The Mother of all Auctions

So today, my dear sweet other half decided to get up and make coffee and let me sleep. This is when I know that something is very, very wrong. That plans have likely been made for my day, and that I have not been consulted, and I may very well not be pleased. These plans normally involve climbing up a tree or getting bait all over my hands…but not today.

This morning in a pre-dawn fit of genius unfortunately accompanied by our current financially challenged-ness (because we just bought a new tractor), he apparently decided we needed to drive an hour to the Harrington Fairgrounds and the Mid Atlantic Equipment Auction. I should also mention that it’s on the day that our balmy 70 degree temps from yesterday have pulled an Elvis and left the building. It’s frigid and damp and the weatherman had the nerve to mention that dreaded S word this morning. I’ve never been to this one, but I know it’s a monstrous, twice a year affair that takes over the entire fairgrounds.

After everyone donned 3 layers of what turned out to be nowhere near enough clothes and rushed around like crazy people trying to get the horses in, and all the birds and bunnies and demando-lamb fed up and put up before the wet arrived, we hopped in the truck and off we went. I only managed to fire down two cups of coffee that didn’t even meet my very basic standards of drinkability and was concerned I wouldn’t have enough energy to do the grumbling this venture was going to require. I knew there would be every conceivable farm implement and tractor PTO attachment known to man. And that we could buy none of them. It was going to be like window shopping, which, even as a woman I find completely STUPID and a total waste of time.

I was not prepared. Even a little bit. Pulling onto the fairgrounds it was almost like the pickup truck twilight zone. All trucks, big and small, with every imaginable sort of trailer attached. Every hundred trucks or so, you’d see one lonely small car, looking totally out of place. page_bg - Edited.jpg

Then the walking began. I can now consume half the pan of brownies I just made guilt free, because if I did not walk ten miles today, I didn’t walk a step. Row upon row of every farm and construction and home and garden machine there is. There is an entire row of flatbed trailers filled with small items, tools, parts. ATV’s and minibikes. We lost Ryan there. No worries, I came back to that spot and he never moved. He found a friend of his and they were lusting after a 4 wheeler that ended up going over 600$. I was out at 75. They ran completely wild all over the fairgrounds for the rest of the day. Bouncing between sets of parents and staffers from the farm across the road from us. There was a constant stream of phone calls and texts between everyone as we watched and bid on items for each other in different places and kept tabs on all the kids. Children are awesome coffee runners when you bribe them with cocoa and cookie money.

There’s a whole section of plants and shrubs and fruit trees. I lost out on blueberry bushes I waited 30 minutes for. 17 each was too much for my current bank balance. And there are FIVE auctioneers making their way up and down each row in stands on trailers. It’s impossible to gauge what 42 other things you’re missing in that 30 minutes that you were interested in. You just can’t keep up alone. I lost count of the amount of times I had to turn to a companion and say “what’s that, and what does it do?”.

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Fencing. Miles and glorious miles of fencing in varying degrees of usefulness. Solar chargers (Sigh). Stall mats and hay racks and water troughs. Transport crates and kennel cages. Barn lights. Swamp cooler systems for barns and poultry houses. Disassembled greenhouses. Golf carts and Gators and UTV’s.  Stock and utility trailers galore. Boats and even an older RV that I’d have bought in a heartbeat if I could have. And entire car lot’s worth of fleet vehicles we have no use for. I want it all, and I can afford none of it. But I’m like a big kid in a toy store, bouncing around from row to row.

Concession stands and food vendors on golf carts. Four staffers in a trailer at check in and check out, who DID NOT STOP taking money all day long. I can’t even begin to fathom how many dollars changed hands today. More than I will ever see in my lifetime, for sure. Probably several lifetimes.

T and I watched countless bush hogs auctioned. From 2$ to over a thousand. He joked if he’d have had money, he’d have just bought every crappy bush hog he saw and sell them two at a time at a profit for continual income. We watched large equipment go 5 and 6 digit bids. There was a fellow joking he was going to be in trouble with his wife for spending a few hundred dollars and I wondered about the ones who have to go home and say “Didn’t do bad today, dear. I only spent 130K, give or take a 10.”

