Adventures with Mail-Order Chickens

Certain beverages and ordering poultry do not mix.

| January/February 2008

  • Chicks-in-box

    Illustration by Brian Orr
  • Golden-Polish-chicken

    Illustration by Brian Orr
  • retriever-and-chicken

    Illustration by Brian Orr

  • Chicks-in-box
  • Golden-Polish-chicken
  • retriever-and-chicken
Illustrations by Brian Orr

One summer in the heyday of the back-to-the-land movement, during a period when my life was in limbo, friends who had bought a little homestead farm let me pitch a tent in the woods above their ramshackle house. Allan and Alison were relatively inexperienced at farming, and they both had full-time professional jobs, but their place came with a weedy garden plot, a free-range chicken house, open fields, a farm pond and a big front porch.

Nothing bespeaks bucolic tranquility quite like chickens scratching in the dirt, so the couple celebrated the closing of the deal that spring by going right out and buying a couple dozen bantams from a local farmer.

As spring advanced, Alison became irritated that none of the chickens showed any signs of raising a brood. Fearful their dream of self-sufficiency would wither before winter arrived, she sent away for one of those glossy poultry catalogs, complete with handsome 19th-century illustrations of each breed. The prose descriptions were worthy of a Pullet-zer Prize.

One warm evening, sitting on the porch with a large pitcher of margaritas, Allan and Alison ordered more chickens while under the influence of the intoxicating breeze, the buzz of an insect chorus and a little too much frosty beverage.

Allan sensibly decided on a couple dozen heavy breasted birds, which would easily fill their freezer when mature. He then, thoughtfully, added a couple dozen more good layers. Alison persuasively argued more laying hens would hasten the day they might both retire, so she made her own selections of three breeds she believed Allan underestimated.

Then they came to the section on ornamental fowl. Whether it was the tequila, or simply Alison’s passion for hats, I do not know, but she fell in love with the Golden Polish, with their grand head plumage blossoming out and covering their eyes, sheep-dog style.

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