It's baby chick season, a sure sign that spring is here. As the practice of raising backyard chickens for eggs becomes more popular, the arrival of spring chicks has become an event for stores like Tractor Supply Co., Bowman's Feed and Pet, and The Mill of Hampstead. Most are serious buyers looking to add to their flock for fresh eggs. Others may just come to fawn over their soft, fuzzy cuteness.
As adorable as the baby chicks may be, they aren't meant to be house pets.
"They're meant for agricultural use," Tractor Supply Co. assistant manager Bobby Hommerbocker told us. "People have to keep their coops clean, make sure the water is clean and use hand sanitizer when handling them."
Incorrectly handling live poultry can lead to serious illnesses, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture strongly discourages people from buying chicks as presents for Easter.
"The risk of illness from improper handling is much higher this time of year, especially among people not used to handling live birds," Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder said in a prepared statement.
Adding to his flock, 13-year-old Nathan Grimm picked out six chicks that will grow to be brown egg layers Sunday afternoon at the Tractor Supply Co. in West
Even those starting or adding to a flock for legitimate agricultural purposes, though, should use caution. "Anyone with poultry should practice heightened biosecurity to prevent diseases like bird flu from entering their flock," Bartenfelder said.
Chicks and other live poultry may appear healthy and clean but still carry salmonella germs.
Children younger than 5, elderly individuals or those with weak immune systems should especially avoiding handling the young chicks. And if you do handle chicks, you should wash your hands thoroughly after touching them or anything in the area where they live and roam, MDA advises. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
Never kiss the birds or otherwise touch them with your mouth, or eat or drink around live poultry. It's also a bad idea to let the chicks inside your house, especially the kitchen around food.
Most stores refuse to sell single chicks for pets for these reasons — in fact, it's illegal in Maryland to knowingly sell baby chicks as pets — but also because the animals may quickly lose their appeal to young children who don't want to properly care for the chicks. Baby chicks require constant care and monitoring in the first few weeks of their life; they grow quickly, developing their adult feathering and losing the soft fuzz; not to mention, they can make quite the mess.
But it's not just chicks that pose a problem as pets around Eastertime. Pet bunnies or rabbits become an issue as well. While they make far better house pets than the chicks, animal shelters and other groups say as many as 80 percent of rabbits purchased as an Easter gift end up in shelters, after owners realize they cannot keep up with the amount of care the animals need, or the novelty of having a live Easter bunny wears off.
Baby bunnies grow quickly and have a habit of chewing anything they can find, including furniture and electrical wires, to keep their ever-growing teeth trimmed.
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Think twice before giving any animals as a gift for Easter.