Story Tonya McCoy
Images Courtesy of Cody Sosebee
As Cody Sosebee flies over Las Vegas, he thinks about home. Earlier today he woke at dawn, pulled on his overalls and muck boots and headed outside to milk the goats, gather eggs, and check on some baby calves. He’s also been busy, working as the Mob Boss for the Chicken Mafia, a job that fell in his lap not so long ago. But now as his plane descends, it’s time to get ready for the other part of his life. He’s been nominated by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for two awards: Clown of the Year and Comedy Act of the Year.
Cody’s filled with so much energy and excitement, he often starts his sentences midway through and has to double back to explain himself. His life is going so many directions at once, but it all started for him at the rodeo. “I was raised at arenas, my playpen was next to the arena with the other rodeo kids,” he says.
In the years that followed, Cody watched his roper, bareback-riding father and barrel-racing mother, and made his own way in the rodeo circuit. But as time went by, he switched from competing to clowning. He liked the roar of the crowd, the ability to make folks laugh, the energy of the crowds keeping him going.
His life is a full one: rodeo, family, gardening. And then there’s this little thing called the Chicken Mafia. It started two years ago when Cody was trying to grow corn on his place near Charleston, Arkansas. Raccoons chewed up his crop, so he started trapping them. He was going to give them to a friend, but his friend insisted that he take some chickens in trade. A few weeks later someone saw the chickens on Cody’s farm and offered him thirty dollars for just two of them. Cody looked them up on Craigslist and was surprised at their worth.
That was when he hatched an idea with close friend, Devin Robberson. “We said, ‘We’re going to take over this chicken market,’” Cody says. “We’re going to be in a mafia, we’re going to start a mafia.’ People would start buying chickens from us, and they’d ask, ‘You have any Rhode Island Reds?’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, we got Rhode Island Reds.’” Trouble was they didn’t. The two would go out then, track down the Rhode Island Reds and present them to the buyer, as if it was the easiest thing in the world.
Soon, there was a buzz surrounding the Chicken Mafia and their amazing powers to bring birds and buyers together. One farmer would tell another, and that farmer would sing their praises to someone else. They were selling more and more chickens, and they decided it couldn’t hurt to have a Facebook page. In the profile picture Cody’s decked out mob boss style in a suit, dark glasses and is cozied up to a beautiful chick – a real chicken, that is. So far, more than a thousand people have “liked” their Facebook page.
The pair acted as if nothing was out of their reach. If you wanted it, they would get it for you. “We started saying, ‘We’re the mafia, what do you need? What do you want done and we’ll do it.’ We started buying, selling and trading chickens and going to chicken sales everywhere in the tri-state area. It just turned into an overnight, chaotic, fun thing. We’ve had bumper stickers made, and we have T-shirts that say Chicken Mafia.”
Cody took the venture seriously. The first chance he got, he enrolled in classes at UALR to get his private chicken tester license. These classes teach individuals how to test for serious poultry-bred diseases such as salmonella, typhoid and even Avian flu. This means potential buyers can rest assured that they’re buying a healthy bird.
Now, people come from all over the state for the mafia’s main chicken sales at the South Franklin County Fairgrounds in Charleston, each spring and fall. The sales are run auction style. It’s a noisy and colorful lot with red, green, and even polka-dotted birds. There are Ameracauna, or Easter Eggers, known for their brightly colored eggs in colors from turquoise to pink; Warhorse roosters, game birds known for their black lean appearance, and a mixture of bantams. Each sale brings everything from simple poultry birds to prize-winning show stock.
Buyers walk the grassy space near the arena, perusing the flock. The weathered cages make a maze of chirping, squawking birds waiting for their turn on the auctioneer’s block. It’s great fun for Cody, who loves meeting the buyers, selling the birds, getting to know more and more people each time.
He looks back over his life so far. At forty, he’s done a great deal. He started competing in rodeos at age eight and rode all the way through high school. He won three state championships for bareback riding and was offered a college scholarship to Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. He attended only a semester before beginning to ride professionally.
For over ten years he competed on the national circuit. Then one night he was offered a job that would change his direction. “A clown didn’t show up and they wanted me to go out and fill-in. I did and it’s a long story, but it was fun and they paid me for it. I couldn’t believe they paid me for going out and acting like an idiot.
“A young rodeo cowboy is pretty arrogant, a stuntman, a risk-taker. To have to do a goofy job, be a clown, wear make-up and be made fun of was pretty degrading, so I was reluctant for a long time. But finally I thought, I could ride and compete and get my arm hyper-extended, pull my groin, take a chance on dying and get whiplash every night. Or I could dress up like a clown, act goofy, have fun and they pay me every time.”
He’s been making what he calls “funny money” as a clown for about ten years at big rodeos all over the U.S. and Canada, including Vegas and Cheyenne.
When he was in his twenties he couldn’t wait to hop in his friend’s pickup and hit the road, kicking up his heels as much as he could between arenas. Now he schedules flights back to Arkansas just to spend more time at home.
The chickens play a big part in why he’s so happy; being a mob boss suits him just fine. But he’s not stopping there. He hopes to add philanthropist to the list with a grander scheme for his farm in 2014. He plans to work more with the Western Wishes Foundation. The charitable organization grants wishes for kids in difficult circumstances, many of whom have life-threatening illnesses. Western Wishes has taken kids to rodeos where Cody performed.
“In rodeos, I never think of myself as being ‘a somebody,’ but to those kids who watch rodeos or keep up with the rodeos through magazines or the internet, I am. Some have wanted to come see me and it just tears my soul. I mean I would take them and do anything I could for them and then just bawl my eyes out when they’re driving out that night.”
Cody wants to give them a rodeo experience for more than one night, so he has plans for building a rodeo camp. Cody is grateful for his rodeo career, but one day wants to hang up his hat, and come home for good. As for the Chicken Mafia, he thinks the possibilities are endless. All you have to do is find a guy who needs a chick, go out and find it, and bring the two together. At least, that’s what the Mob Boss says.
To check out the next Chicken Mafia sale, visit their Facebook page listed under Chicken Mafia.