What Are Poultry Swaps That Everyone Keeps Talking About?

by Greg Eversole & Kelli Stewart, Pet Chickens of Virginia Association

January 30, 2022

In Virginia, farm related groups on social media become all a flutter each and every spring. What phrase is flying through the internet waves at lightning speed? Well, let me just tell you. The phrases “Poultry Swap”, “Chicken Swap”, and “Farm Animal Swap” run wild and for good reason.

 The words “Poultry Swap”, “Chicken Swap”, “Farm Animal Swap”, or some other variation with the same meaning, are nearly immediately stated when people ask about getting or selling chickens, or other poultry, of all ages, as well as other varieties of livestock. As quickly as those magical words are stated, there are always questions that erupt from all corners of the state and beyond. 

What in the world is a swap? Who goes? Am I allowed to go to find new pets? What if I am looking for meat animals? Do I have to mortgage the house and take out a loan for some chickens and a goat? Of course, the latter is said in jest solely for this article and because sometimes we all need a bit of a chuckle. The others are regularly posed questions though and you deserve the answers. 

Let’s dive in and see what these events are all about. 

“Everyone Swaps Their Animals For Free.” — Well,…No.

Swap invokes the connotation that anyone attending actually “swaps” birds for other goods or services. While I suppose some of that actually goes on, swaps are primarily an event where anyone can take their birds or other livestock, or related items to sell. Swaps are not limited to just animals. There are many creative folks in our communities that craft handmade items and make homemade goods who also set up to sell their amazing creations. 

Many vendors who have farm animals use these events to lighten their flocks or barnyards in order to recoup their expenditures, make room for new acquisitions. or to continue to support their primary stock. One can find anything from SOP birds, or Standard of Perfection birds, to barnyard mixes, and, my favorite, are just downright “eye candy”! There are many varieties and different levels of quality that can be found and no two swaps are alike. 

Farm animals, like chicks, chickens, ducks, pigs, goats and livestock guardian dogs, handmade goods, like goat soaps, woodwork, or art, homemade goods, like fresh breads, farm fresh honey, or canned goods, and so much more – swaps are ultimately an animal sale in an open-air setting with a wealth of other related goodies where you can meet the person, or people, face-to-face, who are responsible for the quality of what you are purchasing. 

“It’s a Farmers Market.” — Again, No.

These swaps have been compared to, and even often totally mislabeled as, farmers markets. Swaps are not a “farmers market” because farmers markets do not permit the sale of live animals, typically disallowing live animals on site whatsoever. Farmers markets are specifically defined as “food markets” and there are quite a lot of regulations to farmers markets. 

The term “swap meet” is the overarching term that includes animal swaps and farmers markets. Farm swaps and farmers markets are siblings but not the same. Both are types of sales spaces, and both are typically open air, but one allows live animals and one does not. Poultry swaps, chicken swaps, or farm animal animal swaps are animal sales. There just happens to be some great non-animal items available sometimes because swaps don’t close their doors to farmers or farm hobbyists that may not have animals and offer something else. Cool, right? 

“Only Established Farms and Businesses with Years of Experience Can Be a Vendor.” — Again, No.

Swaps are truly inclusive and for people of all levels of experience and of all ages. 

Everyone starts somewhere and meeting and learning from others one-on-one is certainly advantageous. Not all vendors have been at it for years. Visitors and buyers need no experience at all. Swaps are an open, in-person space for someone totally new to it all to be able to connect and form relationships. 

It wasn’t always so easy to get together and meet one another. Once upon a time, before the magic world of the internet and social media, finding and connecting with like-minded people required far more work and effort to accomplish. It did happen but the struggle was real. Internet forums, like Pet Chickens of Virginia, were established and had their own home online for many years and they were a basic stepping stone towards the social platforms we all use today. Through the advancements of tech and development, social media is now highly relied on. But, this is not exactly “better”.  

The multitude of social media groups have provided a great deal of opportunity to be able to “meet” and connect online and grow and learn from each other. Sure, that is true. A huge downfall is that social media platforms have their own rules and do not allow selling, buying, advertising, or to even share that you are “ISO”, or in search of, live animals. Social media platforms, like Facebook, for example, are private businesses. They make their rules and that is completely understandable. The platforms are private businesses and can make rules whatever they want. This does, however, extremely restrict the usability and benefit to small farmers and hobbyists who do offer live animals. This results in swaps for live animals to be a critical demand. 

