- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - Lots of shops like to crow about how they’ve got cool stuff going cheap.

But Blain’s Farm & Fleet store in Decatur flies right to the top of the pecking order: It sells baby chicks, and they go cheep pretty much all the time.

The store doesn’t carry chicks every day in its copious animal husbandry section, but gets in several dozen twice a year and it just received another batch. Store manager Jeff Kinsella said the chicks are actually posted to the business in a mailing that gives a whole new meaning to “air mail.”

Once unpacked, Kinsella said, we have a cheeping scrum of chicken types with names like “Rhode Island Red,” ”Cornish Cross” and even “Easter Egger.” Prices range from $1.99 to $2.99 each.

The Farm & Fleet’s helpful online sales catalog, which lists all kinds of chickens, ducks and even turkeys that can be special ordered, describes Easter Eggers as the “Easter Egg Chicken.” It turns out they lay naturally colored eggs ranging from pale blue to dark blue and various shades of green to resurrect your Easter entertainment experience.

And despite horror stories about bird flu you may have heard about in other states, the Farm & Fleet chicks are vibrantly healthy, cute little feather fluff balls that are cheeping up a storm. Kinsella said their customers range from serious poultry farmers to 4-H families looking for a project and “hobby farmers” with a taste for fresh eggs or meat.

Which is the thing about chickens, really. Knowledgeable Farm & Fleet staff say they do make good pets but, unlike Fido, those with the stomach for it can actually turn them into lunch if the pet thing doesn’t pan out.

Farm & Fleet sales associate Angela Garner said the store chicks are in more immediate danger from wide-eyed kid shoppers who want to pick up and overhug them, a case of fowl play that can have fatal consequences for the chicks. But Garner is watching assistant manager Anne McSherry cooing to one of the Easter Eggers as she gives it a gentle petting and said McSherry watches over them like a mother hen.

“She’s really good with them, and they love her right back,” Garner said. “She’s very nurturing, and I’ve told her, ‘You’ll make a good mom one day.’ “

McSherry does actually have a brood of her own, with a mini-peep of Easter Eggers (peep, believe it or not, is a collective noun for chickens) waiting for her when she leaves work. She does treat hers as pets and raises them for their eggs, which she describes as a flight toward heaven for taste buds scrambled by long exposure to commercially raised eggs.

“Our eggs are so fresh and they have so much more flavor,” McSherry said. “You just have to make sure that each chicken has about four square feet of happiness to lay their egg. They all want their own spot and they don’t want to share where they lay their egg with another chicken.”

And be careful: chickens are capable of crossing the road to form serious emotional attachments that can affect their egg-laying performance. McSherry explains how her brother once helped out with feeding her chickens for a while and the brood then decided birds of a feather should stick together.

“They would not lay when he was out of town,” recalls his sister. “It was like they were depressed or something.”

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SOURCE: (Decatur) Herald and Review, https://bit.ly/1JzJzlh

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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