We didn’t have much of a budget, but I managed to score a 13$ triple candy vending machine that will have feed in it for the petting zoo pen I’ve planned for farm customers. T got a small outboard motor for resale for 70. And we both walked around drooling over all the things we’d have bought if we’d have been working with more than pocket change.

I was so totally unprepared.

I marked the calendar for the fall auction. We will be there. I’m already calculating how and where I can sock away a little bit here and there. We’ll dress better, and go to the preview the day before and bring extra bodies and all the walkie talkies we own.

Ryan’s buddy came home with us for a sleepover. I can tell they enjoyed themselves. As I write this they’re in Ry’s room auctioning off all of his toy trucks, tractors and trailers. Big day. I have brownies to eat and a vending machine to re-key. Hope everyone had a great Saturday!

~Lisa

 

Attending a Livestock Auction, Part One

So we went to our local livestock auction last night. And it occurred to me that some folks might be complete livestock auction virgins and that possibly I could be of some assistance in that area. However, it needs to be noted that the advice you’re going to get here (as you’ve been warned previously)  is usually of the “Here are some things we’ve done that did NOT end well” sort. Ours is experience normally born of making every possible mistake and living to tell the tale.

I wanted photos. However, that didn’t work out well as:  A. We were late B. I am short. C. My view mostly consisted of a sea of shoulder blades, I wasn’t sure anyone would find that interesting. In the interest of authenticity, here is a link to an article by Joya Parsons from several years ago that includes some photos of our local auction. The remainder are not from there, but for illustrative purposes.

Joya Parsons Cooking Up a Story Dill’s

Alrighty then. So here’s a Fun E Farm tutorial on attending a livestock auction for the first time as a buyer. As in, all the random tidbits I really wish I had known or thought of before my first few years ago. It wasn’t pretty.

Before I even begin, let me say this. If you are the type of person that has an extremely tender heart for animals, DON’T GO. Just don’t. Livestock auctions are not a place for vegans or card-carrying, protest attending  PETA members. This will not be a pet store. It’s not the Humane Society or an animal rescue. The stock being sold are not pets. They are food animals, working animals, and producing or breeding animals. They are property here, not family. It is not likely to be a cushy environment by your standards. It will be crowded pens, noisy, likely your idea of filthy and it will smell.  You may observe the use of cattle prods and shock poles and things that may shock you to your very core. You may see sick animals or those who have obviously received less than stellar care. You may see those who were injured in transport and no one will appear to care because they’re going to be purchased by a meat packer within the hour. Just. Don’t. Go. If you do not heed my advice, leave your feelings at the door because you WILL NOT likely find anyone in attendance who will sympathize with your position. And you will be in a place where “When in Rome” is your smartest course of action. I’m not saying you’re right or wrong, don’t light up my inbox with animal rights propaganda please, I’m just trying to be real and save you some angst here. Moving on. 12003296_1183904088302834_7421315606153525312_n

1. Wear appropriate attire.   For Pete’s sake, people. This means BOOTS, jeans, workwear of some sort. This is not Storage Wars. Men, dressing like an inner city pimp or his attorney will not impress or intimidate anyone. It will get you lots of attention, though. Ladies, this is NOT the place for your favorite flats or sandals. Same goes for your 400$ Tony Lama suede boots.  You’re going to get dirty. And muddy. You will likely, at some point, step in crap of some sort. You’re going to be on your feet for most of the time. Sale barns are also notorious for being unheated and uncooled. If it’s 24 degrees outside, it won’t be much more indoors. If its 97 outside, it will be 112 inside.

