Hatching chicks: not the Hollywood ending

Looking through the fogged window, I spy a single eye peering back. Surrounded by shell, the hatchling has managed, just, to break out a dime-size portal into the outside world. The eye swivels as the chick gathers strength to peck at its shell. For 21 days, the shell has provided nourishment, protection and room. Now, an overcrowded, solitary chamber limits movement and life.

Eleven baby chicks are already hatched and under the brooder. One moves with more energy and peeps with enthusiasm. Waking from a brief sleep, I come downstairs to find it stretched out oddly, unmoving, beneath the heat lamp—the measure between life and death recorded in a 30-minute Sunday afternoon nap.

The eye still swivels as the chick peeps loudly from its confines, answered by four others in shells slightly cracked. Eleven empty shells in pieces mock their pipping sounds and efforts. Experience has given us knowledge that a chick aided in shedding its shell almost always dies. Nature provides this last hurdle to birth: Batter your way out of your fragile shell and you get a chance at life. Fail and the sounds fade away, and die out.

Forty-eight hours of fighting the confining shell, the peeping is still strong but growing less frequent.

Monday morning, six o’clock, I grab a plastic Kroger bag. Removing the cover to the incubator, I place the cracked eggs inside. Some emit peeps at the change. Swiftly I walk through the morning dew to the pond. How do you kill baby chicks that have not hatched, and won’t?
Not dwelling on the task, I reach in and toss them one at a time into the pond. They bob, fill with water and sink beneath the surface.

Later that day, the peeping of baby starlings breaks my focus at work. Later that night, a bird’s chirping turns out to be a bathroom fan in need of oil. I recite under my breath, “I admit the deed, tear up the planks. Here is the beating of that hideous heart.”

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