What You Need to Know About Baby Rabbits, Ducks, & Chickens
Spring is in the air, which means baby animals are soon to appear! The baby chicks, ducks, & rabbits that often come with Easter are almost too irresistible to pass up. I believe our connection to animals is strong and has so many benefits to our health. Humanity's first job in Eden was to take care of the garden and animals, so why would it not be so today? They are also an excellent way for children (age-appropriate) to learn responsibility. Here are some VERY IMPORTANT things to know before purchasing one of Easter's adorable critters.
Overall for all three animals:
- Make sure the person or place you are purchasing your animal from is reputable. Unfortunately, I've run into situations where people have purchased animals that were too young or sick. Some sellers try to get rid of unwanted or ill stock. Ask if the breeder would be willing to take back the animal if it is not a good fit for your family. A good breeder will ensure that you have all the correct information before you leave with the new family pet.
- Know the exact breed you are purchasing. Some rabbits, ducks, & chickens can get large, which will lead to space issues later. Some are hobby/pet breeds. Small chicken breeds are not high production egg layers. If you are looking for an egg layer, this won't be the breed for you. Tell the seller what you are looking for, and they should be able to assist.
- Do you have room for an appropriate size cage? Your child will probably want their rabbit to stay inside, but chickens and ducks can not remain inside once grown. They will eventually need an outside pen.
- Have your brooders or cage set up before bringing your new animal home.
- Health: Make sure the bunny you are buying looks healthy. A bunny's eyes should be clear, have a good weight, and clean healthy-looking fur. Checking for ear mites is also a good idea.
- Food: Rabbits will enjoy adult pellets & alfalfa hay as a primary source of nutrients. Bother these items can found at most feed stores. A bag of mixed "treats" that you can find at the pet store is excellent as a snack but should not substitute a meal. You must check that your rabbit's water bottle is constantly full.
- Housing: Your bunny's cage should be size appropriate for its breed. If you are purchasing a mixed breed bunny, ask the seller what size the parents are. Rabbits will need a hiding place where they can sleep. You can also get an outside hutch. Bunnies do well outside as long as you watch for extreme temperatures and avoid putting the cage in direct sunlight.
- Bedding: Plane wood chips and shredded paper both work well as a bedding source. Pets may seem to be nibbling on both, but we find that it is just curiosity, and they are not eating it.
- What do I do with the soiled bedding? If you have a garden, rabbit droppings are an excellent fertilizer, so you will want to compost it or save it. If you have an outside hutch, you can place a plastic tub underneath to catch the poop, which you can put in the garden. Rabbit droppings are not "hot," so they will not burn your veggies as chicken droppings would.
- Ducks are REALLY messy. Not only with their food, but their waste is watery as well. They can not be inside after their duckling stage is over. (please see housing for duckling age) I do not recommend ducks to most families unless you have a pond or space to put them.
- Health: Make sure the duck you are buying looks healthy. A duck's eyes should be clear, the bill looks straight, have a good weight, and clean healthy-looking feathers. Legs are strong and straight.
- Food: Ducklings will need small feeders and waterers at the beginning, then you will need to switch them to adult-sized feeders. Ducks MUST have water, not only to drink, but they require it to help them eat their food. Ducklings will need to be on a special duckling feed from the pet or feed store. Once they are adults, switch to an adult duck feed. Adults will also appreciate fresh snacks like your uncooked veggie snacks and fresh grass.
- Housing: Ducklings MUST have a heat lamp. The most common reason a duckling doesn't make it once they are home is that the family did not know they needed a heat lamp. They will need to stay warm for several weeks before you will be able to remove the heat lamp. Your cage setup needs to be easy to clean because you will have to do it every day. Please do not put your duckling in water (let them swim) until they are one week old. Start with 5-10min, stay with them the entire time, and then put them back in their living area for warmth. Adult ducks need lots of space so that you can include a swim area. A small kiddy pool or something similar works best because it is large enough to clean itself. They also need accommodation for protection. Ducks are very vulnerable to predators.
- Bedding: As I stated above, not only is their poop watery, but they poop "a lot"! So a plastic bottom that is washable or plain wood shavings replaced every day. Once you place an adult duck outside, you can use hay in their sleeping area.
- Health: Make sure the chick(s) you are buying looks healthy. A chick's eyes should be clear, the beak is clean, and clean healthy-looking chick fuzz (feathers). Legs are strong and straight. Check their behinds for built-up waste. You should see a clean bottom.
- Food: Chicks will need small feeders and waterers at the beginning, then you will switch them to adult-sized feeders and waterers. Chicks will need to be on a particular medicated chick feed from the feed store. Once they are adults, switch to an adult chicken feed. Adults will also love fresh snacks like your uncooked veggie snacks and fresh grass.
- Housing: Chicks MUST have a heat lamp. Most chicks don't make it once they are home because the family did not know they needed a heat lamp. They will need to stay warm for several weeks before you will be able to remove the heat lamp. Make sure your cage setup is safe for the heat lamp.
- Adult chickens will need space to roam because they love to scratch and are very curious. Chickens are great for a backyard because they don't require a large area. They will need a chicken coop with nesting boxes and a roost. The coop size will depend on the size of the breed you have.
- Bedding: Chicks will need plain wood shavings. We use a deep litter method that works well in our setup. You can see how we set up our brooder in the YouTube video below. As adults, chickens will need shavings or hay in their nesting boxes and inside the coop.
- What do I do with the soiled bedding? If you have a garden, chicken poop is an excellent fertilizer after composting it. The droppings ARE "hot," so they will burn your veggies, don't put it directly on them. You will want to compost their bedding for about six months.
I hope this helped you make a decision on which animal is right for you, as well as helping you have a great experience!