fly very far, but they can get airborne enough to make it over a fence.
  • Roosters perform a little dance called ‘tidbitting’ in which they make sounds (food calls) and move their head up and down, picking up and dropping a bit of food. Researchers have found that females prefer males that often perform tidbitting and have larger, brighter combs on top of their heads.
  • The rooster’s wattle — the dangly bit beneath his beak — helps him to gain a hen’s attention when he is tidbitting.
  • Chickens live in flocks and establish a “pecking order” — an order of dominance/importance. Birds that are higher in the pecking order get priority food access and nesting locations.
  • Removing birds from a flock will disturb the pecking order temporarily. Adding to the flock, especially younger birds, will also disturb the pecking order and can lead to fighting and injury (or on rare occasions death), if not done properly.
  • Chickens lay eggs of different colors. The colors do not affect the nutritional value of the eggs, but the chickens’ diet does affect it.
  • Chickens lay eggs only after receiving a light cue, either from natural sunlight entering a coop or artificial light illuminating a commercial egg hatchery. The light stimulates a photo-receptive gland near the chicken’s eye, which in turn triggers the release of an egg cell from the chicken’s ovary.
  • A single hen can produce between 250 and 300 eggs per year.
  • A hen turns her eggs about 50 times a day to keep it from sticking to the side of the shell.
  • Fertilized eggs take about 21 days to incubate and hatch.
  • You can tell whether an egg is fresh or stale by dropping it in water. A fresh egg will sink, but a stale one will float.
  • Eggs are a good source of lutein, which promotes eye health. The yolk and white is made of 74% water, 11% fat, and 12% protein. Egg yolks are one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D.
  • Chickens have full-color vision.
  • Scientists think chickens are the closest living relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • The waste produced by one chicken in its lifetime can supply enough electricity to run a 100-watt bulb for five hours.
  • Agricultural researchers have found a carbonization process that converts ordinary poultry manure into granules and powders that can mop up pollutants in water.
  • Researchers at NASA are testing a new jet fuel made from chicken fat.

So whether you choose to rent or own a chick, please take the time to read and understand the responsibility you are accepting, or better yet, visit your local Tractor Supply for your annual “Chick-fix.”

Written by Jessica Marinelli

Jessica Marinelli

Jessica Marinelli is a WNY native, born and raised in the Lincoln Park area of Tonawanda. She has been involved in local politics from an early age and is currently a Tonawanda Democratic Committee Member. As an avid equestrian and animal-lover, she trained and re-homed over 40 horses. For over a decade, she was an event planner with the law firm, Hodgson Russ LLP, and now owns her own marketing and event management company. She has worked with international and national organizations on large and small scale events. Jessica writes on politics and local events, as well as working with Buffalo Rising as a social reporter.

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