NORTH Devon might just be freeing itself from the grip of a particularly wintry couple of weeks, but spring or signs of it are definitely in the air at one Barnstaple preschool. Toddlers at Sticklebricks Preschool, Sticklepath, have been busy raising

NORTH Devon might just be freeing itself from the grip of a particularly wintry couple of weeks, but spring - or signs of it - are definitely in the air at one Barnstaple preschool.Toddlers at Sticklebricks Preschool, Sticklepath, have been busy raising their own chicks, from eggs to extremely cute fluffy fledglings.The six chicks - which ironically decided to hatch on the day most of the county woke up under a blanket of snow - were entrusted with the preschool as part of an educational programme, jointly developed by the Big Sheep, near Bideford, and Devonshire Red chicken farms.The Hatch Factor programme has already been rolled out in a number of the region's schools to give children the chance to watch and learn as the chicks grow and develop in the classroom.After being delivered in an incubator on Monday last week, they began to hatch the following day, said preschool owner Sha Jones."Unfortunately, the children were unable to see the chicks hatch as the heavy snow on Tuesday meant that most of them had stayed at home for the day."But when they came back in on Wednesday, they were very excited to see that while they'd been busy building snowmen, the chicks had pecked through their shells."Youngsters and staff will be able to enjoy the chicks' company for two weeks before they are returned to the Big Sheep where children can visit and follow their progress.