Swaps do what social media cannot. Social media platform groups still have to practice within the rules and not all people have access nor opportunity to use them at all. It is easy to see why animal swaps are far more than simply being able to acquire or sell animals. Swaps break the barriers put up against all people by social media platforms. The events remove the restriction on access to the animals but also the restriction on information and education associated by meeting face to face for anyone interested.

“Everything Costs a Fortune.” — Again, No.

There is no set price – ever. By no means does it ever cost a fortune. There are a lot of factors that go into the prices for animals at swaps and we can get into that in a different article. But, generally speaking, pricing is typically extremely affordable for animals at swaps. 

Each vendor sets their own prices for what they are offering. Neither swap hosts nor the owner of the brick-and-mortar businesses where swaps are held, when applicable, have input over pricing. Prices are sometimes firm. Often a little haggling is acceptable, even expected. As the buyer, it is your decision to pay the asking price and work with the vendor of your choosing.

Remember to be respectful as often a lot of time, money, and effort has gone into raising what’s being offered. 

You are never obligated to make any purchases just because you show up to a swap. If you are not ready, that is completely okay. Grab the info from someone you think you connect well with and reach out to them later. Often vendors can help answer questions so you can better prepare or to improve practices you have in place by giving you recommendations.

If you feel you are ready, find the right new animals or items for you and get them while you can. Inventory at swaps should always be treated as a first come, first served, and there is never a promise you will see that exact animal or item again. If you are ready and prepared to take something home, and you see what you want, now is the time.

Most breeders or farmers are happy to answer your questions. And in fact, I’d be a little leery if they weren’t or were less than forthcoming! 

“Can I Get In On The Fun?” — ABSOLUTELY!

Now that we’ve established what swaps typically are, let’s explore how you can participate as a buyer or vendor. 

I Want To Shop!

If you are looking to buy, it is simple. Decide which swap you want to attend and head on over to the location of your choosing during the scheduled date and time. Don’t forget your box or animal carrier. Even if you are only considering adding a new animal to your life, be sure you take a box or animal carrier with you nevertheless. A handful of chicks or a few ducks, or a flock of guineas and a goose, is extremely difficult, and can be very dangerous, to take home loose in your vehicle. 

Don’t forget your cash or whatever payment method you intend to use. You may decide to not buy anything, may not find what you are looking for, or simply decide you don’t want to that day. Just in case, it is better to have your payment option available.

Can you imagine a store charging to walk in the door? Neither can we – So we don’t. Monthly swaps don’t have a fee to come in to shop, meet, and learn from the sellers. Buyers can come in and check things out and there is no purchase required. 

It is important to remember, under absolutely no circumstances, are swaps a petting zoo. You should never handle or touch animals without the owner’s approval. This is due to the need to maintain a level of biosecurity to protect the health and welfare of the animals. Although they are super cute and it can be tempting, if you are not sure you are going to take the animal home and pay the asking price, it is important to not handle them. 

If you see something you would like to add to your everyday life, pay the seller directly, and take home whatever you have purchased. It’s always a great idea to ask many questions and get contact info in case you have questions later or want to buy more. Grab a business card or ask if they have social media pages of some sort. At bare minimum, ask for general contact info. 

Once you are loaded up, be sure to head on home and get all of your animals out of the vehicle. Non-living goods should be taken out of the car too because they are not much fun otherwise. 

The animals have been through a stressful journey to get from their previous farm to you. If you are transporting live animals home, it is very important to not make any long stops before heading home leaving them enclosed and stressed. A few minutes to get gas with windows down is one thing. Going to a luncheon or dinner on a sunny day with windows up will most likely result in dead animals. (That is a brutal way to get the point across but it is better to be honest, right? We think so.)

Some buyers are seeking animals to butcher to feed their families. While societal norm has people opt to buy off a shelf from a local supermarket, swaps are often where people will seek out animals to be used for meat. It great to know where your food comes from, how it was cared for, and be able to inspect the condition it is in before buying. Not all vendors are willing to sell an animal for meat and that is their choice. Even if you have purchased those animals to butcher, they should be treated with respect.

All animals should be cared for humanely at all times.

It is always recommended that any animal you take home, whether it is your first or you are adding to what you already have, should be quarantined for 30 days. After the animals have completed the 30-day quarantine period, they can go into their permanent home if they are the first or they can then be integrated into the established flock or herd. 

I Want To Sell! 

To set up as a vendor it is by no means complicated but slightly more is needed to do so properly and to improve your chance of doing so successfully.