2. DO YOUR RESEARCH.   This could be an article all its own. I highly recommend that before you purchase ANY livestock animal at ANY auction, you attend at least one time prior with no money and observe. First, go early. Find the office and ask questions. Before the auction, not during, when the staff is trying to properly record 11,764 separate transactions. Here are some examples. Must I register before I can bid? What forms of payment are accepted? How do I bid? Where, when, and how, do I claim stock after the auction? Get a schedule, if one is available. There is infallibly a certain order in which items / pens / areas are auctioned off. Sometimes, multiple pens or areas will be auctioned simultaneously. Bring a friend or family member, make a plan and split up. Also, if sale record sheets (market reports) are available online or at the office, look at a couple auctions worth. It will give you a feel for average prices so you don’t overbid. There are no stupid questions, unless you ask them during an active auction. That’s kinda stupid and should be avoided. Stay for the entire auction. People watch. Note the way things are done.

3. Bring cash. At smaller auctions, small stock (rabbits, poultry, fowl, eggs, etc.) is generally sold for cash. On the spot. As in, before the next item is auctioned. You will hold up the works if you are not prepared to provide a bidder number, and immediate CASH payment. Again, this will get you lots of undesired attention. Seriously, everything will come to a screeching halt and all eyes will be on you. Larger stock (hoofstock) is generally sold in a ring, by bidder number from the seating area, and you will pay for all of the hoofstock you’ve purchased in one lump sum at the office after the sale. Checks may have to be pre approved, and a large number of auctions do not take plastic.westminster-livestock-auction

4.  Go Early.  Way early. Some auctions have “preview hours” and some smaller ones will just allow you to “walk the pens” in the hoofstock area before the auction. This gives you a chance to look over what’s been brought in. Bring pen and paper. Note the numbers of anything you think you’d like to bid on. This is also the time for (don’t laugh because I am dead serious) what I call “poop checking”. Check the hindquarters of the animal(s) you’re interested in. Bonus for you if they actually have “exhaust” as you’re observing. All joking aside, poop is a great indicator to hoofstock health. If it doesn’t look as it should, this can indicate a health problem in your intended purchase. Also eye up coats, eyes, noses, teeth and hooves whenever possible. You will learn that these are great indicators of health, age, and the level of care the animal has likely received. This is important. Bring home one goat with coccidiosis, treat your entire herd for a loooonggg time… That’ll learn you, pumpkin. Trust me on this. An entire herd of goats with flying diarrhea is not a good time. If you have even the slightest warning bells, mind them. There will be another auction, and goats will not ever stop making more goats.

5. Set a budget. Stick to it. This is hard, I know, believe me I know. If you are anything like me, this is the killer. If you are going for six hens, don’t buy twelve. If you’ve decided your limit on a goat is 75 dollars, don’t get caught up in the moment and bid 175. Don’t bid on something you aren’t wild about simply because you got shut out on the last one. On a related note, do not buy something you are not prepared to care for or know nothing about. Impulse buying here is not your friend. (Ask me about pheasant, pigeons, or guinea pigs sometime.) And don’t, for the love of all things holy, buy stuff you can’t haul. Our auction doesn’t deliver, most don’t, and those that do charge ridiculous prices for delivery. And you do not, I repeat, DO NOT, want to ride home in a folding lawn chair in a cargo van with a 200 pound horned beef steer breathing on the back of your neck. Voice of experience here, people. True story. Also, do not be this idiot below. It’s likely I (or someone like me) might walk up and hit you, (another true story)  and I really just don’t heart jail coffee.  (Photo below depicting a similar circumstance) Yes, that’s three, possibly four goats in a trunk, and what is almost certainly a feed sack full of poultry which may or may not be alive.

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6. Prep at home before you go. See above. Prep your vehicle for transporting whatever you intend to buy. Have crates and cages or boxes in your truck or trailer. Water, especially in the summer, is advised.  Some animals may come into the auction barn in the early morning hours and have little access to food or water through the auction.  If you aim to buy bottle babies of any sort, have bottles and milk replacer on hand already. I take full bottles with me. Our closest auction happens at 6 pm on a Wednesday, over an hour from home. There is NOTHING worse than getting home worn slam out at 11 pm, with a truck or trailer full of stock you are not prepared for. Make sure you have a “landing area” prepped for anything you intend to buy. Brooder bins and lights for peeps, pens, food and water. You’re likely going to be exhausted. The stock is going to be stressed. Having wire nippers available at home for removal of ear tags now is much easier than having to catch an animal later or treat ripped ears after a tag has been stuck in a fence. Having a plan and areas prepped will make things go so much easier.

