Why do birds suddenly appear every time Easter’s near? There definitely is a pattern here – one that, even though more and more people are learning about the problems associated with purchasing chicks, ducklings and bunnies as holiday gifts, continues year after year. Around this time, just days after the holiday, we always get swamped with calls and e-mails to take in these unwanted babies, who are quickly maturing and no longer as "cute" in the eyes of those who bought them as the novelty wears off and the reality of having a growing farm animal to care for sets in.
Two years ago, we took in 49 dyed chicks from a pet store in New York City. Since it is illegal to keep roosters within the city’s limits, and because the store was violating a city law banning the sale of dyed chicks, these lucky bundles of colored fluff were confiscated by the ASPCA and came to live at our New York Shelter at just days old.
Among the 49 birds there turned out to be 48 roosters and only one hen. All of them are layer breeds who were probably sexed quickly at the hatchery where they were born before being shipped to the Brooklyn store. The hatchery’s hens were likely reserved for egg production, whereas the males (who are useless to the egg industry and often discarded) would be more ideal for sending to pet stores to sell as holiday gifts. The hen in our rescued group was probably missed or sexed incorrectly by a hurried factory worker – not an uncommon mistake at hatcheries.
This tactic of getting rid of unwanted males by shipping them off to pet stores for unsuspecting customers to buy, of course, adds to the problem of what happens to these animals after they are sold. Each year as it is, hundreds of unwanted chickens are turned over to shelters, dumped in the wild to fend for themselves, or taken to farms where their lives are cut short. But sadly, because many of these Easter chicks are also male, even those who would have had homes if they were hens end up homeless. Families who think they are getting cute colored chicks who will grow into hens they do plan on keeping, often do not want or are not allowed to have roosters.
This year, with more than 100 roosters already in our care, we are attempting to place abandoned chicks in loving homes, after alerting adopters to the fact that they are most likely males. The once multi-colored chicks will remain with us, teaching more and more people every year that purchasing chicks and other baby farm animals just compounds the suffering many of these animals endure. Fortunately, we do have the power to create change, and in addition to sharing rescue stories like these with others and opening their eyes to the truth behind the novelty, we can all do our part to "peep up" for the animals around the holidays too, hopefully one day breaking the pattern of exploitation once and for all.