‘Ottawa’ Roosters Bawk, Money Talks at Avian Auction
By 7 a.m., the sun had already been up for more than an hour, yet the roosters at South Mountain’s fairgrounds were crowing as if there were no tomorrow.
And who could say? Certainly not the cock whose cardboard box home was fatefully labelled “MEAT ROOSTER.” Poor thing, chasing hens all his life instead of learning to read.
This potentially unlucky rooster was among the fare at the Oxford-on-Rideau Bird Club’s spring auction in South Mountain on Saturday. Bruce Deachman
Regardless, it clearly was a new day for the hundreds of birds, as well as a few dozen rabbits, that attended the Oxford-on-Rideau Bird Club’s auction — near Kemptville — on Saturday, a much-anticipated twice-annual event that attracted about 250 fanciers from Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.
They were drawn by white homing pigeons and fantails. Muscovy ducks, Blue Barred Bantams, Lavender Old English game hens, Royal Palm turkeys and Dark Brahmas. There were Black Sumatras, White Leghorns, Silver Duckwings and Dark Cornish.
There were also Jersey Giants, Polish Frizzles and Coturnix quails. Chanteclers — the first chicken breed native to Canada, developed almost a century ago at the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Lac in Oka, Que. — were on hand, as were Chinese Owls, not owls at all, but small, frilly pigeons. And there were Hamburg chickens, which sound like something McDonald’s might have come up with, but which have been around for more than 300 years. Nearly two decades before writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in fact, author and chicken farmer L. Frank Baum’s first book, The Book of Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs, was published.
Exactly how many birds found new homes on Saturday is unknown, but one longtime bird-auction habitué, Danny Johnstone, estimated there were upwards of 900.
Also sold Saturday were crates and cages, stacks of empty egg cartons or other poultry-related paraphernalia, and egg cartons filled with presumably fertilized chicken, pheasant and quail eggs, a bit of a lottery, really, although club president Jenny Dicks says that she, as do most sellers, offers a guarantee on their soon-to-be-hatchlings.
A resident of nearby Mountain, she already had about 10 laying hens, which she’d bought as day-olds at the local feed store, when she joined the club six years ago. Now, she never misses an auction, although she only sells the fertilized eggs.
“I’ve never sold birds,” she said. “I’m a collector. I never leave an auction without picking up something. And I collect them now more for fun than for the actual egg production. They’re nice to look at, and they all have personalities.
“The buying and selling is fun, too,” she added. “You make friends. Everybody’s a bit of a collector.”
Like the birds, the fanciers also come in many varieties. Prescott hobby farmer Carl Buker arrived with a dozen boxes of rabbits and chickens, as well as a large two-year-old Narragansett Tom turkey. “I raised him from small all the way to what he is now,” he said. “If he was in the pot, he’d probably be about 25 pounds.”
Buker hoped to get $50 or $60 for the bird. Otherwise, he’d bid him back in — essentially buy him from himself, for which he’d still have to pay the 15-per-cent seller’s commission.
But where the autumn bird auctions are typically buyers’ markets — many owners who don’t want the expense of wintering over their surplus birds are happy to be rid of them — the spring sales generally command higher prices: Buker’s turkey sold for $50.
Bird auctions are becoming more popular in general, says Dicks, fuelled in part by the growing organic and locavore movements.
Roosters, though, rarely garner prices to match their boastfulness, selling for as little as five or six dollars apiece. “You can have a lot of hens,” said auctioneer John Joynt, “but you only need one rooster.”
“You never know what you’ll get,” said Cardinal’s Walter Patterson of the auction. “Depends who wants them. Sometimes you’ll sell a rooster and get five bucks. We just bring ’em here. I don’t need these ones; they’re surplus. I’m not taking anything home today. I won’t bid anything in.
“It’s a hobby for me. It is for everyone here. No one’s making a living here.”
Not at prices like these: geese for $20 each, a pair of Hamburgs for $17, homing pigeons for $6. A cockatiel, complete with cage and accessories, sold for $35. On the higher end, a bidding war saw a pair of blue silkies go for $100.
That said, there were some breeders on hand looking for just the right characteristics to edge them closer to the American Poultry Association’s Standards of Perfection, similar to dog breeders’ benchmarks. Think of a youngster with a chemistry set. But even the breeders and show competitors don’t make a profit. “It really is just for fun,” said Bev Patterson, a 26-year member of the club.
Still, you never know what you’ll find. Inkerman resident and hobby farmer Doug Foster was delighted to find one male and two female Silver Dorkings, among the oldest known breeds of chicken and, he says, not all that common, for $80.
“Trying to preserve the breed,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
His eight-year-old son, Brady, who claimed to be something of a chicken whisperer, was taking home some Old English hens, as well as a large Flemish rabbit. He got interested in poultry when his mother, a schoolteacher, brought some hatchlings home from class. One, a white hen he named Carlos, was his favourite, and when she died, Doug had her stuffed.
“My main goal,” said Brady, “is to get a whole bunch of wild breeds of chickens and try to breed a new chicken that is like Carlos.”