Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Livestock Swaps - How to Protect Yourself & Your Flock
Mary, Bri's beloved Muscovy hen was purchased at a local swap
There's been much debate lately on forums and facebook groups about purchasing new farm animals and adding to one's herds and flocks.  Some call it "chicken math",  if you have chickens or goats or rabbits, the general consensus is, eventually you WILL get more. The main question has been, where do you get more?  There's been a lot of misleading information that local swaps are not managed well and only serve to provide ill animals.  In our experience, this is certainly not the case. 
Our friend from Kluckadoodle Farm talking to some
folks about their birds.

I've never been shy about my resistance and disdain for hatcheries and large production farms.  The treatment and quality of the animals is below any acceptance level for me.  Some argue that certain breeders and auctions are no better.  While this can be true, I've found that it's not the general rule.  The quality of any swap, farm, auction, or breeder is only determined by the person or people that manage it.  There has to be some common sense and care for the welfare of the animals in place.  It seems from the posts I've read (while sitting on my hands) that it varies by area as well.  Whereas in my area, the auctions are a huge "no-no", in other states it seems they're not.  The auctions in my experience and those folks I trust, are a place to dump poor, unwanted animals and culls that have problems those selling there just want to pass off to the highest bidder.  I'd rank auctions in my area as worse than the hatcheries I avoid. 

Here in our area, I sell from our farm or at local club small farm swaps.  They have local, caring breeders and small farmers like ourselves that get together to sell our products and small livestock.  I've met many quality, like minded people that have become friends at these events.  However, no matter where you purchase from, there's no guarantee that every single vendor or seller there is going to be that quality, caring farmer.  You have to look out for yourself and your farm or backyard homestead yourself.

The only way to be safe is to do your research, take your time, look over the animals and how they're being cared for, and use proper bio security measures for your current herd or flock.  Is it possible you could still get burned?  Yes!  Anytime you introduce new animals from other sources, there's that possibility but there are things you can do to reduce and almost eliminate those odds.

We're very blessed that here in Virginia, we have an amazing group, Pet Chickens of Virginia.  PCOV is, for the most part, a caring group of fellow poultry raisers, farmers, breeders, backyard chicken hobbyist that like to discuss and help each other with raising poultry here in Virginia.  The group also happens to host monthly farm swaps in the parking lots of Tractor Supply Company stores.  There's a symbiotic relationship there, it allows small farmers and breeders to get their animals and produce out in a public place, and TSC sees an increase in their sales for the day as customers purchase feed and supplies from them because they're conveniently right there.   The swaps are run by hosts and there are rules set in place for the welfare of the animals.  The animals must be healthy and in good condition; they must have adequate food and water; and they must be provided with shade. 

Now, there's always one in every group- just because I enjoy and have met amazing, like-minded people in this group, doesn't mean I just purchase from anyone at a swap or forget safety.  I will say the swap hosts do their very best to keep things clean and safe but they're only one person and also there to work their tables and get things done.  It takes all of us to keep an eye out and make sure things are run smoothly.  Here are some ways to avoid problems purchasing new animals at swaps - or anywhere for that matter.

1. Use common sense!  If you approach a vendor and the birds are crammed into cages that are too small, not given adequate food or water, stacked cage upon cage on top of each other, it's probably not a good idea to purchase from this person.  Of course, we all have to put our birds in cages for the swaps for their own protection.  We don't want them taking off across the parking lot and getting injured, but if the bird can't stand or move, it's a red flag for me.  Then I would take notice of their other conditions- shade, water, feed.  If you see animals that don't look like they have the necessities, consider mentioning it to the swap host before leaving.  Many people think it doesn't make a difference, but trust me- it does!  I know the 3-4 swaps we sell at have caring and concerned hosts and take the animals' welfare very serious. 

This cage would work for Katniss for a swap, she could stand up and move around to eat and drink. 
2. Look for signs of good or poor health.  Anytime you purchase an animal- whether pet or livestock or both- you always want to look it over for health.  Some things to look for are:

Clear, bright eyes with no discharge, bubbles or crust
Clean, shiny feathers that appear in good shape, no pecked out or worn away and dirty.  Look around the eyes and vent area especially for signs of mites or lice
Clear, clean vent areas.  I know you might not like checking out bums but a dirty bum can be a sign of stress or illness
Flat, clean feet.  Chickens get dirty feet- it's a given but you want to look for any signs of bumblefoot, scaly leg mites, or injuries.  With hoofed animals, check to see that their feet are well kept, not overgrown or peeling.  You don't want to pick up an animal with hoof rot or poor feet
Clean nasal passages, no discharge, no dried crust on their nose, no sneezing, wheezing, or breathing with their mouth open, or labored breathing
Overall healthy appearance and movement.  Are they walking around their cage and eating and drinking or are they puffed up in a corner, listless and not moving? 
The last one can be tough if you arrive towards the end of the day when they've been out and are tired or resting but there's a generally ill appearance to some animals.  Avoid them.

