Shaffer

Shaffer: Live chickens by the box in Wilson’s Mills

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2012 

— At the Wicked Chicken Auction, roughly 1,000 feathered animals are sold from cardboard boxes and milk crates every Sunday – a spectacle that draws shrewd, chain-smoking bidders from 100 miles away.

The parking lot gets jammed at Calamity Jane’s General Store long before the first rooster is hoisted in the air, and the pickups form a long queue on the road just outside Clayton. Inside the auction space, where the air is thick with burning Marlboros and barnyard smells, you’ve got to elbow your way through a throng of camouflage hats to preview the cackling goods. Imagine a Moroccan bazaar transported to Johnston County and stocked to satisfy 300 poultry enthusiasts:

Over here, there are eight partridge silkies in a box that once held Reese’s cups. Over there, you’ve got four pigeons in a yellow cage. Across the way, there’s something labeled Lot 196 packed inside a Bud Lite 12-pack box, and whatever it is, it must be alive. Nobody is here to buy warm beer.

“Anything feathered, you’ll find it here,” said Coty Brown, one of the auction workers. “Those people I was just talking to came all the way from the other side of Jacksonville.”

The idea to hold a weekly chicken auction at Calamity Jane’s – which also sells saddles, spurs, cowboy hats and ham hocks – dates back to early 2011.

It’s probably not the only place in the state to buy quail, pheasants and lop-eared rabbits by the head, but it ranks among the best-known and most avidly partaken.

It’s free to bid here. If you’re not careful sitting in the wooden risers at Calamity Jane’s, you might scratch your nose and accidentally come home with a $4 duck. And if you’ve started an urban flock, still considered a hip addition to backyards inside Raleigh’s Beltline, here’s a chance to pick up a few chicks in a plastic tub.

“We had never heard of a chicken auction,” said Karon Lane of Dunn, who has 30 in her flock at home. “Now we’re kind of hooked on coming and filling out the collection.”

It’s entertainment even if you’ve got no intention of picking up agricultural products. I usually buy my eggs at Kroger, but nobody at the grocery store holds up a dozen of them and asks, “Do I hear two dollars homina-homina-homina, one dollar homina-homina-homina?”

I wish someone would.

At Wicked Chicken, the birds come out of their boxes with wings flapping, held only by their feet, as the crowd scratches whiskers and white beards, sizing them up with poker-faced expressions. Sometimes, there’s an extra egg waiting for the winner. Rabbits get lifted by their neck scruffs, trophies with twitching noses.

For a child, the scene is a living, breathing candy aisle.

“Can we get a rabbit?” asks one boy.

“No.”

“How ’bout that chicken right there?”

“No.”

The roosters wait, poking their combs through cage slats, wondering what they’re worth, and where they’ll call home.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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