March 20, 2020
Poultry Chain Project rethinks ways of picking up chicks
By Tracy Courage
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Arkansas Poultry Chain Project teaches youth how to raise small flocks
- Some 25,000 baby chickens will be distributed April 16 from Lonoke Fairgrounds
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LITTLE ROCK — The current coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellations of thousands of meetings and events, but when you’ve got 25,000 baby chickens to distribute to 66 counties, it’s not so easy.
For months, more than 1,200 Arkansas 4-H and Future Farmers of America members have looked forward to this spring, when they will each receive up to 20 baby chickens as part of the Arkansas Poultry Chain Project, a program that teaches youth about animal husbandry. Employees of the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, are working to keep the delivery on track.
The chicks are set to arrive at the Lonoke County Fairgrounds overnight on April 15, said Scharidi Barber, extension’s poultry instructor for youth programs. She and a few extension agents are already planning for the birds’ arrival and distribution on April 16.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted extension employees to find creative ways to serve communities across the state while adhering to a social distancing protocol. Digital communication is part of the plan.
Barber hosts online “Chicken Chatters” about basic husbandry and care and raising of the chickens, and she does Facebook Live sessions for 4-Hers and FFA members. Updates are posted on the Arkansas 4-H Poultry Facebook page.
Before the semitruck arrives with the birds, Barber and her crew will drape the floors of the Lonoke County Fairground’s Hall of Industry with plastic and mark off areas for each of the 66counties participating this year.
“We will work all night, feeding and sorting the chicks, so they will be ready for pick-up early the next day,” Barber said. “It’s interesting to see. It’s organized chaos!”
Instead of the everyone-at-once approach, counties will be assigned a specific pick-up time between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. this year. Barber has asked participating counties to send just one person to pick up to minimize the number of people on site.
April weather is unpredictable, and the fairgrounds building is not climate-controlled, she added. Getting the chickens to their new homes as quickly as possible is essential for the birds’ health and all those involved.
“People are used to coming in the fairgrounds and looking for their county area,” Barber said. “We’re just asking people to be extremely flexible this year.”
Poultry Chain history
The Arkansas Poultry Chain Project has been offered for more than 20 years and is open to 4-H members and FFA students. The youth get their chickens in the spring and take their best three to four birds to their county fair in the fall. The champion and reserve champion set of birds from the county and district fairs advance to the Arkansas State Fair.
“A lot of the youth participate for competitive purposes, but many others are raising chickens for sustainability and to have eggs available from their backyard,” Barber said. This year’s chickens are Hyline Browns. If cared for properly, many of the chickens will begin laying eggs at 18 weeks of age.
“The main thing is the youth learn the responsibilities of raising animals,” Barber said. That’s an important lesson for youth in Arkansas, where agriculture plays a vital role in the state’s economy.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Director, Communications Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service