Easter pets provide opportunity for urban farming

Published: Wednesday, April 4 2012 7:15 p.m. MDT

Jaden Larkin and his sister Kaitlyn admire a baby chick. shoppers look at the baby chicks and the rabbits Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at the Intermountain Farmers Association store in Draper.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Sharon Brouse this week came to a farm supply store in Draper and picked out seven newborn chickens for her grandchildren in anticipation of Easter.

Later she brought the children to a Home Depot to help measure wood for the chicken coop she plans for her Sandy home.

“I’m doing it to teach them responsibility,” Brouse said. “And for the eggs.”

The pet chicken and rabbit business picks up every Easter, though many of the pets bought will be abandoned or neglected after the excitement of Easter morning wears off. It's a big enough problem that the Humane Society suggests people not purchase live animals for gifts during Easter.

But Brouse said it offers a chance to teach youngsters responsibility, and can capitalize on the movement to become self-sufficient by creating backyard farms, even in urban settings.

Backyard and urban farms have seen a rise in national popularity. And some Utahns concerned with disaster preparedness have begun adding a live component to their food storage. 

“If [the children] make a commitment, they must follow through, but they get the fruits,” said Delite Primus, executive director at Youth Garden Project in Moab.

The Youth Garden Project provides an acre and a half of garden space for children— mostly kindergarten through sixth grade.

“We give children a chance to explore, connect to the community, and teach them hard work and dedication,” said Primus.

Children love to check for eggs laid by the seven chickens on the property, or to chase escaped chickens back into their pen, Primus said.

Sharon Leopardi runs BUG (Backyard Urban Garden) Farms, a collection of urban farms scattered through backyards in Salt Lake City with chickens as well as vegetables.

“A lot of people consider them pets. People like the companionship. And taking responsibility for your food feels good,” Leopardi said.

The eggs are different than those bought at a store, depending on what the chickens are fed, Leopardi said. If the hens feed off greens and bugs, the nutritious yolk turns a deep orange.

“You at least know where your eggs are coming from,” Leopardi said.

Before deciding on a backyard coop, it is important to research local city ordinances. Most cities allow at most six hens, said John Danfie, whose business All Cooped Up builds chicken coops around Salt Lake City.

West Valley and Ogden don’t allow domestic chickens, while Salt Lake City allows up to 15.

But for those simply seeking to buy cute chicks to provide an Easter surprise, think twice:

“The biggest problem is that people don’t know what they are getting themselves into,” said Carl Arky, director of communications for the Humane Society of Utah. Immediately after the holiday he sees the biggest surge of the year in returned rabbits and chickens.

“They don’t really think through the long-term process. These animals have special needs,” Arky said.

“If you want a bunny, get a chocolate bunny,” Arky recommended.

He suggests people at least do the research before they buy their Easter pets.

It takes around 20 weeks before a chick starts to produce eggs and chickens need different things at different stages, Leopardi noted. The important things are to protect the chickens from wind, rain, and predators, she said.

“It needs to become a daily routine. Once you learn how to take care of them, it can bring a lot to your life,” Leopardi said.

E-mail: jhigginbottom@desnews.com

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