It started with a goose, or rather, geese. First a pair appeared on Carolina Herrera creative decorator Wes Gordon’s Instagram, and then two showed up on designer Christopher Spitzmiller’s. These weren’t just any birds, they were Sebastopols: white geese with ruffled feathers that resemble a frilly tutu.
Unsurprisingly, both sets of birds were gifts from Martha Stewart, patron saint of sheltering-in-place and aspirational agriculture. “She doesn’t just give everyone geese,” says Spitzmiller. “Only friends who already have birds and a coop and who would be interested.” (He and Bunny Williams, Spitzmiller noted, were particularly envious when they saw photos of Gordon’s immaculate coop.)
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"Interested" is an understatement. Along with a rise in canine adoptions—pandemic puppies—there has been increased enthusiasm for ornamental fowl among those with ample backyards and newly free hours at home. And geese are hardly the only birds in town. Chicken sales have soared over the past few months: Connecticut-based supplier My Pet Chicken, for example, reported that business has increased 260 percent since the pandemic began.
As with geese, there are certain breeds of chicken that are
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trending in popularity. Los Angeles interior designer Eliza Gram posts photographs of her flock of heritage hens roaming about her home and backyard, including a new Silkie resting on a shelf. “Silkies are popular with people who live in a city because they are a very small breed, and not very loud,” says Nicole Smith, of the Instagram account High Society Chickens. “And everyone loves Polish chickens, which also have fancy feathers. Seramas and Cochins can make good pets, too.”
Despite the fact they are described as "fancy" and "heritage," these chicken breeds are not a major investment. “Martha and I will go to a poultry show and a really good chicken is only $20. If it is a super rare chicken, maybe $100, so it is easy to get carried away,” Spitzmiller says.
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Chicken enthusiasts point out that birds have a way of multiplying. A small flock is inevitable, especially if you hatch the chicks from the eggs (another layer of bird ownership). It can also be difficult to tell a chick’s gender, so people accidentally end up with roosters, which are forbidden as pets in many urban counties. As a result, owners are constantly re-homing birds, networking and meeting other chicken owners.
“It is chicken math,” says Kate Richards of Drinking with Chickens. “Two plus two equals twelve.” Her Instagram account, which has nearly 75,000 followers, began when she was one of the few in her Los Angeles neighborhood to keep chicken as pet and she would joke that she couldn’t go out with her friends because she was having a drink with her chickens. “They are so entertaining that I would find myself coming out to watch them in the backyard during cocktail hour. Apparently, I am not the only one” Her cocktail concoctions have resonated with chicken “enthusiasts” and “curious” alike, and many of her followers decided to make the leap . “Chickens, geese, ducks, everyone decided to go for it.”
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For those who have outdoor space and whose zoning allows for keeping poultry, it is relatively straightforward to get started. Assuming Martha Stewart isn't sending chicks your way, Spitzmiller recommends ordering from a reputable buyer (he likes Murray McMurray). As with any pet, proper education and an understanding of the commitment is vital: the average life expectancy of a chicken ranges from 5 to 15 years and they need secure and permanent coops. But, regardless of their social media status, your fancy fowl are sure to be entertaining companions—with eggs as an added bonus!
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