Giving a chick at Easter is a tradition that has its roots in distant history. Eggs are widely recognized as symbols of new life, and are used in various spiritual traditions – as symbols, they are most familiar to most of us in Western culture as Easter decorations and treats. Eggs, chicks, and chickens are as prevalent as the bunny at Easter. Pet stores, feed stores, and hatcheries often sell chicks in the early spring. Some sellers even dye chicks with Easter colours.
In cultures where there are usually a few chickens around the place, giving chicks at Easter is a practical idea. The necessary environment is already in place. People know what a growing chicken needs and can look forward to fresh eggs or roast chicken at some time in the future.
For most of us in urban landscapes, however, a chick is not a very practical addition to the family. Giving a chick at Easter is a commitment comparable to giving a puppy: chickens live as long as dogs or longer, and require daily care. In addition, there are health and safety factors to consider – adult roosters can be quite aggressive and chicks sometimes carry harmful bacteria and viruses that can make people very ill. Children are most at risk.
Most people don’t know how to look after a chick. There’s no brooder in the average home, no chicken coop, and no protection from cats, dogs and other predators. Often, there’s a small child who doesn’t understand how fragile a baby bird is – after all, small children are used to cuddling and squeezing their beloved stuffed animals without doing harm. The bottom line is that chicks and chickens don’t make good pets.
Very often, chicks given to children at Easter die from injuries, or from improper feeding or housing. Some are abandoned to the wild where they die from exposure or are killed by predators. The practice of dyeing chicks, either by injecting dye into the egg, or applying dye to the hatched chick, raises ethical concerns as well. In the end, relatively few chicks given as Easter gifts grow up to be healthy adult chickens scratching in the yard and laying eggs.
Here are some satisfying alternatives to giving live chicks at Easter:
- Give a soft plush toy chick instead – they are endlessly resilient to hugging, squeezing, and being forgotten for a while.
- If your child gets candy at Easter, give a candy chick treat – most stores that sell Easter candy have marshmallow or chocolate chicks.
- Help your child to give a whole flock of live chicks to a family in a developing country. Heifer International is a charitable organization that accepts this kind of donation.
- Make a trip to a petting zoo or wildlife sanctuary where children can see and learn about birds and other animals. Perhaps there is a hatchery near you where children can see chicks without taking them home.