beginners guide to the sale barn

Although we’ve been allowed backyard chickens in Vancouver city limits for some time, it’s still tricky for the average would-be backyard farmer to track birds down.

Some people in the city find chickens on Craigslist, others pay five times the fair price at boutique garden shops and the wise ones make the trek out to the rural suburb of Langley to the sale barn.

Newbies are easy to spot: They’re the only ones who don’t look like they just rolled out of bed and hopped in their truck.

They’re also a lot less likely to smell like barn.

These days my hubby and I roll right out of bed and hop in the truck, but it wasn’t that long ago that  we were fresh-faced sale barn beginners. I’m sure my eyes were as big as saucers the first time round.

Here are a few tips to help you out on your first trip to the livestock auction, based on lessons learned the hard way.

Chickens are sold by the lot, but prices are per bird

Always be careful on what you are bidding on. Once that hammer goes down, it’s yours. No amount of “I didn’t know!” will help you. Your stammering will slow down the auction and will earn you the wrath of the auctioneer. You don’t want that. Trust us.

More than once we’ve seen a poor soul find themselves the new owner of dozens of chickens thinking they had only bought one. Sometimes the lot (group for sale) is only one cage, sometimes it’s an entire row.

As the auctioneer calls the bids, you’re bidding what you want to pay PER BIRD. So if you bid five dollars and there’s four birds in the cage, you’ll owe twenty. You can imagine how quickly you can get into trouble if it’s a lot of say, 40 birds. Yikes.

Listen. Pay attention. Don’t panic. Call ahead and ask the auction’s policies or ask someone who looks like they just rolled out of bed and smells like barn. They’ll probably know and they’ll probably be happy to help.

Buyer Beware

Do lots of research before you go. Learn what a healthy chicken looks like. Get to know the regulars and ask questions of people who seem friendly or who you’ve noticed dropping off healthy looking birds.

There is absolutely no guarantee when buying animals this way.

You will see lots of sad, scary looking birds. Check feet, beaks and eyes. Watch for birds that have puffed up their feathers or have a droopy tail or are dead.

Yes. This happens. Like we said. Buyer beware.

Go early, Go often

The early bird really does catch the worm.

Arrive early so you have plenty of time to check out what is available and write down the lot numbers you’re interested in. It will give you a chance to get to know the regulars who are a wealth of knowledge for those just starting out. It’s a small community. Get to know it.

Going regularly, especially before you first buy, will also help you get a handle on what things should cost.

Don’t lean below the cages!

You know the expression sh*t rolls downhill??

Tempting as it is to lean in to see the birds on the bottom of the stack – you might get more than you bargained for!

Keep calm and carry on.

Don’t let the excitement of the auction carry you away. Decide ahead of time what you want to buy and what you’re willing to pay for it. Stick to it. Don’t panic if you don’t win the bid.

There’s always next weekend.

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