Spring usually means new babies, such as chicks, ducklings, and rabbits, but just as human babies do, these "infants" require extra care for a long, healthy life.
Whether you get a couple to keep as pets or several for a 4-H or other project, first realize that any animal requires feeding, grooming, cleaning up after, and love and attention, even after the novelty wears off.
A chicken, duck, or rabbit may not be as affectionate as a dog or cat, but a child likely will find the experience enriching, says Dr. Glenn Kashurba, a Somerset, Pa., clinical psychologist who specializes in children, and, in particular, rural children.
"It's the same kind of connection with another being," Kashurba says. "It's a good thing for kids to be able to do that … the whole idea of responsibility and understanding that, 'This is something I have to do — feed it, water it, keep it safe.'"
It's important to care for and love your newly adopted chick or duckling, but take care to protect yourself. Salmonella, a common cause of foodborne illness, can be spread by direct contact with animals that carry the bacteria, so:
- AVOID CONTACT with poultry manure and clean cages frequently.
- THOROUGHLY WASH HANDS with soap and warm water after handling anything in the chick's environment.
- DO NOT NUZZLE OR KISS your chick or duckling.
- KEEP LIVE POULTRY OUTSIDE, especially out of areas where food is prepared.
Source: Michigan Department of Agriculture
And that begins with providing a clean, warm place to live, advises Mount Healthy Hatcheries, of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Brooder lamps provide the warm environment that these babies require for their first few weeks. Take your cues from them: If they are cold, they will pile up; if they're comfortable, they'll be moving around.
If your rabbits are kept outdoors in a hutch, provide shade and good ventilation to maintain a moderate temperature; they don't do well if it gets too cold (below 40 degrees F) or too hot (above 85).
Young animals also require a specialized diet extra high in nutrients, so be sure to provide a commercial feed that supplies the correct amount of energy, proteins, and vitamins. Rabbits also require plenty of fresh water, because they typically consume at least twice as much water as feed.
Always handle babies with special care. Birds in general have hollow bones, so they are very fragile. Never squeeze or hug your baby chicks.
Rabbits also have small bones that will easily break, so never squeeze them, either. And be sure to hold them snugly and support their hind legs so they can't kick and injure themselves.
"Before this chick or duckling arrives, it should be a thought-about thing, not just a spur-of-the-moment thing," Kashurba advises.
If your kids aren't ready, just wait, he says. "There will be chicks and ducklings next year, and next year will be a better time to do it."
Carol Davis is editor of Out Here.