WILSONS MILLS — 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 Janes 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, youve 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 Reeses cups. Over there, youve got four pigeons in a yellow cage. Across the way, theres 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, youll 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 Janes which also sells saddles, spurs, cowboy hats and ham hocks dates back to early 2011.
Its 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.
Its free to bid here. If youre not careful sitting in the wooden risers at Calamity Janes, you might scratch your nose and accidentally come home with a $4 duck. And if youve started an urban flock, still considered a hip addition to backyards inside Raleighs Beltline, heres 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 were kind of hooked on coming and filling out the collection.
Its entertainment even if youve 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, theres 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.
How bout that chicken right there?
The roosters wait, poking their combs through cage slats, wondering what theyre worth, and where theyll call home.