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Exotic Animals: Hottest Selling New Farm Crop
You've never seen farm auctions like the ones springing up all over the country to sell exotic animals - such as llamas, camels, ostriches, monkeys and Sicilian donkeys - to the booming exotic livestock market. Prices of up to $20,000 or more for individual animals are common at the auctions, which serve as one-stop shopping centers for animals that are hard to find anywhere else.
Dave Hale's annual exotic livestock auction near Cape Girardeau, Mo., is considered to be the biggest. Last year Hale had about 8,000 animals, with around 500 con-signors and 5,000 potential buyers from 44 states (This year's auction is scheduled for October 16-20. Contact: The 5-H Ranch Exotic Animal Auction, Rt. 2, Cape Girardeau, Mo 63701 ph 314 243-1479 or 243-2116).
Hale houses 700 to 800 exotic animals of his own at his 5-H ranch, where the sale barn is located. "I got into the exotic livestock business 20 years ago by swapping a tractor for a camel," Hale recalls. "I learned early on that camels and other exotic animals hold their value remarkably well over the years. Of all the people who buy exotics at my sales, about three fourths are farmers. It's a great sideline business for them be-cause they can raise the animals in a small pasture and make a good profit on the off-
According to Hale, the hottest-selling exotic animals today are llamas, camels, ostriches and Sicilian donkeys.
Despite the popularity of exotic animals, there's still tremendous potential for growth because only a limited number of exotic animals can be imported to the U.S. these days. "Most exotics come from a breeding base of animals that are already here. Prices are high because in a growing market it takes a long time to build up an adequate breeding supply," says Hale.
For example, a Sicilian donkey that sold for $500 three years ago, today sells for $1,500. A good breeding pair of ostriches that sold for $1,000 three years ago, today can bring $25,000 to $30,000. Female llamas and Watusi bulls now sell for up to $20,000.
According to Pat Hoctor, editor of a magazine for exotic animal owners called Animal Finder's Guide, an exotic animal's worth at an auction is often unpredictable. "There are no established prices because there are only a few auctions. The price in the ring is whatever the buyer will pay. At a cattle auction, everyone buys for slaughter worth so there's an established price per pound. But at an exotic livestock auction, buyers range from dealers trying to fill orders for zoos to people who buy simply because they've never seen a particular species before and they're fascinated by it.
"For example, a cougar may be worth $500 to a dealer. But someone who wants a pet cougar cub and has priced one at $2,000 at a pet shop, may think it's a bargain at $1,000. A zebra breeder doesn't care if a baby zebra has been bottle raised. But someone who fantasizes about leading zebras around on a leash will pay one heck of a price for a bottle-raised zebra."
Even at high prices, you can make a profit - if you know what you're doing. "Don't gamble if you can't afford to gamble," says Hoctor. "Do the legwork and learn what you need to know before you buy."
Buyers and sellers of most exotic animals must have USDA animal-welfare permits. There's no charge for the permits, and they're fairly easy to get. You just have to prove that you have adequate facilities to house the animals. To get a permit, contact the veterinary division of the USDA government office in your state.

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1988 - Volume #12, Issue #5