A male rabbit we "saved" once at a huge medical expense and the loss of one of our best show bucks. 
3. Don't "save" them because you feel sorry for them.  Okay- so harsh sounding, I know.  TRUST ME.  I've been there and done that and it's ended up in heartache 9 out of 10 times.  It's great to rescue an animal if you can but if you already have an established flock or herd, you do NOT want to bring disease and illness back to your farm.  The best thing you can do for them is to go to the swap host. Let them know your concerns and what they've seen.  Trust me, a good swap host will follow up.  I know, personally, at our local swap, the swap host will walk down to the reported vendor and check the animals out herself, sometimes she'll even quietly get a second opinion.  If there is obvious signs of mistreatment or neglect, she won't hesitate to call animal control either.  I personally watched this last month when our swap hosts explained to the person what was wrong with thier animals, told them we don't allow unhealthy animals to be sold, and then called animal control.  AC did follow up and go out to the property and educate this person on proper care and husbandry.  They advised us they were going to follow up and ensure proper treatment was given.

4. Consider purchasing from NPIP and AI clean vendors.  It's not a guarantee of good health and it only certifies the vendor to be pullorum/typhoid free and Avian Influenza free, however, a breeder that goes the extra mile to have their farm certified, usually cares about the health of their flock.  Notice, I say usually because, again, it's not a guarantee.  It is a clue that they've gone a step above.

5. Do NOT touch every animal there!  This not only protects you and your flock but also protects the vendors.  I'm going to be honest, from a vendor's perspective, this is a nightmare!  That may seem cruel and harsh but if, for example, your children pet some goats or chickens from one farm and then come to our table and pet or touch our animals, you've just brought microorganisms, bacteria, and maybe even illness to my animals.  Even if the other vendor has safe, healthy animals, their soil and the immunity of their animals is completely different from mine and you can spread problems.  Each farm is different, each yard is different, and therefore all flocks are different.  There may be things that their animals have a natural immunity to that mine do not or vice versa.  You also don't want to touch all of the other animals and bring anything home to your own herd and flocks.  So, unless you're seriously considering buying them, and have permission from the seller, don't touch.  Ensure you wash your hands afterwards or use hand sanitizer and change your shoes when you get home before walking into your own pasture or yard and caring for your animals.  It's always a good idea to have set shoes to be worn just for caring for your animals anyway.  That's a good bio security measure.

Our friend from Kluckadoodle Farm talkingto some folks about
their birds.

6. Talk to the vendors.  Ask them questions about their flocks and herds.  What do they breed for, what purpose do their animals have (eggs, meat, showing, pets, etc) and do they match up with your own.  What feed do they use, what are some of their farm practices.  A good vendor will happily talk to you about their flock and how they raise them.  They're happy to answer your questions and help you out to ensure their animals get a great home.  Do they seem knowledgeable about caring for animals and their own flock or herd?  Did they hatch their own or are they passing off hatchery birds?  If you're like me, that's really important. 
7. If and when you purchase, and you take your new lovelies home... QUARANTINE!  I don't care if you buy from me or the top breeder in the country.  You should ALWAYS quarantine.  I recommend 30 days although I know others that do 2 weeks.  It's so important and probably the safest thing you can do for your flock.  These are animals and things happen.  Even with my own that I do my very best for and love dearly.  Wild animals and wild birds spread diseases even to the best kept flocks and it may be that the breeder honestly had no idea that some cocci was building up because of recent humid weather or rain storms or that a wild bird had left some illness in the pen the day before but they hadn't seen any illness yet.  Things happen no matter how sanitary and strict you are unless your animals are never allowed outside.  So, no matter who or where you purchase from, always, always, always quarantine.  If you're unsure how to do this, there's a great article here and here

Local swaps can be a much better alternative for finding quality, farm bred poultry and small livestock than going through hatcheries or big chain stores.  I'm a huge buy local advocate and have met some knowledgeable and quality breeders and farmers through PCOV and the swaps we do with them.  I look forward to the swaps each month during the season. Many of the vendors, like my kids and I, are very concerned and care deeply for our animals' well being and the health of the other animals.  The swap hosts also care and want to have a safe, enjoyable place for us to socialize, shop, sell, and find great homes for our livestock. 

Birds like Sugar, that are crosses and won't work for our breeding program,
can make great pets/layers for others.  Sugar was sold to a very
nice home at one of our local swaps.
Yes, many of us buy and sell from each other.  Over the years, I've had to purchase many of our rare breeds and exhibition silkie breeders from out of state but always from breeders, never hatcheries or auctions.  I try to purchase local when I can and I appreciate being able to get our food, laying poultry, goats, and supplies locally.  When I find good, local people, I am grateful for them.  For that, some of my personal favorite locals are:

I purchase my coops, goat's milk, and chevre from a friend that I met through PCOV who attends many of the same swaps, their farm is Nina's Hideaway Farm.  They also happen to be where three of our five goats also came from.  My Myotonic goats came from yet another PCOV member, Brick Cottage Farm.  I've bought my laying hens and some breeders from other members like Kluckadoodle Farm (show in the photos above) and the Farm Mama.  Many of our Lionheads came from yet another PCOV member, Falling Creek Ranch & Farm. Chance has one particular vendor that he swears bakes the best cookies on the planet.  

So, if you're in Virginia, and want to meet us at a local swap here are the dates we're definitely attending this season at the Fredericksburg TSC Swap.
June 7
July 12
August 9
September 6
October 4
November (TBD)
The address to the TSC in Fredericksburg is

There are also swaps located in Orange, Montpelier, and Culpeper that we randomly attend.  We usually post on our Facebook page the week before if we're attending any of the others. 

I hope this has helped clear up some of the misconceptions and gives you a good start to finding your next


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