Swap Meets



An Amish woman and her husband trying to buy a breeding pair of geese. Determining the sex of a goose requires close examination.


We met up with Chicken Lady at an Indiana swap meet on Saturday, a curious mix of flea market, animal market, pet shop, and party. We arrived late, a little before noon. Many of the vendors were folding their tents and stealing away to enjoy the sunny afternoon someplace other than a hot mowed hay field (the occasional corn plant that had popped up amid the short grass suggested that it was probably a corn field a couple of years ago, and would likely be again next year). They were taking with them guns, saddles, steers’ skulls, deer heads, beads, antiques, cheap bright jewelry, and pot holders. The animals not sold would go home with them too – the mice, rats, guinea pigs, gerbils; the chihuahuas, pink hairless dogs, and black Lab puppies; the geese, ducks – babies and grownups, chickens of every sort, doves, pigeons, parakeets, finches, and pheasants. They would take their RVs where they had spent the night, their Harleys, the pickup trucks, and horse and buggies; their tents and lawn chairs and tarps; their boxes and tables and cages. By the time we left at 12:45, we joined a steady stream of cars and trucks, and the grounds still looked full.

Here’s what Chicken Lady had to say:

Dear Chicken Lady, Help, help, help, we have too many birds. I’ve put up signs at the feed store and pet store, listed them on Craig’s list, told everyone I know they could have some, and still have some left over. How on earth do you get rid of all your birds without having to eat them? Sincerely, Chickens Are Eating Me Out of House and Barn [August 14, 2011]

Dear Eating Out, This is a tough time of year to find a home for your birds that aren’t good enough to keep for show or breeding yet an important job to get done as winter approaches. Everyone else also has birds to get rid of as the county fairs are mostly all finished, and with kids going back to school, the work force is diminished. We highly recommend the swap meet circuit, a flea market for birds. Sadly, our favorite one is done for the season but there are more coming up if you are willing to drive a few hours away.

We make the trip to one of the Northern Indiana swap meets four times a summer to meet up with fellow swappers and spread the joy of poultry around the countryside. Our principal poultry peddler packs up pens Friday evening and after the midnight hour, works his way south through the Amish countryside, passing horse and buggies with lanterns even in the wee morning hours until he arrives at Wolf Lake’s rolling hills where he and hundreds of other professional swappers set up their stands, and wait for the first rays of sun to bring the eager hordes of bargain hunters. He pulls in in the middle of the night to find a good spot in the middle of other campers, some in tents, some in cars, some asleep, some with lanterns sitting outside playing cards. Once the canopy for shade and rain protection is set up, there is an hour or so left for restless sleep, interrupted by headlights of other arriving cars or eager shoppers with flashlights or the latest in bargain finding apparel, a baseball cap with LED lights on the brim, looking for the deals they want to go to first in the morning.

Bargaining begins in earnest around 5:30 as shoppers arrive pulling their wagon of empty crates, or pushing a stroller of empty boxes, small child toddling behind. Often the earliest shoppers are fellow swappers looking for bargains to take back to their stand where they will resell them for a higher price or take to the next swap meet. Many of these guys travel a multi-state area to all the swap meets and animal auctions, buying and selling as they go. Other shoppers will be kids with their APA Book of Standards in hand, looking for a good bird for their fair and a few are hoping to find a bargain bird for the upcoming fall poultry shows. Many are just families looking for a duck for their pond, a hen for fresh eggs, a new puppy for the kids.

The Amish will be there, horse and buggies tied up at the front, some to sell and some to buy. Fathers lead their families up and down the rows, wife and children following behind, the exception being the marriageable daughters who dance along ahead, suitors tagging behind. Some of the Amish boys who are maybe 10 years old or so will make the rounds, a roll of bills tucked in a pocket, and a charming smile, trying to make use of youthful appeal to garner some deals (it works too).

There are far fewer animals there than there used to be with mostly chickens, rabbits and dogs for sale these days. Due to more frequent checks by the Department of Natural Resources, exotic animals are less common (but can be found at sales that specialize in such) so this swap meet has become a place to buy just about anything else. Cleaned out your garage or attic? There is a spot for you to set up. Got a load of rifles you want to sell? This is the place. Garden produce, perennials, old VCR movies, handcrafted oak shelves, really tacky shell figures with more glue gun glue than shell showing? Bring it on. Biker gear, canned goods, baked goods, beautiful old banjo, row boat, anything and everything except cages and cage supplies, that being monopolized by the owner of the property who reserves the right to sell those for all the shoppers who will need a home for their new animals.

Swapping consists of cash exchanged for whatever although some swapping of goods goes on. A few people take our phone number and call later on wanting to get better quality birds than what we took to the swap meet. Our friend who has given us peacocks and guinea hens, emus and rheas goes for the thrill of the bargain, once purchasing some ducks that he was going to go back for after he finished shopping. He forgot to go back for the ducks, but still had a good day, the excitement for him coming from getting a deal, and taking orders for others who want him to bring back some new treasure. Have an elephant ear for energy, stand in line in front of the porta johns, feel the sun’s rays as your skin turns redder and redder, and call it a day. Sincerely, Chicken Lady

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