“I think that’s kinda’ cool, actually.
But that’s coming from a lady who has probably 500
in her yard.”
– KATHY BRUNEAU
The bleachers were overflowing at the Manitoba Poultry, Rabbit and Pet Stock Association’s annual auction and bidding was brisk as 250 boxes of chickens, ducks and geese and up to 40 more containing rabbits of various breeds passed through the sales ring April 11.
“There are lots of people. This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” said Ernie Bruneau, the association’s auction representative, as he sat beside auctioneer Lyle Watson, who called the sale in the Neepawa Agricultural Society building.
Bruneau credited the unseasonally warm weather for generating a good crowd, but he noted that interest in raising a few chickens on the farm or acreage seems to be on the rebound, after interest had stagnated for a decade or two. The association, made up of mainly breeders of show animals, has been around for about 40 years under various names.
“It just seems like more people are buying, all around,” said Bruneau. “Sellers are getting a good price.”
A peek at Bruneau’s sale record sheet showed strong demand among the roughly 170 people who requested bidding cards at the sale.
A pair of drowsy Muscovy ducks sold for $20 each, while an Indian blue peacock brought $65. Call ducks, a perennial sale favourite, were bringing from $50 to $75 each.
Someone took home a trio of quail for $50 per bird, and a mini-rex buck rabbit sold for $27.50. Bronze turkeys brought $65 each.
A breeding pair of black-crested Polish chickens brought $27.50 each. To the amusement of the crowd, one of the pair flapped out of a handler’s grip, but was quickly recaptured.
Kathy Bruneau and her husband raise exotic ducks and “fancy-feathered” chickens, and travel each year to compete in shows as far away as Nova Scotia. As sale clerk, she was busy at a table handing out bidding cards and collecting money. She said that more people these days seem to be taking an interest in raising poultry.
“I don’t know why,” she said. “Maybe it’s because they want them for the eggs, or maybe to keep them for show birds.”
A recent amendment to the City of Vancouver’s bylaws which would allow householders within city limits to keep up to four laying hens shows that even city folk are keen on raising chickens these days. In Britain, reports say that keeping backyard poultry is the fastest-growing hobby.
“I think that’s kinda’ cool, actually. But that’s coming from a lady who has probably 500 in her yard,” said Bruneau, with a laugh.
Growing interest in preserving rare poultry breeds and genetics may be playing a role, she added, but the core group is made up of mainly long time bird breeders. At bird meetings, members get a chance to see who has what and engage in buying, selling and trading.
It’s more of a hobby than a business, said Bruneau, because the proceeds from sales and show prizes barely covers the cost of raising the critters. But an established reputation helps a breeder get more money for their birds, she added.
Gerald Siemens, a poultry breeder from Morris, who raises show chickens, call ducks and Old English game chickens, said that prices at the Neepawa sale were up over last year. But at earlier sales out west, prices are even higher.
“The concept of keeping a few chickens around is just generally picking up,” he said. “It just about died out over the years. Some say it’s on the rebound now.”
He overwinters about 60 to 70 birds each year, and starting around Christmas Eve, he began hatching out about 400 chicks in an incubator for sale and for showing over the summer and fall.
Jon and Linda May, two budding young farmers in their mid-20s, were picking up stock for their half-section near Neepawa.
They bought a couple pairs of bronze turkeys and ring-necked pheasants to go with the 25 dual-purpose, gold and silver-laced Wyandotte chicks they picked up the day before from a local breeder.
Prices seemed high at the Neepawa sale, said Jon.
“I think it’s getting popular again,” he said.
The pheasants will likely be “yard ornaments,” but the turkeys and chickens will end up on the dinner table, said Jon. In the future, they plan to get cattle, pigs and sheep, but in the meantime Jon plans to keep working on a nearby potato farm.
The bylaw changes in Vancouver are a “great idea,” said Linda, who added that chickens are great for cleaning up bug problems on the lawn and garden. [email protected]