The menagerie meanders 60 metres long, across the dusty stockyards. Boxes, bags, pails and cages are filled with everything from guinea pigs and guinea fowl to golden pheasants and goslings. Rabbits, quail … you name it.
More than a hundred young kids, moms and dads in-tow, crouch low to inspect each container as if they were eyeballing jewels. Strategies are laid and decisions are made. Bidding limits are set. When weekly allowances aren’t a factor, parents almost always seem to rule.
Welcome to The Picture Butte Auction Market’s monthly “Odd and Unusual Sale” — a wild affair where people-watching can be as fun as animal-watching.
A stone’s throw away from the yard line-up, at the indoor auction, another 200 or so youngsters and adults fill the sale ring seats to assess the likes of lambs, kid goats, pot bellied piglets, donkeys, miniature horses and whatever unusual hoofed animal happens into the show ring.
The market tries to concentrate on farm animals, but a lot of debatable creatures make their way into the mix. Sometimes there are snakes and turtles, budgies and lizards and aquariums filled with squirming and swimming amphibians.
“Often times,” says Erik Dunsbergen, owner-auctioneer, “we don’t know what’s coming in until that morning. We get some real surprises.”
“It’s not supposed to be a pet auction, but heck we’ve had gold fish in the bowl,” he adds. “But I think the oddest animals we ever handled were ‘Fainting Goats.’”
They keel over, opossum-like when startled, a condition that comes easily inside a crowded auction ring.
They end up looking stone-cold dead until they’re picked up and moved to quieter haunts. “Damndest thing you ever saw,” Dunsbergen chuckles.
The 2011 summer marks the 10th anniversary of the family-operated Picture Butte Auction Market, half an hour east of Lethbridge. They’re held the last Saturday of every month.
Farm animals arrive in the early morning an hour or so before the buyers assemble — including a lot folks brand new to animal husbandry.
“They’re pretty well all families with small acreages from around the area,” Dunsbergen says. “People who want to have some animals around the place for their kids. When you live in the country with room to spare it makes sense. It’s a great educational opportunity.”
There’s no admission charge and no buyers’ fee, and the “people-watching” makes the event totally worthwhile, even if you have no interest in buying an ostrich.
Animals offered, as well as prices, are often cyclical. Some great deals can be had, especially in the fall, Dunsbergen advises. That’s when a lot of families, rather than butcher their barnyard “pets,” return to sell their fattened projects to others willing to take on the task. For more information on the auction mart visit their website at: http://picturebutteauction.ca.
“Mom and dad work all week and then the kids go back to school, no one is left to look after the livestock, so they end up bringing back many of the things they spent the summer raising, in hopes of turning a profit.”
Many a bunny or lamb or egg-laying hen eventually finds its way to the plate. And that, says Dunsbergen, offers young farmers a clearer insight into the agricultural business.
“Its not uncommon for young kids today to think eggs grow beneath the ground,” he says. “We offer an opportunity for hands on education.”
Trends in hobby farm animals have come and gone and may return again. Prices have soared and dived and levelled off. Affected have been once auction-regulars like llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs, emus and ostrich. Prices and demand can vary from region to region across the west.
When animals such as these are in high supply, prices plunge, when they’re scarce, prices rise.
When auction day is done, all the animals will have been spoken for says Dunsbergen. None of the animals remain, and some in lesser demand are even given away. It’s not unusual to see winning bids of $2 to $10.
The market is inspected periodically by the Humane Society, Dunsbergen adds, to ensure animals are well tended while awaiting new digs.
In the spring as an added bonus, the market auctions live, but less emotional offerings like shrubbery and potted plants.
MikeLambisafreelancewriterbasedin Burmis,Alberta.Formoreinformationonthis mostunusualeventcontacttheMarketat: (403)732-4400oremail: [email protected]