I was chosen for a special assignment, in the hatchery. The rooms were silent but for the faint hum of machines, the air hot and humid, so that when we levered out the huge metal trays of newly hatched chicks from the oven-like incubators, the yellow fluff balls chirruped cheerfully. A sea of yellow beings jostled among broken shells.
The facility manager had shown me a hatch to swivel open and finish the job. Below it were dumpsters, several already full to the brim. Masses of broken eggshells were heaped in there, among them quite a number of chirruping chicks, very much alive. This was the trash someone would dispose of later. How, I had not been told. Meanwhile, the new crop of broken shells was to be tossed down there, along with the unwanted male chicks and any females I judged too small or weak to meet the standards of the facility.
I carried my first tray to the opening. Dozens of living chicks slid into the void. The chicks I’d pitched to the bottom of the dumpster would be crushed or asphyxiated as others were thrown on top of them. I went back to the hatchery chamber, eyes searching for a human face who could reassure me. What I’d done just now was “what was done”, wasn’t it? It was OK, wasn’t it? But there was no one present.
A second tray from which I’d extracted the females was on the selection table, ready for disposal. I yanked off my plastic gloves and reached for one of the male chicks and lifted him up in my bare hand. It seemed the right thing to be merciful. Peasants wring chickens’ necks, don’t they? I edged my fingers into a tight hold round his neck, just below the little bright-eyed face peering back at me.
Then I realised I had to get out of there. What kind of place was this? I stood and wept.
~ Victor Schonfeld