I heard faint “peep, peep, peep” as I walked through the Roanoke Extension Service offices the other afternoon.
“Peepers,” said Barbara Leach, the horticulture technician. I nodded, thinking there was a recording of spring peeper frogs as background music.
Then I saw Lina Prillaman – the granddaughter of our Jeanne and Ray Robinson, our late publisher emeritus – lift the lid on a copy paper box and cradle a yellow ball of fluff in her hands.
The box came alive with peeping. Baby chicks, of course. Not spring peeper frogs.
I couldn’t resist. I cuddled one, too.
In the spring, I long for baby animals: chicks, ducklings, rabbits, dairy goat kids, puppies, kittens, baby people. We’ve had them all over the years, and I miss them.
Those two-day-old chicks are so trusting, so unaware of anything that could harm them, and so pettable. Eventually they will grow up to be somebody’s 4-H fine, white Leghorn hens – or maybe roosters. I didn’t ask
“It’s our 4-H Embryology Project,” explained 4-H Agent Leslie Prillaman. “It’s a huge project. Last time we delivered 38 dozen to schools. This time we’re sending out 48 dozen. That’s a lot of chickens.”
She went on to say that the fertilized chicken eggs are delivered to the schools with incubators. Once the teachers set the eggs for 21 days, the kids turn the eggs three times a day. There’s lots of different activities that go with the project, related to Standards of Learning.”
After the teachers keep the hatched chicks for about a week, the babies go back to the Extension Office and they go on to farms. “Lina, who is 9, loves this time of year because sometimes we get to take them home and baby sit them for a weekend.”
Prillaman added that she does the project three times a year, in Salem City, Roanoke County and Roanoke City Schools.
Baby chicks are only really cute for a few weeks, until they start growing their wing feathers. By then they are eating and pooping machines, making a mess scratching their feed into their water and out of their cages. Still, I remember fondly those days of having dyed chicks for Easter when I was little, and in the dining room three years ago, our youngest Araucana (or Americana, for you purists) hens that lay green and blue-shelled eggs.
Those four girls have never accepted us as friends because they arrived with the beginning of feathers, instead of only fluff. They flap and squawk when I go in the coop, while our old girls we hand-raised let me pick them up or at least, pat them.
So if you’ve got baby animals at your house, don’t be surprised if you find me petting or picking up your babies.
Then I’ll give them back.