Should You Buy Livestock from Sale Barns?

Should You Buy Livestock from Sale Barns?

People have some STRONG feelings about sale barns.

I have a dear friend who won’t touch them with a 10 foot pole.  She wouldn’t buy an animal from a sale barn if it was the last cow on earth.  Never.  She said she knows folks who take animals on the brink of death to the sale barn.  Her report is: the owners clean them up & pump them full of medications to spunk ’em up enough to survive the trip through the Auction, knowing they’re probably gonna die within 24 hours.

Is she right?

I don’t know.

sale barn 7

I have another friend (he lives next door) who loves sale barns.  He raises beef cattle, and you are a lucky cow if you live at his farm.  It is a beautiful place.  Those cows are loved, spoiled and well-fed.  He takes great pride and care in his herd.  He also takes his livestock to the sale barn.  His cows are the cream-of-the-crop and perfectly healthy.

So, what’s the real story with sale barns?  Are the animals sick or not?

I think there are probably some sick animals coming through, “the line” and there’s probably lots of healthy animals too.

sale barn 2

The bummer of the situation, which I think we can all agree on, is that when the livestock are delivered to the sale barn they are usually “held” in shared paddocks.  Likewise, all the animals travel “through” the same corridors.

sale barn 1

And of course, all the animals at some point end up in the display area in front of all the spectators so folks can bid on them.

There’s lots of opportunity for diseases and infections to spread.


Maybe the worst part is bringing a new animal home from a sale barn.  Even if the animal you bought is healthy and thriving, there is no telling what he/she walked through before getting into your trailer.  I’m sure there are all sorts of icky things present at the sale barn that I don’t want in my trailer, barns, fields, or around my other livestock.

We lived through an infectious bronchitis outbreak because we brought a sick animal onto our farm.  That sick chicken infected our entire flock.  I never want to relive that again.

I have to give our local Livestock Auction some credit.  They do test all the animals for certain problems and if the animal(s) test positive (my understanding is) they are not accepted.  This limits some exposure, but they can’t test for everything.  If you are buying an animal from a sale barn there is inherently gonna be some risk involved.

What’s a girl to do?

My thoughts on the whole thing are the same as my thoughts on children & germs.  When my kids were little I took them to the church nursery.  I took them to the grocery and put them in the grocery cart.  I took them to “mothers day out.”  I took them to Vacation Bible School.  Were there sick kids there?  Probably.  Could my kids get sick?  Probably.  Are we still going?  Probably.  It’s just a chance we decided to take.

So, you buy the cutest little [lamb, sheep, pig, goat, calf, etc] and it’s time to take your new baby home.

sale barn 4

The bathroom doors at the Livestock Auction make it clear that you are not in the city any longer.

Should YOU buy livestock from a sale barn?  

That’s a question I think everyone has to answer for themselves.  I wouldn’t want to be the reason you ended up with infectious bronchitis.

BTW –  I do not buy chickens and other birds from sale barns or state fairs or country fairs or swap meets or individuals.  

A bird who has been exposed to Infectious Bronchitis (and survived it) will not show any symptoms & appear completely healthy.  If you brought home a bird who was exposed to it (even if it has fully recovered) it will ALWAYS be a carrier of the disease.  This means it has the potential to pass the infection to any poultry it comes in contact with.  Forever.

Yes, I lived it.  Yes, I talked to my vet.  Yes, it was awful.  We went from almost 70 chickens to none.  The ones who didn’t die from Infectious Bronchitis and couldn’t be placed in a new home became dinner.  It was horrible.  We were able to find a nice guy who wanted a flock & didn’t mind that our chickens were carriers of Infectious Bronchitis.  He just wanted about 10 chickens.

Anyhow, I only buy poultry (as chicks or ducklings) from reputable businesses.

We have bought other livestock from our local sale barn.  Our experiences have been positive.  We are currently considering buying some livestock now that may come from our sale barn.  I’m not against it.

But….. we do try to take precautions.

sale barn 3

My little cowboy found a front row seat for the show.

Here’s some of the things we have done when buying animals from the sale barn (or elsewhere) in an effort to minimize problems:

#1.  Isolation

Keep the new guy/or gal in a separate paddock, stall, pen or fenced in area for a day or two.  This gives you a chance to observe them and see if they seem healthy.

I have to say that we are not vigilant with this one.  We are usually purchasing a calf so it can be grafted onto one of our milk-cows.  Time is not your friend when you need to graft a calf onto a cow.  You need that calf to suckle soon and often.  Although we do unite the new calf with the adoptive cow ASAP, we will keep them (the new calf/cow pair) separated from the rest of the herd for a while.

#2.  Vet

As soon as we bring a new critter onto our farm we call the vet to come out that day (or the next day).  I don’t have the training, experience or wisdom to notice many things that my vet does.  While he (or she) is here, they can take care of any shots/ worming/ lice/ castration/ or anything else that may need addressing.

#3.  Bath

Yep, if it’s warm out we have been known to bathe the new-comers (especially since the separation route is not always ideal for us).

We have hot & cold running water in our cow barn, so lots of warm water is available.  I have 4 children who put “bathing animals” in the top 2 spots of their top 20 favorite things to do, so it’s never an issue or inconvenience.  🙂

#4.  Introduction

After isolation, a vet visit and a bath (not necessarily in that order) – our new comers usually get to meet everyone else.


In addition to being a place to buy livestock at great prices, a sale barn is just plain, country fun.

If you are itching for a night out in the country, your local Sale Barn may be a fun place to go!

Who Should go to the Sale Barn?

  • Anyone looking for a night out of the house
  • People who like to meet and hang out with other country-folk
  • Folks who like animals
  • Anyone curious to see what a cow, sheep, pig, or goat costs these days
  • People who want to eat junk food
  • Anyone who likes to smoke or second hand smoke – because, at my Sale Barn – it’s unavoidable.

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