Part-time Pennsylvania farmer and full-time Philadelphia Inquirer editor Sheasley combines firsthand experience and wide-ranging research in his treasury of chicken lore.
Every morning, the author carefully carries a basket of his chickens’ eggs with him to sell to his co-workers at the newspaper, a fact that neatly encapsulates his double life as word man and egg man. The word man has neatly organized this potpourri into four parts based on the seasons of the year, prefacing each with an imaginary conversation with Ulisse Aldrovandi, a charming 16th-century Italian scholar and naturalist whose writings on chickens combine fact and fable. Each of the four parts is further divided into essays on a variety of chicken-related topics. Thus, under “Spring” Sheasley writes of building his own chicken coop, of myths and rituals involving chickens, of the domestication of chickens and their spread around the world and of differences in the ways the poultry industry and the backyard farmer raise chickens. He proudly describes the breeds he’s nurturing: Golden-Spangled Hamburgs, Wyandottes, Egyptian Fayoumis and Blue Cochins. The decimation of that flock, probably by a skunk, is sudden and shocking. Pecking order in a brood, the sex life of roosters, how an egg develops, the perils of avian flu, the meaning of “free-range” and “organic”—anything related to chickens engages Sheasley. Mike, who made it into The Guinness Book of World Records by living for 18 months after his head was cut off, and Lily, a chicken that played tic-tac-toe with humans and usually won, are among the notable chickens receiving special mention. Sheasley closely observes the behavior and tribulations of his own brood—Tim turned broody; Rosie and Blue struggled with their places in the pecking order—and boasts about the wondrous lavender, green and even black shells of the golden-yolked, hormone-free eggs they lay.
A diverting excursion through the coop and beyond.