CANAVERAL GROVES, Fla. – Like fuzzy, feathery, ping-pong balls, dozens of chirping chicks bounced about inside a box, cuddling for warmth, hopping at random and feebly attempting to fly.
"Oh, look at that one poking the other. You little rascal," said Mary Hise.
For the fifth consecutive spring, Hise Farms in Canaveral Groves has unveiled its holiday "Rent-a-Chick" program for city slickers who prefer "an educational kind of Easter, rather than chocolate," Hise said.
For $25, fowl-fostering families receive a pair of fluffy chicks, 2 pounds of ground-up grain feed, a box that doubles as a cardboard coop, feeding bowls and care instructions.
After two weeks, the fast-growing birds return to the farm. Hise said they typically reach 8 inches in height.
"They will stretch up into a teenage-kind of idea, and they grow in their adult feathers. That way, the kids get to see a couple stages of maturity," she said.
Anticipating increased demand, Hise upped her Rent-a-Chick quota from 50 to 100 pairs last week. Her leghorn chicks hatched Monday in Missouri, then were shipped and arrived Wednesday in Canaveral Groves.
Hise housed the chicks in her breakfast nook to monitor their health and ward off chilly drafts.
"It's far enough from my bedroom so I can't hear them. They are cheeping and cheeping constantly," she said.
These chicks exhibit a soft yellow coat of downy feathers, black eyes, salmon-colored beaks and feet, and white wing feathers.
Hise Farms raises hydroponic strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, cabbage and cooking greens that are sold at The Green Marketplace on U.S. 1 in Sharpes.
About 140 chickens roam this 3-acre spread. These are the adult hens that were rented during previous Easters, mixed with a few rescue chickens. Hise said these barnyard fowl lay 70 to 80 eggs daily for sale at The Green Marketplace.
Hise said none of her chicks has died during their rental tenures — though one had a close call. A Rockledge family was playing with a chick in their yard when a neighbor's cat pounced.
The "mortified" mother rescued the chick, which made a full recovery, Hise said.
The Hise Farms Rent-a-Chick program costs $25. Participants receive two chicks, food, bowls, a cardboard box and care instructions for two weeks.