Jessica Gray, 15, of Monette has fallen in love with her new flock of chickens.
"I have taken part in many projects while a member of the Monette Buffalo Island 4-H Club and thought raising chickens would be a very interesting thing to do," Gray said. "I love taking care of pets, and it seemed that raising chickens would just be another fun project. "
Craighead County Extension Agent Eric Grant enlists 4-H'ers each year to take part in the poultry chain. The 4-H'ers are taught how to vaccinate and care for the chickens, as well as meeting food and housing needs.
"My grandfather (Bill Fleetwood) and my Aunt Vickie helped me build a nice pen for them outside and a warm heated place for them inside the shed. They seemed so happy to be in their new house and I couldn't stay away from them. I went back and forth from early to late checking on them. I would play music for them, and even sat and read books to them before school was out. At first I had to keep them under a heat lamp. When I took them outside, I had quite a time trying to round them up each night to take them back inside. I have heard people tell me it was hard to herd chickens, and that proved true.
"I have developed a great friendship with one little chicken, which I call Anna, who came walking right up to me from the very first day" Gray said. "My grandmother Deloris (Fleetwood) and I take Anna for rides out in the country. I even let her come in to my room for a visit while I work on the computer. A friend told me that this gave new meaning to hunt and peck, as Anna will sit in my lap and watch me type on the computer keyboard."
"I have noted how they have changed since they arrived, both in colors and in personalities. They had a brown stripe down their backs at first, then each new feather added a new variety of cinnamon color. Some chickens grew off earlier, and one was small."
There won't be any early morning crowing from Gray's chicken pen, as all 25 animals are females, with not a single rooster in the hen house.
Gray has a wide variety of other pets. She has two crabs, two birds, a fish and a dog.
"I'm not sure that Anna knows she is a chicken, as she acts like a member of the family," Gray said. "She likes to go for rides on the back of my dog Lucky. I am going to find it very hard if not impossible to part with her. I have an obligation to enter my three best chickens in the NEA Fair this fall, but I don't think Anna will be one of them."
Gray has taken on many 4-H projects during her eight years in 4-H. She has won modeling contests, bait casting, seed identification and several record book project awards. She was in the top five contestants in the Northeast Arkansas pageant this year. She will be in the tenth grade this fall at Buffalo Island Central High School in Monette.