Baby chicks are cute . . . but. . .

Who can resist the sight of a baby chick?

Little yellow clumps of fuzz on puny little legs with cute little eyes and beaks. They make that sweet little chirping noise, are so helpless and needy . . .

But, sorry, baby chicks have been a source of great stress in my life. They hold the potential of creating major trauma in a young person’s formative years.

I was one of those kids who actually hated when school dismissed for the summer. I wanted to stay in class, where there were no chickens. Every summer, I knew what was coming.

When the little fuzz balls arrived . . . sure, it was fun for awhile. We’d crawl in the chicken coop and sit around the little fence of corrugated cardboard. There, below the dangling heat lamps, were dozens and dozens of those sweet creatures.

“Can we hold one?” we’d beg our mother, who would allow it — always issuing a warning to not hold them too tightly.

There was something about holding a chick that made us want to squeeze it, though. It was just so little, sitting in your hand, you just wanted to apply pressure . . . when its little eyeballs got bigger, Mom would take it away and the scolding would begin.

And there was the horrible day when my younger sister, Kelly, accidentally stepped on one of the little ones. Not pretty. She says she still dreams about it during chick season.

So the babies would arrive and the protocol would begin. Every day, we’d have to head out to the coop to change the water, clean up the poop, put out more feed. Sometimes we’d stick our faces up against the chicken wire — only to get pecked by the “teenagers” (which were no longer fuzzy but white and feathery). We’d cry — and the drama would begin.

One year, there was a full-page ad in the “Capper’s Weekly,” which said we could raise exotic chickens. Chickens with plumes on their heads, big-chested red roosters, ones that would lay blue eggs. We embarked on the adventure.

They were even cuter because of the little “hats” on top of their heads.

Unfortunately, they grew up. They matured into terrible monsters who hated us passionately.

And it was my job every morning to pull up the wooden gate and fasten it with a hook so they could roam about the fenced-in yard. Easier said than done.

It had to be accomplished by 9 a.m. — it got too hot in the chicken house after that deadline.

So, with complete dread, I’d put on my shoes and head east to the coop. My heart would beat in my ears and moisture would well up in my eyes.

“You can do it, you can do it,” I’d tell myself, working up the courage to fulfill my calling.

I’d enter the front gate . . . I could hear the rustling of feathers and scratching of giant talons inside the building. They knew I was outside . . . they sensed it was time to attack. I didn’t have the element of surprise. And the worst part was that I had to lock the main gate to the yard, so as to not let them out — which also prevented me from making a hasty exit when they chased me.

But first, I had to lift the old wooden sliding door about three feet up and very quickly secure that rusty hook. If it wasn’t secured well enough, it could fall on one of our feathered enemies with the probability of decapitation. It wasn’t easy to do quickly while giant, mean roosters ran at you.

So I’d take a deep breath, about ready to wet my pants — and I’d start to lift. I would have it only up about six inches, but I could already see the massive, muscular chests of those birds running at me, talons extended, ready to battle.

Back down the door would slam — and I’d try to catch my breath. I wondered what to do.

I knew it was past 9 a.m. — and so did my dad. I could see him, watching from the milk barn on the other hill. On clear days, he’d yell, “Melanie, just get it done. Quit being such a chicken.”

A chicken. I wished I was a chicken, a horrifying chicken that could fight back.

Dad told me the chickens could smell my fear. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t afraid, so I didn’t smell like anything.

I’d take a couple of deep breaths and with one swift movement, I’d try to get that door all the way up. “The hook is caught,” I realized. Oh dear God! I could hear them rushing toward me, agitated and blood thirsty.

Back down the door would come, as I started to cry.

It often took me 30 minutes and about 15 tries before that crooked hook would hit its mark. As they ran behind me, squawking and trying to jump on my back — I ran, screaming, for the gate. Of course, it was locked — so there was no choice but to crawl over that awful wire fence, one foot in a tiny square at a time.

The roosters eventually attacked my mother one evening, as she tried to shoo them inside. Needless to say, “Capper’s Weekly” neglected to inform us that while these chickens produced blue eggs and were absolutely beautiful — they were also meaner than all get out. They soon found a new home with a man who said he could appreciate them. I hoped he had a big stick.

Despite the “exotic experiment,” we continued to raise flocks. And every spring, we would say, “Oh, look at how cute they are,” completely forgetting the pain of the past.

Heck, I even raised five of my own who are now seasoned hens. They like me, I like them, but I also made sure no mean roosters were included. Me and girls get along just fine.

And today, I can just walk by baby chick displays in farm stores and sigh at their fluffiness. Yes, baby chicks are cute, but . . .


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