It was 9:00 on a frigid Saturday night in mid-January. The sun had long since passed across the horizon and it was pitch dark outside. Cars, trucks, and trailers were jammed in every spot on the grass and in the field. My wife and I were packed inside a big, metal building outside the city limits with a bunch of strangers. We had found a seat high on the cold, metal bleachers that overlooked a small, dirt floor surrounded by fencing.
We heard the chickens squawking before we saw them being carried inside the ring. Behind the ring stood an 8-foot-high tower with a large overweight man behind a worn-out microphone. Every head turned as one to see what was about to happen. Then the man pushed his mouth close to the microphone… Speaking rapidly he started…
“What we have here are two lots of Rhode Island Red chickens, two chickens in each cage, two cages available, you are bidding per cage but buying both lots you see. The cages are not included in the sale. Bid $10 and you’re paying $10 per chicken for four chickens, or $40 total. These are young birds that should be laying in a month or two. We will start the bidding at $10, canIgetatendollarbid, canIgettatendollar, whowillgivemetendollar, Ihavetendollar, whowillgivemefifteendollar, fifteendollarbidintheback, doIheartwentytwentytwenty… on he went in rapid-fire syncopation.
This particular small-animal auction happens every Saturday. It starts at about 4:00 PM and ends generally at around 10, but sometimes runs later than that. It all depends on how much stuff arrives to be auctioned off. Every single thing you can imagine passes through this auction. It starts outside with farm implements, toys, old junk, appliances, tools, and every manner of thing. That lasts for a few hours then the auctioneer comes inside.
Inside the building, the auction starts with produce: tomatoes and potatoes by the bag. Five-pound bags of potatoes going for $1 or $2 each. Bread, eggs (both fertile and just for eating), cookies, you name it, it’s being auctioned off. After the produce and food comes the animals: chicks, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, a peacock for some reason, potbellied pigs, goats, regular pigs, small cows, and maybe a donkey or two just for fun. Whatever shows up gets sold, $100, $20, $5 or $1. Somebody is going to buy it if the price gets low enough. If a sack of potatoes won’t sell for a $1 then here are three sacks, “Who will give me a dollar for three sacks of potatoes?”
The first time we went to the auction we came home with more food than we could eat in a month just because it was so cheap. We also came home with a pig for $5. A mistake, but a fun one! Have you ever tried to bring a pig home in the back of a Prius with no cage? Exciting times! Make no mistake my Prius has transported chickens, ducks, quail, that pig, and—more than once—goats. I just loaded them up in the back! Duck poop stinks the most, in case you’re wondering.
There are Three Types of Rural Auctions
We like going to the “Small-Animal Auction.” They also auction off “stuff” and the occasional larger animal as well, but this is primarily a small-animal and produce auction.
The other common rural auction is the “Large-Animal Auction.” This is where you see the big boys with big trailers and F350 dually pickup trucks hauling mostly cows and horses to be bought and sold. To be honest I’ve never gone to one. I’m not interested in large animals. I don’t have the infrastructure for them.
The last auction is your “in town” auction of stuff: mainly household items, art (or what goes for art in the country), furniture, and the like. These auctions are generally held in an old building near the town square. I don’t go to those much either. I already have a chair to sit in.
These auctions are a great way to buy animals because you are getting bargains in an exotic environment. It might be sweaty or cold, dusty or muddy. It’s often loud and you’re packed together with other people. Behind the bleachers is a make-shift snack window where they pass out Frito Chili Pie or ice cream sandwiches depending on the season, plus cold drinks for $2 a can. Kids run around with only mild interest from the adults. This ain’t no city birthday-party!
Once you get used to the sounds and flow of the thing, it’s really no different from a day at the Little League baseball diamonds. I have both bought and sold all sorts of animals at the small-animal auction. It’s good family fun. The auction house takes 10-15% of the sales price. You can pick up your money after the auction in the office or they will send you a check if you don’t want to wait around at 10:30 at night for a $17.32 check.
Why I Love the Rural Auctions
First, I have animals to sell. It’s generally better to sell your animals online to some rich city-slicker who is willing to pay $35 for a pet rabbit or two to put in their new backyard rabbit hutch, but those customers are few and far between. The next in line is neighbors who might pay you $12-15 for a meat rabbit they are going to eat. When I have a pile of rabbits and no buyers they get put in a cage and brought to the Small-Animal Auction. I may only get $3, $5 or $7 per rabbit, but that frees up cages and keeps me from buying feed for them.
I find that it’s easy to sell female goats directly off the farm, but the males aren’t that popular, so off to the auction they go as well. I generally sell male goats not too long after weaning. If I keep them on the farm they will just get into trouble. I sell them off to someone who will feed them up and then eat them. That’s what they are there for.
Second, as a prepper, I love knowing that there is an entire economy that exists outside of the “normal” system. No matter the emergency or problem animals are being born, crops are being raised, and I know where to go buy them. This is a cash-and-carry economy where anyone can both buy food they need and earn money from what they grow. If there is a true food shortage then the potatoes being sold at the auction will quickly be worth more than $2 a bag. That’s good if you’re a seller like me.
The third reason I like the auctions is that they are fun as all get out. It might be cold or hot or dusty or muddy, but it’s fun. My son and his wife can bring the 4-year-old, buy some snacks, and watch their rabbits go on the sales block. They can buy some food to bring home and maybe a new funky looking chicken because it caught their eye. I always come home exhausted and happy from the small-animal auction.
Anybody Can Go… Even You!
Call around to small towns around your area and ask about their small-animal auctions. Internet searches aren’t really going to find much (in my experience). The people who run these things have been doing it since long before the internet and “People are here every week… what do I need to advertise for?” Who should you call? Whoever: the business bureau, the visitor’s center, town hall, or the local 4-H. I would start with the feed and seed stores.
When you get there, find the office and go register to get a bidding number. You will need one if you want to bid on stuff. You WILL want to bid on stuff, so get a number. Bidding is part of the fun, even if you are only bidding on some eggs to put in the refrigerator when you get home.
If you want to sell animals or produce or just “stuff”, then you will need to call them. They will tell you when they take delivery. If you are selling live chickens you will probably need a live poultry permit, but other animals, like rabbits or goats, generally don’t need any special paperwork. The poultry thing is to control the spread of bird flu by the USDA. In Texas, you also need a permit to sell eggs anywhere but on your farm. It’s part of our poultry permit.
If you think you might buy an animal you should probably bring at least a box to put it in, if not a proper cage. But if you don’t have one, don’t worry, they are auctioning off cages, waterers, feeders and all manner of things. Some animals are auctioned off WITH the cage, too. You may want to at least bring some plastic or a tarp to put over your cargo area in your SUV. I don’t mind pulling my cargo liner out and spraying it down, but I’m a homesteader. You don’t want duck poop in the car you use to show houses to real-estate clients.
The more you go, the more you know, and the more you will fit in. Talk to people! Before long, you’ll know who sells “the good chickens” who is “full of themselves” and who sells sick animals that aren’t well cared for. The more you go, the more you’ll know.
I like to go on nights when the weather is going to be awful. That’s why we were there on the coldest night of the year in January. People had brought their animals during the day when the sun was out, but by nighttime, very few people stuck around to bid. It was bitter cold. That’s how we got a $40 pig (that we didn’t need) for $5, twenty pounds of potatoes for $2, fifteen pounds of tomatoes for $3, etc. They were basically giving stuff away because it all had to go!
The great fun of the rural auctions is that everything HAS to sell. You can be a big city slicker who buys rabbits for $35 each from an internet ad or you can go to a small-animal auction and get the same rabbits for $7 each. It’s your choice.