First and foremost, prepare your animals, or items, for sale. Be sure your animals are in good condition and ready to be sold. It is understood if they have gotten wet from rainy or snowy weather. They shouldn’t be covered in mud and should have been able to cleanse themselves in a proper environment. Ducks and pigs, we know, cannot help but get wet and often muddy. For swaps, try to bring them as clean as possible.

Regarding poultry specifically, there are a few health concerns to keep an eye out for as you load up and ultimately handle each and every one. Be sure to look them over for signs of mites or lice. It is not abnormal for these little parasites to show up and go unnoticed. It happens to everyone but they should not be brought to any event if they have any signs. Take a couple weeks, treat for the issue, and then take them for sale. Another common issue for poultry is bumblefoot. No owner is looking at feet every day. Due to their simple bird lives, their feet are typically in contact with the ground daily. This, like mites or lice, is not the end of the world. It certainly is not a problem that a buyer should pay you for. Treat the problem first. Once there are no issues take them to a swap.

Another issue that some poultry vendors can potentially overlook is a bird having the sniffles. Sometimes a sniffle creates overwhelming panic and quite a lot of scary terms are thrown around when the masses of social media try to help diagnose the issue. There are illnesses that can be extremely contagious and life-threatening and the sniffles or clear discharge from the eyes, nasal passages, or mouth, are tell tale signs and symptoms. However, poultry can be effected by many things including weather changes. While any animal that shows any symptoms like these should never be taken to a swap and sold, it does not mean it is a death sentence. Keep that animal home and provide proper treatment. Once you know there are no long-term illnesses, you can then take that animal to sell.

Decide what you are taking to sell and prepare to go.

Determine which location, or locations, you would like to set up as a vendor. You can choose one in your local county or multiple throughout the state. Go to one, go to many. Our favorite – Go to them all. Going to a variety of swaps, yet on a schedule, allows you to expand your customer base. This is especially helpful to anyone who has a breeding program or who creates something on an ongoing basis. 

Next, reach out to the host(s) for your desired swap location(s). Swaps have a volunteer swap host, or volunteer swap host team, that are in charge of coordinating with the venue, collecting any vendor fees, if applicable, and just making sure everything runs smoothly, including squelching any unnecessary drama or unpleasantness.  

Let’s repeat, hosts are volunteers. Do your best to work well with hosts so it can be a pleasant experience for everyone. Swap hosts keep an eye out for potential issues with animals. It does happen that in the hustle and bustle of loading up animals, driving to a swap, and setting up, an animal gets stressed, experiences an injury, or an underlying and unknown issue is missed. 

Swap hosts don’t volunteer to invest the time and effort of organizing swaps with the goal of having people unhappy or having to ask vendors, or buyers, to leave. No one ever truly wants anyone to have to vacate but it is great to have an extra set of eyes to assess your animals for those “just in case” situations. To protect the collective of vendors and buyers, the hosts always reserve the right to request some anyone to leave if there are any issues whether animal or people related when absolutely necessary.

The setup a vendor will use will vary if they only have birds, have other animals, or if they have goods. There can be many combinations but let’s primarily consider you are selling poultry. 

The most basic items that all vendors who sell live animals, at any event, should always have for your animals are: a proper method of containment, food, water, and shade. A vendor should be able to feed and water all animals they have brought to the swap immediately upon arrival. It tends to help animals calm down and seems to decrease the stress they are likely experiencing. 

A few other helpful things a vendor should have on hand are: change, if you are accepting cash payments, or whatever device is needed to accept payments; boxes or bags, if you would like to provide them to customers; marketing materials, like a small banner, name sign, and business cards; and, lastly, a chair, table, and canopy. 

If you intend on accepting cash payments, be sure to bring your own change if you can. There is never a promise that a nearby bank or business will be able to break larger bills or provide cash back so having a few small bills to make change can be helpful. If you are accepting payments electronically, you should know how those methods work and the process of receiving the payments.

Vendors are responsible for all aspects of money exchange with their customers. Each vendor should be prepared to accept payments by whatever method the vendor chooses. How a vendor accepts payments is at their discretion. In this day and age it is not recommended to accept personal checks whatsoever. It is your decision and there is not a “no personal check” rule but we simply want it said that we do not recommend it.

There are a whole slew of payment methods available and are now frequently requested. Primary examples are PayPal, Venmo, and Cashapp. Of course, cash and carry always works. No matter the case, how you, the vendor, handles your sales and goods-for-money exchange, and any applicable taxes associated with your sales, is your choice and your responsibility.

Depending on what you are selling will determine if you would need or could offer bags or boxes. Sometimes the delay in someone making a purchase, especially of animals, is not having a way to transport the animal(s) home. If you can provide a box when in an applicable situation, it could help confirm a sale. 

