By CATHERINE BYRNE
Capital News Service
LANSING — A baby chick or duckling may seem like an adorable Easter present for children, but without proper care, both the child’s and the pet’s health could go to the birds.
The Michigan departments of Agriculture and Community Health urge new poultry owners to be smart when caring for their new friends.
“Handling chicks and ducklings poses a potential health risk of salmonella, particularly for children because they are less likely to wash their hands after touching the birds and have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact than adults,” said David Johnson, MDCH chief medical executive.
MDA also highly encourages hand washing as a precautionary method. The department distributed hand-washing videos to pet stores and county fairs.
“It’s something so easy, but washing your hands with hot, soapy water can prevent so many diseases,” said Sara Linsmeier-Wurfel, MDA public information and media relations officer.
In the past, there have been children in Michigan who got sick with salmonella from chicks or ducklings, Linsmeier-Wurfel said. While salmonella is a common cause of food-borne illness, it can also be spread to people by direct contact with animals that carry the bacteria.
“We try to recommend that families with children under 5 don’t get this type of pet for an Easter present,” she said.
Buchanan Feed Mill sells a few extra chicks and ducklings around the Easter holiday, according to General Manager Earl Zelmer.
Zelmer claims chicks and ducklings are not difficult to care for.
“They’re pretty small and stay out of the way,” Zelmer said.
Zelmer said if a customer does not know how to care for a new pet, the mill has information packets on proper care and feeding.
Richard Balander, associate professor of animal science at Michigan State University, said his advice is: “Don’t even think about getting a live baby chick or duckling for Easter.”
According to Balander, chickens are raised to be meat or lay eggs. Of all chickens hatched for the purpose of laying eggs, half are males.
“The males are essentially worthless and disposed of,” he said. “Someone decided they’d be cute Easter-time pets, so families buy these worthless leghorn males who aren’t good for anything.
“They get sick of them pretty quick, and realize they’re not cute anymore.”
Leghorn roosters, Balander said, can get aggressive when they become sexually mature. Also, they begin to crow when they mature.
“You’ll wake up to about 20 minutes of ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ every morning,” he said. “If you live in a city, your neighbors will complain.”
Balander said chicks and ducklings need correct feed and living arrangements.
“People think, ‘Oh, I can just feed them corn,'” he said. “But they need a complete poultry diet. Also, children want to keep them in their rooms, but they’re not house-trainable.”
Zelmer said the mill encourages customers to keep their new pet outside.
“They won’t peck at the door to go outside like a dog would,” he said.
State Veterinarian Joan Arnoldi agrees that precautions are needed.
“While raising baby chicks and ducklings can be a great experience, it is important that new poultry owners take steps to protect themselves and remember young poultry require warm temperatures, proper housing and excellent nutrition,” Arnoldi said.
MDA identified stores that sell chicks and ducklings and sent them a letter along with educational bookmarks to distribute to children.
“We do what we can at the state and regulatory level, but there’s only so much we can control,” Linsmeier-Wurfel said. “The letter encouraged store owners to talk to consumers thinking about purchasing chicks and ducklings about proper care.”
MDA and MDCH released the following safe handling tips for new poultry owners:
– Children under 5 and people with weakened immune systems should not handle poultry.
– Avoid contact with poultry manure. Adults should clean cages frequently.
– Do not nuzzle or kiss chicks or ducklings.
– Keep live poultry outside and especially out of areas where food is prepared.
– Supervise children when handling poultry, and ensure they wash their hands after contact with the birds or anything in the birds’ environment.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By CATHERINE BYRNE