- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

HEFLIN, Ala. (AP) - Brent Swanson says he just likes watching his new chicks.

The 9-year-old especially likes the black ones - the barred Plymouth Rock chicks - because they’re cute, he said.

“All of my kids will sit around the tub and just watch them,” said his mother, Crystal Swanson.

Brent, a fourth-grader at Cleburne County Elementary School, received 18 chicks from the Cleburne County Extension Office last week as part of the 4-H Chick Chain program.

The program, which is new to Cleburne County, aims to teach students poultry-management skills, business management, record keeping and responsibility. Jennifer Hargrove, 4-H and youth development regional agent at the Cleburne extension office, said the project was piloted in Etowah County a few years ago and is now being offered throughout the state.

Hargrove thought it would be a good fit for Cleburne County because the county fair, which returned last year after a hiatus of several years, offers a place for students to show their chickens, she said.

“There’s been a push for some livestock programs in the county,” Hargrove said.

Being smaller than most other livestock, chickens can be raised on smaller properties as long as there is a shed or small building available, she said. That makes the program accessible to more people, she added.

For a $50 deposit, students got 18 chicks, six each from three breeds of their choosing. The chicks arrived last week and families began picking up the birds.

The most popular breed was the Ameraucana, which lays blue and green “Easter” eggs, Hargrove said. Other breed options included Rhode Island red, barred Plymouth Rock, buff Minorca and black australorps, she said.

“We thought we would have 10, 11, 12 families participate,” said Deborah Mathews, county extension coordinator.

Twenty-one students ages 9-19 from all over the county signed up, officials said. Some were from families experienced with livestock, and others were poultry newcomers.

Crystal Swanson said her family has raised chickens in Heflin for about three years. They got their first birds so the family could have fresh eggs, she said.

“They’re expensive at the farmers markets,” she said.

The Swansons soon started selling eggs to members of their church and people at work to help cover the feed bill, Crystal Swanson said. She noticed that her kids loved taking care of newly hatched birds. So when she heard about the new program, she asked Brent if he’d like to participate, she said.

Brent said yes because he thought “it would be cool raising chickens,” he said. A day after picking up his chicks, he still thought they were cool.

“I’m watering and feeding ‘em and keeping ‘em clean,” he said.

For now, the chicks live in a tub under a heat lamp, Crystal Swanson said. Once they’re ready, they’ll move in with the family’s other birds but be separated so her son can take care of them himself, she said.

To help fund the program, Hargrove said, students are asked to approach local businesses to sponsor the project. Any donations go to the program and are tax deductible, Hargrove said. They also give business owners a chance to help budding entrepreneurs, and give students a chance to learn marketing skills, she said.

Students will each take three chickens to the county fair to show and sell at auction, and will have their $50 deposits refunded. The rest of the chickens are theirs to keep or sell, Hargrove said.

Peyton Merrill, 15, decided to participate in the program to add some new chickens to his flock of 70, he said.

The Ranburne High School student has raised chickens for about two or three years, he said. His family lives on 35 acres, but had never raised livestock before he asked for the chickens, his mother Tephanie Merrill said.

“He is just intrigued by them,” she said.

He learned about them through trial and error and also from his grandparents, who used to raise poultry, the teen said. As his flock grew, he started selling eggs and chickens to relatives, friends and people at church, Merrill said.

He also trades with other poultry hobbyists to increase the diversity in his flock and now has more than 10 different breeds, the boy said.

The most exciting thing about the program, though, is the chance to show his chickens, he said.

“I’m kind of competitive and I wanted to show ‘em,” Merrill said.

Students will show their chickens at the Cleburne County 4-H Chick Chain Show at the Cleburne County Fair on Aug. 16.


Information from: The Anniston Star, https://www.annistonstar.com/

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