This post first published on Care2.com.
Excited that he won a blue chick in a church raffle, a young child ran to show his mom. Like thousands of chicks every year, this baby bird was dyed as an Easter novelty to be sold or raffled off to families.
Thankfully this boy’s mother valued the tiny chick’s life and asked Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, NY to give him a home. Picasso has grown into a handsome rooster who loves his life at the sanctuary.
Not all chicks are so lucky. Easter is a time of rejoicing and renewal for Christians, but for thousands of innocent chicks, this season is nothing to chirp about.
Every Easter, families across the country purchase chicks for their children only to drop them off at shelters a few weeks later when the novelty wears off or they can’t commit to caring for the animal. A more recent trend is rent-a-chick programs promoted by retailers and farmers throughout the country in the weeks leading up to Easter.
RENTING BABY CHICKS DOESN’T TEACH CHILDREN RESPONSIBILITY
The rental program is popular because children can enjoy the novelty of caring for a chick without the long-term commitment.
One farmer in New Jersey who rents chicks to families promotes the program as “… teaching kids to appreciate animals and to better understand the responsibility of caring for them.” The farms Facebook Page promotes the rental chick program as a “… great educational way to introduce children to caring for a live animal without a long-term commitment!”
Another farmer in Maryland said his rent-a-chick program allows parents to “…give their children a fluffy surprise on Easter without getting stuck with a new pet.”
Picasso started out life dyed blue and raffled off as an Easter novelty, but today he is enjoying life at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.
Photo courtesy of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.
Caring for pets has long been credited with teaching children responsibility, trust, compassion, understanding, empathy and respect for animals and by extension other people. Parents who adopt pets from shelters teach children about the importance of saving a life and committing to the care of that animal for his or her lifetime.
Despite the promotions, renting chicks for Easter does not teach children responsibility, respect or compassion for animals.
“By renting animals for a few weeks and then just sending them back to eventually be slaughtered children are being taught—even if unintentionally—that these animals are disposable,” said Andrea Springirth, animal caretaker and humane educator at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.
Many farmers and retailers say they started the rent-a-chick program to help cut down on the numbers of chicks being released to the shelters. But what these rental programs actually represent is the further exploitation of animals for profit with little or no concern for the welfare or interests of the animal, said Springirth.
Chicks used for the Easter rent-a-chick programs are pulled from the food chain to make extra money for the farmers or retailers and then returned to that same chain for the benefit of humans.
According to experts at One Green Planet, allowing newborn chicks to go to homes without oversight or regulation as to how they are handled or treated is a recipe for abuse. In an article titled “You can Rent a Chick to Cuddle for Easter?! Why This is a Terrible Idea” One Green Planet Experts write:
“Sadly, some entrepreneurial folks are more than willing to exploit these highly intelligent and sensitive beings with little regard for their well-being in order to make a quick buck. Worse yet, they’re imposing this reckless negligence and endangerment on the smallest and most vulnerable of the bunch: three-day-old baby chicks.”
THE IMPACT OF THE RENTAL PROGRAM ON NEWBORN CHICKS
Retailers who sell or rent chicks get the birds from large hatcheries where, according to the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, confined breeding hens never even get to see their babies. In addition, millions of day-old male chicks are brutally killed because they’re of no use to the egg industry.
Mother hens develop a strong, protective bond with their unborn chicks. If left to nature, this bond would continue well into the chick’s life. In a natural environment, Springrith said from the moment the mother hen lays her eggs she starts speaking to her chicken for the entire 21-day gestation period.
“The embryo develops to a point where in the last few days the chicks are communicating their health needs to their mother,” Springirth said. “This is why a mother hen rotates her eggs up to 30 times a day.”
Chickens have such particular needs that Springrith said she highly doubts the families renting these birds are equipped with the knowledge and resources to address these needs safely and respectfully. “When families don’t understand what the chicks are communicating to them the birds can get sick very easily.”
According to Springrith, with no mother hen to care for them chicks will imprint extremely quickly to their human caretakers. The birds develop a bond with the children who care for them during the two-week rental process, and it’s traumatic for the chicks—and probably many of the children—when the rental agreement ends.
“Chickens have the ability to feel sad and they understand loss,” Springrith explained, “We see this all the time at the sanctuary. It’s also been proven over and over again by ethologists and scientists.”
THERE’S A HUMANE ALTERNATIVE TO RENTING BABY CHICKS FOR EASTER.
Instead of contributing to the cruelty of the chicken industry by renting or purchasing chicks for Easter celebrate life and the arrival of spring by visiting a farm sanctuary. There’s nothing quite like interacting with animals who are living in their natural environment being loved and cared for by people who honor and respect them.
Photo courtesy of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is open for weekend tours beginning the second week of April. Visitors can interact with Picasso and the other rescued animals in a safe and respectful manner while learning about the emotional, intellectual and cognitive lives of the residents.
“After visiting the sanctuary so many families change their minds about how they see animals,” Springrith said. “It’s wonderful to watch that transformation.”