Bonding with ‘babies’ in biology

Sara Novenstern / Castleton Spartan

Senior Jen Morelli holds Herbert, one of the first ducks to hatch in a
developmental class biology class on April 11.

If you walked into Jeffords Science Center room 225 within the past couple weeks, you might think twice about your breakfast.

Chirps and tweets are common sounds heard around the science building because chickens, ducks and geese – are hatching.

Science professor Peter Kimmel teaches this “egg class,” more formally known as developmental biology. He has taught the class every other year for the past 20 years and he said he’s always in awe and excited whenever the development process is going well.

“Is that amazing or what?” Kimmel said as he “windowed” the partially developed fetus by peeling back a thin layer of the shell, exposing a heartbeat.

“It’s alive!” said senior Nate McCormick when he saw it for himself. And he wasn’t excited just because the chicken was alive, but because his chicken, Ralph, was alive.  

“Proud father, looks just like you by the way,” Kimmel said to McCormick jokingly.  

The process to examine a baby in the shell is a fragile one. The students must first sterilize the egg, and then carefully saw away a little square with a hack saw, making sure not to puncture the thin layer protecting the baby.

Senior Tom Stockwell was one of the first in his class to attempt this process. Only two students perform the delicate surgery at once because if all classmates worked on their eggs at once there’s a greater chance of dehydration or infection, Kimmel said.

“I’m afraid I’m going to break it,” Stockwell said as he lightly sawed back and forth.

The class is about more than just the technical skills of raising the eggs until they hatch. It’s also about the bond students make with their new fluffy babies. Kimmel said students and local farms gladly adopt the babies.

“People get emotionally attached,” Kimmel explained. “It’s usually not a problem to find homes for them.”

Sara Novenstern / Castleton Spartan

Herbert and Lucille, the first two ducks to hatch in Jeffords, have
captured the hearts of students.

Herbert and Lucille were the first ducks to hatch; both on Monday the April 11, and Cosmo hatched Tuesday morning around 8:30 a.m. Senior Jen Morelli is the proud mother of Herbert and they have already began to develop a bond.

“My baby hatched first, he’s a fighter!” Morelli said and Herbert nibbled on her sweater and then quickly fell asleep in her hands.

By April 18, nine ducks had been born, as well as the first chick. Herbert, Cosmo, Wanda, Olive, George, King, Daphne, Lucille, and Boone were all accounted for. By May 2, all of the chickens, ducks, and geese are expected to be hatched.

“This class has been a really great experience for us. From windowing eggs and seeing heartbeats, to helping the babies hatch has easily been the coolest project Castleton has to offer. We’re all going to be torn at the end of the semester when we split from the babies, but we’re extremely thankful to have been given this opportunity,” McCormick said.

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