As a vendor, especially if you will be attending and selling at multiple events, having marketing materials can be really helpful. Think of it as a visual way of building your brand so people know who you are. A simple business card with only your basic information should be considered the bare minimum, bottom of the barrel, level of effort. Business cards make it much easier for buying customers to keep in touch as well as allow potential customers the opportunity to find you after the event. You can go all in, register a business name, create a logo, and get an entire marketing setup with banners and more. There are so many options and no one-size-fits-all. Nevertheless, you do not have to be a formal business, or business at all, to have cards. Even as a hobbyist you should provide your information to customers in case they want to purchase again, have questions, want to refer you to others, or have an unfortunate issue. So, if all you do is go bare minimum and have cards, do that. 

A collapsible chair and small folding table, compared to having to use the tailgate of your truck, are highly recommended. Display your items and business cards and have a seat when you have time. The tailgate works, but they sure can be hard on the legs.

For shade and general coverage for vendors and their set up, the use of a canopy has become standard practice. You will find that having a canopy saves a lot of time and effort compared to scrambling to find other ways to provide shade to animals and yourself. Most vendors use a 10’x10’ pop-up canopy. Not only do they help provide shade or cover for the animals or items, they allow you to have an escape from the sun or unexpected inclement weather as well. 

It is wise to maintain a balance book for your records and to use for any legal matters, i.e. income taxes. Keep thorough records of what you sell, who you sell to, and what you charge. You may want to establish a marketing plan that includes emails or discount offerings so having records of your active customer base will be very helpful. Maintaining records for the amount of sales you have is certainly important when tax time comes around. 

There are a handful of events that do require a vendor to pay a fee to set up. Fees for spots are typically only at the larger bi-annual events, not monthly swaps. The fees are nominal even still for such large events to have a space as a vendor. Considering there are so many swaps a vendor can attend throughout the year with no fee, those few that do carry a fee are even less if you weigh it all out. 

To provide a bit more context, let’s say you attend all 6 large bi-annual Virginia animal swap events that have a vendor fee per space, totaling about $120 for all 6 events, and then attend merely 2 of the standard events each month from March-October. That averages out to 22 events costing a vendor an estimated $5.50 each if you had to pay an equal fee at each of those events. If you compare that tiny amount per date for an animal swap versus $50, often more, per single day per space that is charged at nearly all “food markets”, vendor spaces at animal swaps are a steal. 

Vendors do hold a lot of responsibility but it is based on common sense, integrity, basic decency. Do your best to form good relationships, implement and use best possible practices, and be part of the community. The animal swaps allow an opportunity to really meet other vendors and the customers. Allow yourself the chance to get to know one another. You never know when another vendor may be able to help you out or when they meet someone who is looking for what you have. The same applies to customers. Having and forming relationships can be lifelong and if everyone works toward building a shared community, it can help everyone have success.

“That Is Everything I Need to Know.” —Last time, NO.

No, that is not all you need to know as a buyer or vendor. No one will ever know every single thing. There are finer details to all aspects of owning, breeding, and selling animals, coming to buy from an animal swap, or participating as a vendor. But you should you should, at the very least, have a better start and better understanding of what animal swaps are and what is involved for you as a buyer or vendor.

Swaps are a excellent to build your network, glean all sorts of knowledge, and find some people who share common interests. You can make new friends and sometimes reconnect with old ones. Whether you are a rural farmer, urban farmer, or a farm-related hobbyist, swaps are a great space to participate. Depending on the time of year, you can find anything from livestock, food, produce, crafts, artwork, even plant starts for your garden, etc. For me, seeing my buddies is always the highlight of my day though! 

Swaps are for people of all experience levels. So if you have never owned a chicken, or any other farm animal, they are a great place to start. If you are experienced, swaps are a great place for you to meet new and other experienced people. Enjoy and for you newbies, treat yourselves to a swap near you. I can sincerely promise that you’ll have a great time and it won’t be the last one you attend! #supportlocal.

Finding Swaps

The Pet Chickens of Virginia Association provides an event calendar on their website. The events include the dates, times, locations, and organizer information. Should an event location have their own social media page, the link is also included if applicable. If you know of an event that is not included, please let them know.

Starting Swaps

If you do not have a swap local to you, and you want to be a volunteer host, reach out to Pet Chickens of Virginia Association. They are happy to discuss it, determine if there is a location already available or aid in finding one, and guide you on the journey. Typically the only reason there is no local swap — There is no volunteer host.

Network – Connect – Learn – Share


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