Martin Lloyd, an auctioneer with Melton Mowbray Market, offers some advice for anyone planning their first visit to a livestock sale.

Attending your first livestock auction, either to sell or to buy, can be an extremely daunting, but very, very exciting, prospect. Whether it's sheep, cattle, pigs or poultry, the buzz of buying or selling at pen or ringside is second to none and an auction offers one of the best ways to achieve the optimum value for your stock, be that prime stock, stores or breeding stock.

Auction marts are full of helpful and friendly faces, so any nerves should soon be calmed. Mart staff are always on hand to guide vendors and buyers and will always offer impartial advice to first-time customers. 

When you are selling...
If you are preparing for your first sale as a vendor, providing the right information is key and pre-entering your stock with the auctioneer is vital. For pedigree and breeding stock or store sales, it allows them to be catalogued and advertised correctly and for prime stock it allows auctioneers to inform buyers of expected numbers forward. All of this helps to maximise the number of buyers present for YOUR stock.

Many markets will have entry forms or declarations that must be taken along with your stock. Please fill out these forms with as much 
information as possible. TB Test areas and dates are now very important, as well as details of any withdrawal periods, dosings or any other details of the livestock. The mart staff will use this information to process your livestock into the correct section of the sale, so being clear with all of the details helps everyone. For pedigree or breeding stock, details such as reserves are important as this give the auctioneer a target.

When sale time comes around, it is important to represent your stock either on the rostrum or in the pen. Not only does this help buyers see that you take pride in what you are selling, but it also allows you to give the auctioneer any other details they may need.

Although it is not compulsory, some vendors do give luck money (part of purchase price traditionally returned to buyer by vendor to maintain goodwill) to purchasers following the sale of their stock.

The most important thing when selling your livestock is to enjoy yourself. A saying often heard in marts is “you only sell them once”, so enjoy the moment and take pride in the stock you have reared and produced.

When you are buying...
Preparing yourself for your first buying trip is very similar. Information is key!

Make sure you arrive at the mart in plenty of time to go into the office and register your account. Some marts will want you to do this prior to the sale to allow them to make any checks they may need to, and this is all part of the process so please do not fret!

Whether buying store, breeding or pedigree stock, it’s important to give yourself time to examine your potential purchases. Walk the 
pens, look at the stock and talk to the vendors. In the case of breeding and pedigree stock, most vendors are more than happy to talk to you about their stock, and are proud to show it off.

Pedigree sales are places where you can all share your passion for the breed and vendors will be happy to discuss bloodlines and show first-time purchasers some of the do’s and don’ts of the breed in question.

As the sale starts, pay attention to the auctioneer’s opening speech; it not only allows you to get tuned in to their tone of voice, but will 
also contain important details about the sale proceedings. This may include how the animals are sold, whether per head or, in the case of ewes with lambs or cows with calves, per outfit. It may also explain the currency that the stock is sold in; for example, pedigree livestock is normally sold in Guineas (Gns) – one Guinea being £1.05 - while commercial livestock is normally sold in £s. Sometimes, sales will be subject to a buyer’s premium, which depending on the stock can vary from 5% to 20%, which is added on to the hammer price at the end of the sale.

When the sale commences the auctioneer will give detail of each lot as they begin to sell them. For commercial livestock, whether stores or breeding, this is often a simple description, with pedigree livestock having descriptions of parentage and bloodlines etc.

When the bidding commences, ensure that your bidding is clear to the auctioneer; in busy rings and at pensides full of customers there may be several potential buyers bidding at a particular lot. Bidding clearly ensures that either the auctioneer or their staff will have seen you and can take your bid.

When the hammer goes down, and hopefully you are successful, it is helpful to the auction staff that you have your buyer’s number 
written clearly to show when requested by the auctioneer. This avoids any errors in who has bought what and means livestock destined for Cornwall doesn’t end up in Scotland - it has been known to happen!

When you have finished your buying, arguably the most important thing to do is to head into the market office and sort out the paperwork. After you have paid for your purchases, the office will issue you with licenses and passports, if purchasing cattle, as well as any other relevant documents such as pedigrees.

Even if you are attending a sale simply to gather information on breeds you might be considering, never fear an impromptu purchase at market. Sometimes stock will catch your eye or prices will be in your favour. Market staff will have a list of licensed livestock hauliers and more often than not, hauliers will be in attendance at the sale. Most “have wheels, will travel” and will be more than willing to transport or to help organise transport for your purchases. 

It always pays to double check your purchases against the paperwork issued, as any errors are much easier to sort out in the market than later at home.

As either a vendor or a buyer, one of the most important things is to enjoy your time in the market. It’s not just a place to buy and sell, but a real community hub. The café is always a good place to sit and chat, and in talking to other farmers and smallholders you can not only make great friends but also learn from each other.

Farming can be challenging, whether you farm commercially or farm alongside another job, so having a market community to share the 
trials and tribulations of farming with is vital.

Photograph - Tatton GOS Piglet