Eggs hatch and fairgoers marvel at popular state-fair exhibit

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“It's alive?” a boy said as he peered through the glass incubator at an egg in the Poultry and Rabbit Building on Tuesday at the Indiana State Fair.

This incubation center for chicks and ducklings is from Purdue University and the Indiana State Poultry Association. Fairgoers can watch the chicks and ducklings from the moment they hatch from their eggs and witness their transformation into the yellow, fluffy creatures people generally picture when they think of baby birds.

“It's good to know where the chicks come from,” Joe Bishop said. “It's an education for kids, too.”

Megan Matthys, the barn manager of the Poultry and Rabbit Building, said Purdue has been putting on this popular exhibit for at least 18 years, if not longer.

Fairgoers love to see the babies and are drawn to the exhibit because it shows not only the cute young chicks and ducklings but also how they originate as a damp, weak bird, using every bit of strength it has to force its way through its egg shell.

A visitor to the state fair offers their hand to a new duckling in the incubation exhibit of the poultry barn. Jordan Huffer / BSU Journalism at the Fair

“A lot of people here are raised in the city and have never seen livestock being born,” Matthys said. “They've never seen it before.”

The incubators generally have at least 15 people surrounding them at all times. Anxious children point at the wobbling eggs, then gasp in astonishment when they see a shell start to chip from somewhere within.

“There's a chicken inside of that,” said a mother to her son.

“Whoa,” said the surprised boy.

“Oh, it's just so precious!” said one girl pointing at a newly hatched chick.

Fairgoers typically walk the perimeter of the exhibit many times, tolerating the boisterous clucking from fully grown roosters, hoping that if they stick around long enough, they'll get to witness a newborn chick or duck stepping into the world. Most don't know that the hatching process can take anywhere from eight to 24 hours, explained Matthys.

“Oh, look! This one's hatching! Oh wait, no it's not,” said a woman to her daughter.

“It's taking too long,” added a frustrated girl.

The majority of visitors to the exhibit are families with young children. Parents often explain each step of the process to their fascinated kids as they walk around the exhibit and observe the eggs and newly hatched babies.

“When they come out, they'll be baby chicks,” one mother said.

“Come here! I want you to see this one hatching!” said another mother, waving to her children from across the room.

Whether or not the children are absorbing the information their parents offer, most keep their eyes glued to the shaking eggs, and their interest in watching a baby bird be born is apparent.

“It just gets me excited,” said 10-year-old Xavier Wilson. “It's just new life.”

Alex Kincaid is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a Ball State University immersive-learning project placing 25 student journalists at the heart of the Midway to tell the weird and wonderful stories of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.