7. Quarantine. I cannot stress this enough. Be prepared to quarantine any stock purchased at an auction for an appropriate time before integrating it with any existing herd or flock on your farm. Separate quarters, separate feed and water containers, everything. If you’re trying to be all organic and un-medicated, understand that auctions are probably not a good buying platform for you. Even if what you bought looks and seems perfectly healthy, understand it was just exposed to the critter equivalent of an auditorium full of snotty, sneezy, kindergartners and all their respective pathogens, germs, and nasties. Every single critter brought onto this farm from an auction is quarantined and medicated. Every one. Every time. They will ALL be given appropriate wormers and vaccinations and preventatives and those will be given time to work before they are integrated.  Once they are, it’s a closed flock or herd and only then, any unnecessary meds are discontinued. No exceptions, unless they are intended for immediate sale or slaughter. These may not be the hens you bought, but they may have been their neighbors in the next cage.  Once you’re home, handwashing and being mindful of tracking parasites or nasties from one pen to another should be observed. A dishpan of bleach solution to dip the old boots in between enclosures is advisable and will save you plenty of grief later.

 

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8. Type of sale. Ok, so typically, small stock on the barn floor is sold by the piece and without the cage. What this means is that if there is a cage with six hens and a rooster in it and you only want the hens, tough noogies. You’re bidding on and buying ALL of them. You are buying on them as a lot, but bidding on them by the piece. If the winning bid is , say 10$…the winning bidder now owes 70$, as there are 7 birds in the cage. Same goes for rabbits, peeps, most fowl, etc. BY THE PIECE. Box of 25 chicks? 3$ bid? 75$.   In the sale ring, smaller hoofstock (like sheep, goats or young pigs) may be brought into the ring in large lots, in which case the winning bidder can opt to take one, all, or any combination. The sold ones will be ushered out, remaining ones will be sold with a new round of bidding. If you’ve picked one goat kid you simply must own, and it’s brought into the ring as part of a lot, this is an important time to pay attention and exercise self control. The people you will be bidding against at this point are likely meat buyers for packing houses. They want them all, they want them cheap. If the price is low enough, they will take them all. Bid for first choice, up to your limit, and if they go over, then quit. Live to bid another day. Larger stock is sold BY THE POUND. That 123 you’re hearing is not a $123 feeder beef steer. It’s $1.23 per pound. All 800 pounds of him. That’s 984 dollars, kids.  If you do not know if you’re bidding on something by the piece or pound, don’t bid until you’ve confirmed which. There is typically a scale somewhere above the auction ring which will give an accurate weight and the auctioneer will have announced it prior.

9. Learn your terminology. This is a picture of a sale sheet, or market report. 12398_1272027286157180_5368147733148679890_n.jpg

By familiarizing yourself with the terms on it, you’ve prepped for how things are sold, and if you don’t already know the difference between a boar, sow, steer, bull, cow, calf, ewe, ram, doe, nanny, billy, kid, wether, etc…please educate yourself on those terms before you go. (Hey, I don’t judge, I see it all the time.)

10. Don’t bid against the Amish kids. Well, ok, you can bid…but there are only two possible outcomes here. You’re going to lose or get soaked. Understand that kid probably has more cash in the wallet tucked in his homespun trousers than you do. Know that he’s probably here every time the doors are open. He likely has far more working knowledge than you.  He knows what he’s bidding on, knows exactly what he’s willing to pay for it, and he will not stop up to that point. The other conceivable scenario (and I see it a LOT) is he brought it in, and he will bid you up to the price he wants for it or buy it himself to bring back next week rather than see it go for half market price. They’re smart and savvy. You can learn a lot from these young fellows. blog6.jpg

11. Keep track of your purchases. Seriously, write it down. Cage number, sticker number, price paid, amount owed, # of heads, etc. You will likely be unable to collect any of your stock until after a particular area or group has finished selling and been recorded in the office. You can and will forget. When you get home, this is also good information for your own records. You’ll thank me later, trust me on this. Bite the bullet and be the nerd writing your stuff down. It also comes in handy when you have to defend your hens from being snatched up later by a non-writer who may mistakenly think he bought them.

