Pressing his nose to the incubator, Tate Hines stared in awe as a chick struggled to get out of its egg, its beak and some of its feathers poking out of a small hole in its shell.
“He’s punching his way out of the there,” Tate said. “I can see his beak.”
Tate, a 5-year-old from Fishers, was fascinated with the hatching chicks, and when his mom asked him if he wanted to go pet the bunnies, he shook his head no, eyes never leaving the egg.
He pushed himself up on his tiptoes to get a better view, then squatted down to check if he could see anything from below, through the mesh holding the eggs up.
His mom had to pull him away from the incubator, promising they would come back later.
Tate wasn’t alone in his fascination with the hatching chicks. People of all ages crowded around the incubators to watch, oohing and ahhing, some even cheering the chicks on as they pushed against the eggs.
Teen Jessica Spiars, from Zionsville, was watching the chicks hatch with three of her friends. When one of the legs poked out of the shell, they squealed.
“I think it’s really cool to be able to see that,” Spiars said. “You really get to see them hatching.”
Because she lives in a city and not anywhere near a farm, she’s never been able to see a chick hatch before.
“It’s not common to see something like this,” she said. “Here we get to watch the struggle of getting out and can cheer him on.”
On both sides of the incubators, visitors to the barn can see two cages filled with cheeping, yellow, fuzzy chicks, all born in the past week.
By the chicks, little sisters Ava and Lexi Nicholls jumped up and down, mimicking how the chicks were jumping and cheeping in their cage.
They pressed their faces to the cage, poking their fingers in between the mesh and giggled when the chicks gently pecked at them.
“They’re cute,” Ava said.
When one of the workers behind the incubator brought out a chick for people to touch, the girls laughed and rushed over.
Ava jumped back when the chick jumped off the worker’s hand, but then slowly reached forward again to pet it.
Her favorite part was how soft the chick was.
“They’re soft, and I like the yellow,” Lexi said, echoing her sister. “It felt like how I thought it would.”
Because of bird influenza, poultry wasn’t allowed at any Indiana fairs this summer—county or state—but the chicks were still allowed because they all came from one, clean place. That way, there was no risk of cross-contamination.
“We can’t have the regular poultry because when we bring birds together, there’s a risk of spreading the [influenza],” said Kory Miller, who works in the barn.
Miller often stands behind the incubators and chick cages, watching over them and answering any questions visitors may have.
The chicks are a popular attraction for many visitors, and Miller said people enjoy looking at them because it’s something uncommon.
“It’s something you don’t get to see a lot, and it’s a new experience,” he said.
Only about a quarter of Indiana’s population lives in rural areas now, according to the 2010 census. Circa 1880, up to 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas, according to Indiana Magazine of History.
Even with the poultry ban, Miller said the chicks still draw people to the barn.
“I think we’ve lost a bit, but we’re right next to the midway so we attract a lot of people,” Miller said.
Kara Berg is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a group of 30 students telling Indiana’s stories from a trailer somewhere between the cheese sculpture and the state’s biggest sow. This Ball State University immersive-learning project works for elephant ears.