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Lehigh County News

Local farm begins its egg-citing annual Foster a Chick program

Olivia Marble
Foster a Chick participant Hudson Shoemaker holds a baby chick. In two weeks, the chick goes back to its farm.

WEISENBERG TWP., Pa. — About 10 years ago, supporters of Willow Haven Farm in Weisenberg Township hatched a new idea.

“They said, ‘When do you get your chicks in the spring? Have you ever considered letting people take them home for a little while?’” Tessa DeMaster of Willow Haven Farm said.

“And we said, ‘Well, there's no reason why we can't do that.’”

The farm then created its Foster a Chick program, in which community members can take home the farm’s day-old baby chicks, take care of them for a few weeks, then return them to the farm.

Since then, about 100 families foster chicks every spring. The program began again last week, with some families driving for hours to pick up their fluffy new friends.

Foster families take home at least two baby chicks and keep them for about two weeks. In that time, the chicks will grow about four times in size and go from being down-covered to mostly feathered.

Families can then return them to the farm to become broilers and laying hens.

DeMaster said participants can keep them for as long as they’d like, but they get more difficult to take care of after two weeks.

In past years, the farm also fostered ducklings, but the farm is not raising them this year.

DeMaster said fostering chicks is a valuable experience for children and adults.

“It's a life lesson that things depend on our care,” DeMasters said.

“And we're responsible for the land, we’re responsible for raising animals, we're responsible for our water quality, and what we do matters.”

DeMaster said the farm will get another shipment of baby chicks soon, so people can sign up to foster them for another few weeks.

Fostering two chicks costs $39. The chicks come with a box and two weeks’ worth of organic feed.

Families need to provide water and some kind of heating lamp, since the chicks need to be kept at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chicks go to school

South Mountain Middle School eighth-grade science teacher Jill Arington came to the farm Thursday to pick up the chicks with her colleague, special education teacher Stacie Boose.

For about a month, the chicks will live in a large pen at the front of Arington’s classroom.

“We definitely become the most popular room in the school when we have them,” Arington said.

Willow Haven Farm Foster a Chick
Olivia Marble
South Mountain Middle School teacher Jill Arington holds baby chicks.

Both teachers said the chicks help their students connect with real animals up close.

“We have fish and turtles in the room year 'round, but something that peeps and that they can hold and cuddle is really something special for them that they look forward to every year,” Arington said.

“It's important for the children to see that education and learning isn't just in books and computers, that there are real people out there and real animals out there,” Boose said.

“It's all part of that bigger conversation of hopefully making them not just able to answer questions correctly on a test, but making them good citizens."
South Mountain Middle School eighth grade science teacher Jill Arington

Boose said she often tells the students that the chickens are being raised to lay eggs, but Arington said she tells the truth — the yellow chicks are being raised for meat production.

“Without giving them any answers, that kind of helps them get to the question of, ‘Well, where does my food come from?’” Arington said.

“‘Do I care if it's been genetically modified? Does it matter if it was raised in an overcrowded barn, where they didn't get to live a happy little life before they became food or gave me eggs?

“It's all part of that bigger conversation of hopefully making them not just able to answer questions correctly on a test, but making them good citizens who think about where their food comes from and make healthy decisions that are right for them and their families someday.”

Arington said that when the month is up, the kids are sad to see them go — and so is she.

"Last year, I was a little misty eyed saying goodbye," Arington said.

But both teachers agree that once the chicks have grown up, it's time for them to leave the nest.

"They get feisty," Boose said.

"They get a little feisty," Arington agreed. "After three weeks or so, you know it's time, and by four weeks is like yeah, okay, they need to be back on the farm."