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Feed Store Chicks: What Parents Need to Know

It’s that time of year again, when local feed stores and farm supply stores have tanks of little baby chicks out on display. I can hear their cute repetitive peeping from here calling me to take them home. While this at first may seem like a free petting zoo opportunity to some parents, the people who end up buying those chicks for food, eggs or to be future pets all while hoping that they will live, may think differently.

Here are some quick and easy guidelines for parents the next time you cruise through the feed store with your kids that will keep the chicks safer and the kids safer. For those who are familiar with chickens and poultry this is old news, but maybe it will help feed store customers that don't have chicken, or someone who is just getting into the 'rural swing' of things. It would be great, for the chicks’ sake if the stores that sell them would post something visible to this effect when the chicks come in but I have never seen it done (at least in my area).

Baby chicks are incapable of maintaining their own body heat.
That is why there is one or two heat lights placed over each container of chicks. These lights will always be hot to the touch, hot enough to burn the skin so mind the location of the lights. If your children must pick up the chicks, they should only hold them for a minute at the longest before gently returning the chick to the container. Not even a child’s body heat is warm enough to keep the chick from getting cold so the sooner they are returned the better.

Encourage the use of both hands for lifting and holding with one hand supporting the feet or bottom. 
Never pick chicks up by the head or neck try scooping them up with two hands.   When returning the chick to the container encourage your kids to gently set them down on the shaving – even letting go of them a few inches above the container can be shock to a baby chick.

Supervise closely and be ready to catch the chick if your child is surprised by movement or by poo and drops the chick. 
It is a fact of life that baby chicks, like baby humans just “go” when ever the need arises and that could be in your child’s hands. Chicks squirm when frightened and being picked up by any human is frightening. Chicks also have no depth perception at this newly hatched age and have no idea how far off the ground they are – a fall from even a child’s height on to a cement floor could kill a newly hatched chick or stress it beyond recovery (meaning even if its still alive when you put it back – it may die later).

Petting is usually preferable to holding, for the chick. 
Try encouraging your child to use one or two fingers to gentle pet baby chicks. Since young children are still developing fine motor skills and dexterity not only is this a good exercise but also it will help keep a wayward hand from inadvertently smashing a chick.

If the chicks are sleeping encourage your children to visit a different container.
Baby chicks, like baby humans, need lots of sleep to grow. Allowing the chicks to sleep reduces stress and will let them grow up into health chickens. If a chick is falling asleep in your child’s hands it’s time to put the chick down, this can be caused from the chick being too tired, cold and/or from stress. Some chicks that are stressed from constant petting and handling do not thrive and will be more susceptible to injury and disease while some others do just fine.

Wash hands after petting and holding chicks.
Salmonella can be found in chicken poo, all baby chicks fall asleep in their poo even if their container is kept super clean. So even if your child didn’t get pooped on they should still wash their hands with warm water and soap after petting baby chicks and make sure hands are kept out of the mouth. A case of salmonella poisoning could be serious or even fatal to a young child. While very rare - it has happened.

Image Credit MNN.com

It is not healthy for chicks to paint them. 
The colored chicks seen on TV and the Internet have actually been colored before they were ever hatched inside the egg with a special dye. Most consumer paints, dyes, and coloring that you have access to at the store are not healthy for baby chicks.

In general I disapprove of commercially dyed chicks as it encourages impulse and gift buys for kids (see below). Although I do see where doing so at a large farm would help identify breeds, types, and batches.

A baby chick makes a bad Easter gift. 
While it may seem like a tempting Easter gift – a baby chick will grow up to be a big chicken. Chickens can live to be 20 years old if conditions are right. They make plenty of noise, especially if they are a rooster, require lots of food, care, do not get along with dogs and will be messy - very messy. Chickens that are bought as Easter presents and then given away, when they grow-up, usually end up in someone’s soup pot despite promises to the opposite. While this is not necessarily a bad thing I am fairly certain it is not what you or your child intended.

Stuffed toy chicks make MUCH better Easter presents than live chicks – that is unless you are embarking on a whole new hobby of chicken keeping, in which case once you have a brooder, feeder and waterer in place - by all means get as many as you would like.

The future owners of these baby chicks thank you for being responsible attentive parents. Happy Easter and Happy Chicken Keeping! 

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  1. They don't let kids near the chicks and adults even need to be assisted by a store employee at the tractor supply near us. We don't handle them at home unless they need to be moved somewhere.

  2. That's good! At all the stores in our area it's a free for all. It gets to being sad at times. I have flat out told the managers at the stores I won't buy chicks from them anymore because they are almost half dead when I get them home from being handled so much.


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