Today I picked up a big peeping cardboard box from post office, drove it home, and set it inside our brooder — the little structure my husband built for raising baby chicks. We ordered a different kind of meat breed this year, and as I peeked curiously through the holes of the box at the fluffy birds inside, I could see reddish down and shiny dark eyes. I blocked the bottom of the door with a piece of plywood so my baby boy could watch the proceedings from his stroller in the yard, but the chicks couldn’t hop out the door. Then I opened the box, admired the reddish balls of fluff for just a moment, and prepared to lift each bird out and dip its beak in sugar water. (This is supposed to encourage them to drink after their journey from the hatchery.)
Before I’d dipped the beaks of three of these “Freedom Rangers,” as they are called, a fourth had hopped out. This had never happened before when I raised the standard meat breed, the Cornish Cross. I dipped the escapee’s beak and it continued on its merry way. As I lifted more fluffy little wisps of birds out of the box, several pecked at my rings as though they were little hunters pouncing on prey. No bug could a chance against those little guys. The dipping of beaks started seeming more ceremonial than practical because the chicks all clustered around the waterers, drinking until little bubbles rose to the top of the jars. They didn’t need my encouragement at all.
After carefully dipping 102 beaks and assuring myself that the chicks were well settled, I turned around to care for my increasingly fussy baby. Behind the baby, two orange little chicks chased a cat across the grass and the cat retreated. About a dozen others were leisurely pecking new leaves like people at a holiday buffet. Tough as these guys are, we need them to stay warmer until their feathers come in, so I scooped some up and returned them to the brooder. I stalked around, discovering several little foraging parties, which were amazingly laid back about being scooped up and returned to the brooder. They must have hopped over the piece of wood I’d set across the bottom of the door. No Cornish Cross chick would’ve pulled a stunt like that.
Finally finished with the job, I pushed the stroller back to the house, thinking about the liveliness and verve of those little birds. I have a suspicion that these spirited chicks, like my spirited children, might find many unique ways of keeping me hopping this summer.