So, as this has gone on far longer than I planned, I hope some of these tips are helpful if you’re planning your first trip to auction. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I will address other items in a future post to come.

~Lisa

 

Off to Auction!

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So we are off to the livestock auction, after last week’s poor planning and not realizing it was a new “winter schedule” off week. And it occurred to me, that some folks may have never had the joyous experience of attending one of these lovely functions. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go where they amass huge quantities of various species of manure producing farm animal, pen them up and as if they’re not wigged out enough already, herd them through a ring one at a time or in small groups and auction them to the highest bidding strange human? Good times!

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Seriously, though, I am an auction fan. It’s a very different experience if you’ve never been to one. I take great joy in hauling along out of town friends and family members. They only get a couple pieces of advice. Wear boots and don’t wave. You will step in things that are suspect, and if you wave, you’ve bid, and could end up the proud new owner of a 350 pound hog with an unsavory disposition.

So I thought I will take a few pictures, and use tomorrow’s post to chronicle our local auction experience for those who haven’t yet had the experience of being able to attend one, along with some tips we’ve learned along the way.

Stop back by tomorrow and remember….wear boots. And don’t wave!

That’s not a good morning smell.

That’s what my son said to me as I tried to pry him out of bed this morning for school. “I just can’t Mom, that is not a good morning smell.”

There are pros and cons to living across the road from a large commercial poultry producing operation. However, the chickens were here first. I knew full well what I was getting into and I therefore gave up the right to hate them.

When the bank of chicken houses closest to our home is in the throes of broiler/biddy turnover, and the wind is just right, it’s just not a “pro” sort of day. It doesn’t happen often. Today, I’m just thankful that it got down to 33 degrees last night and it’s just the smell we’re dealing with and not the inevitable warm weather invasion of approximately 6 billion flies who have suddenly been rendered without a home or food source.12508823_1229792417047620_4351505374505933852_n.jpg

Today is one of those rare days, a few times a year, where we have an odd wind, and the odors of the manure from 100,000 chickens amasses in one giant olfactory assault weapon and its built in homing system guides it all directly through every crack, crevice, open door and errant draft into our home. My ex in laws had both layer and broiler houses, and yet somehow I managed to blissfully escape ever having to set foot into either. So I wonder on these days how in the blazes the tenant staff over there can work in those houses all day and not have their respiratory systems just revolt and stop working.

On this particular farm, there are four or five banks of houses, which are cleaned out and turned over roughly every 6 weeks or so, but it’s really only this set of five directly across the road that has this potential for noxious fume warfare.

Pros:

1.   It’s an agriculturally zoned area. There are no neighbors or snotty HOA’s to complain about your pigs er….making more pigs in full view of the street.

2.  Your  goats aren’t likely to consume 2, 406 dollars worth of professional landscaping and exotic flora when they escape. Which they will, and frequently.

3. In fact, when the goats do escape and go visit the neighbor’s children, there are no panicked phone calls to animal control or 911…the neighbors have enough sense to bait the goats with animal crackers into a pickup bed and simply bring them home with a grin.

4. When your horses liberate themselves, they go no further than the field of grass fronting the chicken houses, which for some reason, tastes infinitely better than the blades in their own pastures. The same applies to the 600 pound beef steer that your significant other treats as a pet and who walks through double charged electric fences like a marathon runner through tape at the finish line. 12079322_1170785049615024_996478384113661996_n.jpg

5. There is always someone at home over there, as poultry farms can never, ever, be left unattended. As an added bonus, they are usually staffed by some of the nosiest, I mean most attentive folks in the world. This means when you are away from your own place, you will be apprised immediately of any visitors, escapees, or strange sights, sounds or smells emitting from your own property. They’re literally better than a battalion of security cameras with a live feed.

