- Historic Sites
Chickens To Moscow
June/July 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 4
“Well,” I said, “send them to the Timiryazev Agricultural Institute, Moscow, Russia.”
Howard looked dazed. “Russia!” he exclaimed. “But you don’t send things to Russia. We don’t recognize her.”
“Well, they have to go to Russia,” and I showed him the cablegram. Howard pulled himself together and began to look around to see how it could be done. Finally, he said, “You can take them as excess baggage.”
Now, I had lived six years in Europe and had seen peasants traveling third or fourth class with much of the barnyard with them. But I had no desire to join them with two hen coops, nor could I see myself paying for a whole compartment from Naples to Berlin. From Berlin I intended to fly to Moscow. I pictured myself landing in Red Square, putting a cock under either arm and, followed by the hens, walking up the steps of the Kremlin and saying, “Stalin, we are here.” Howard shattered that dream when he said, “You can’t fly with hens. They would all arrive dead.” That was bad enough, but he went on to add that if I had to take them, there were two things I must do. First, find out if the ship I was sailing on would take livestock. Second, find out from the consulates of all the countries I was going through whether they had any quarantine regulations.
This was the last straw. At 5 P.M. the following day I sent a cable to the Institute in Moscow saying: “Seems difficult to bring. Can I ship chickens at your expense?”
Later that evening Moscow replied by cable: “Drink at least couple.” After deciding that this meant “Bring at least a couple,” I thought, “Well, if I have to take two, I might as well take the ten they want. After all, a hen coop is a hen coop.”
The time of my departure was drawing near, and it certainly looked as if I would be traveling with hen coops. Then, just as I had given up hope, we got a break. Howard found that there was something called the Amtorg Trading Company, which shipped things to Russia. By this time it was only two days before I was to leave, and there was no time to write to find out anything. So, I left Madison, Wisconsin, and went to New York City, prepared (if Amtorg failed me) to take any ship that would take chickens to any European port. I was to wire Howard, and he was to send them to New York at once via any route I could manage.
Fortunately for me, Howard knew all about shipping chickens, among other things, and he had the ancestry of each one carefully tabulated, with the number of eggs each hen had laid since she began. The figures really were impressive: the hens averaged 275 eggs a year each. A veterinarian examined them and gave them a clean bill of health. Howard also said he would put in enough food for the trip. All that had to be done was to water them, and any carrier that would take them would do that.
I had no trouble locating Amtorg in New York, but when I asked if they would ship chickens to Russia, they said, “What chickens?”
“The leghorns I wish to send.”
“Who wants them?”
“How do you know?” I brought out the cablegram.
“How do you know they will be accepted?”
By this time I was losing my temper. “Listen,” I said, “I’ve never been nearer to Russia than Germany and I presume you are a Russian, but you are a mighty ignorant one if you don’t know that the country has had two disastrous droughts and that all the crops and livestock of the entire Samara district have been wiped out along with many of the people. How do I know they will be accepted? How do I know a hungry man will eat?”
“It will be expensive.”
“These are expensive chickens.”
“Ten dollars for ten chickens?”
“Not at all. Ten dollars each , or one hundred dollars for the ten.” He began to look impressed.
“Well, we have a ship sailing to Leningrad the middle of June, but you would have to meet the chickens there and arrange to get them to Moscow. Who is paying for them?”
“Well, you will have to sign a statement relieving us of any responsibility.”
“Very well, I don’t seem to be as afraid of your government as you are.” No answer to that.
“It will cost you five dollars apiece to ship the chickens, ten dollars for a hen coop, ten dollars for the man who waters them, ten dollars for the space the coop takes up on the boat, and you must pay in advance.” I paid.
“You must have a certificate of health and good condition for them also.”
I took out the statement from our veterinarian. “I suppose you will take the word of the leading veterinarian of the University of Wisconsin?” He would. “And here,” I said, “are their pedigrees. You seem averse to pedigreed people, but I am pretty sure your rulers won’t be to pedigreed hens. So now everything’s settled.”
“Not quite,” he said.
“Whatever else is there to do?”
“Now you must have their lives insured.”
I gasped. “Who ever heard of insuring chickens’ lives?”