In years past most of southeastern Massachusetts was farmland - livestock dotted every field. Nowadays pressure from business and residential development has consumed large tracts of open space. But farm life has not disappeared entirely from Fairhaven. In fact, along with Littleton, Whatley and Swansea, the town still hosts a livestock auction that is a lot more than a remembrance of things past.
“We’ve been doing auction,” said Richie Costa. “This October will be eleven years.”
Costa and his wife Donna own one of the few remaining family farms in town.
“We milked cows for 30 years, dairy cows,” he said. “It was getting to hard to make a living so we tried something else. And this has been quite successful for us. And like I say, I enjoy seeing the younger generations come and see what the reality of life is. And that’s one of the biggest reasons why we do it.”
The livestock auction was once a feature of life for many Massachusetts residents, but these days most people in town don’t even know that the Costas’ sleepy farmyard on New Boston Road morphs into a bustling marketplace on Wednesdays, an exotic bazaar where you may find anything from poultry to power tools.
“The general public is open and welcome to come to the place,” said auctioneer Steve Medeiros. “A lot of them are farmers that are looking for replacements. It’s a place they can bring their cull animals. Some of them are actually looking to put them in the freezer. Some are buying for resale.”
As farm trucks and trailers arrive at the farm, their tires crunch the shell driveway before backing up to the auction barn. It could be a scene from Noah’s Ark as Barbados sheep and Nubian goats spill down the loading ramp. Inside the barn, Holstein cows and milking shorthorns low uncertainly through the bars of the holding area while birds twitter excitedly in the rafters overhead. Hens, geese, rabbits, ducks and bantams arrive, tucked inside produce crates that are tagged and stacked alongside rolls of fence wire, farm implements, old lawn mowers and bags of feed. Everything goes on the block.
The Costa’s granddaughter, 12 year-old Rosemary Costa waits by the entrance with a clipboard, checking in the poultry arrivals.
“There’s a whole bunch of stuff that comes through,” said the Costa’s granddaughter, Rosemary Costa, who waits by the entrance with a clipboard to check in the poultry arrivals. “We got animals, we have eggs. We have a tools and doors and windows. We have buckets and feeders.”
As buyers arrive, the aisles begin to fill. People come here from across Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Nicholas Raposo from Two Village Farm in Swansea is among the crowd.
“Usually I come every week and we buy animals to raise or animals to be slaughter -- cows, pigs, goats sheep, lamb,” Raposo said.
Steve Medeiros has been conducting the auction since it began in 2002. He attributes the auction’s success to a number of factors, including a strong market among various ethnic groups and a shortage of beef nationwide.
“Actually the entire live animal market is an ethnically-based market,” Medeiros said. “The ducks are for the Asians. A lot of the Greeks like lamb. The Portugese like the lambs and the goats. The Muslims are a big part of the trade now. We do more goat and sheep business here now for the Muslim holidays than we do for the Christian holidays.”
Agostino Carreira from New Bedford is a regular at the auction. He likes the small income he gets for his birds.
“This time I brought ducks, pigeons and quails and the chickens, the small kind of chickens,” he said.
Despite the fact that it continues to operate in relative obscurity, for going on twelve years Costa’s livestock auction has filled a need and a void for the area’s remaining farmers. These weekly gatherings have been a boon for both buyer and seller. That’s some good news in an industry that could use more.