6. There are no eyelashes batted at any redneck engineered contraption constructed in your front yard housing gigantic rabbits, poultry or ducks for sale. In fact, the neighbors will even advertise for you. 10441301_869547193072146_1320980317044204451_n.jpg

Cons:

1. See title. The smell…and the winged rats of the insect world it brings with it. In summer, our bug zapper quite simply, never, ever, stops. It’s a relentless symphony of insect electrocution. Fly strips become a part of your decorating scheme. Not just in the barn, either. Oh, no, my friends, in every. room. in. the. house. These strips also double as  a “Haircut facilitation device” every time you inadvertently back into one and an exercise plan as you hone your ninja skills trying to avoid them.

2. Unlike Houdini goats or horseflesh, errant poultry can and will be dispatched without a second though and with extreme prejudice. With the looming possibility that 100,000 chickens can and will be destroyed upon infiltration of one solitary microbe, biosecurity is serious business. Why did the chicken NOT cross the road? Because it wanted to LIVE.

3. The alarms. “Whoowhooowhoowhooowhooowhooowhooo” Every time a temperature drops or rises, a feed or water delivery system is empty or obstructed, or a chicken says “Watch this, boys! It’s time for train a human.” and hits some hidden toggle switch. “Whooowhooowhooo.” 3 am seems to be a favorite time for these games.

4. While we’re at 3 am on the clock, the slot between midnight and three seems to be the default schedule for all incoming or outgoing chickens, and the eighteen wheeled taxis that transport them . It seems most ingress and egress of large vehicles occurs at these hours. In the event that no tenant is there to meet them, there will be blowing of airhorns until a response is observed.

5. Add two slightly unbalanced “I will bark politely at the wind, my reflection, large leaves, the trash guys, my own family’s vehicles and the air I breathe, but am firmly convinced that semi trucks are the dragons on which the dog apocalypse arrives, so I will bark, snarl and hurl myself against the windows like a rabid badger at the sound of air brakes regardless of the hour” chihuahua shaped excuses for dogs to number 4. Good times.

For me, and my family, I prefer our heritage breed chickens, who are fed a non top secret diet of bugs and grain and kitchen scraps, but to each their own. This being Delmarva, poultry houses are a fact of life, and a permanent part of the landscape. They are the wheels, cogs, and the primary fuel for the economy of the entire Delmarva Peninsula.  In fact, my kids learned at an early age when we went elsewhere that there is a “smell” to home. Marsh, tidal waters, and chicken manure. When we reached this side of the Bay Bridge someone would infallibly say, “There’s that smell. What’s that smell, kids?” The refrain?  “That’s the smell of money.”  All kidding aside, I love our area poultry producers (even though it’s not the life for me, or the food for me) because they feed the entire rest of the country and are often a much maligned species.

There’s a disturbing trend that is occurring all over our area, and the country, in that city folks in unprecedented numbers now want to move to the country. That’s all well and good, we are a welcoming sort mostly. The problem arises when Jane and Joe Urbanite purchase their dream home in the country which just so happens to be located next to a poultry farm, or a pig farm, or any kind of farm, really.

Oftentimes, this purchase is followed by the charm of the dream home location being dulled by the smells and sights that are usually part of any small or large scale farming operation. There’s poop. Lots of poop. Poop smells.  It stinks, and that’s that. There’s noise, and large machinery, and odd hours being kept. There’s the potential for stray livestock blocking the road, and munching on your pansies.

Then the voluntarily displaced suburbanites tend to get these notions. They adopt an adversarial position and begin making phone calls to towns and counties wanting to know what their rights are as far as controlling the smells and sounds of the very environment they’ve volunteered to be part of. Thankfully, we’re in an area where the answers they receive are frequently pro-farm and anti complainer. In fact, the best one I have heard to date was a council meeting where similar concerns were addressed and a shiny new homeowner in an agricultural area raised that particular question. “So what exactly, are MY rights as far as the enjoyment of the property I just paid a substantial amount of money for?”  The answer?  “Well, Sir…you have the right to purchase a property elsewhere that doesn’t have a farm next door that has been in operation since before 1908, by four generations of the same family and was located right there when you purchased yours.”

That, my friends, sums up why I love this area. And what makes it home.