The story is told by a narrator who reflects on his childhood. His parents had ambitions of beginning their own profitable business during these early years. They decided to venture into raising chickens, which the narrator found to be a rather depressing business.
First, many chickens die without even reaching maturity. The narrator notes that while they begin their lives as cute "little fluffy things" which are often depicted on Easter cards, that adorable, bright-eyed chick gives way to a naked and often illness-ridden chicken. Chickens die of terrible diseases like pip and cholera, and only a few "struggle through to maturity." Putting hope in a chicken proves delusional for the young narrator.
Second, those chickens who seem to escape the life-taking diseases which steal the lives of many of their fellow chicks are so "stupid" that they wander directly into the paths of wagon wheels. These "squashed" animals go back to their maker but not before arousing the hope of their caretakers.
The narrator's father also has a collection of chickens born with birth defects which he keeps in jars of alcohol and which the narrator finds "grotesque." Some of these chickens have an extra set of legs. Some have two heads. His father is certain that if he could just get one of these chickens to live, he could make a fortune charging people to see it. Since this has never proved feasible, he keeps their tiny remains and even puts them on a shelf in the diner the family opens. The narrator finds the "monstrous" chickens "grotesque," so this is another negative influence of chicken farming.