Auctioneer Bruce Daniel is proud to see Staffordshire’s last surviving mart at Leek going from strength to strength after witnessing the loss of many local livestock markets and as a former chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association.
His early auctioneering days took place in the less than auspicious surroundings beneath a multi-storey car park in Leicestershire. “But that’s where Loughborough livestock market took place in those days,” he says.
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The son of large-animal vet parents from Monmouth, he studied estate management at London University before looking for work. “There were few markets in the south-east. I ended up at Gloucester where many auctioneers were given a start. The running joke was you were fourth in line to sell the duck eggs.”
Acting as auctioneers’ clerk, he became very aware of his position. “Coming to Staffordshire was a lot more Christian. At Gloucester we dealt with many large farmers, land agents and farm managers who spoke only to the auctioneer; clerks were simply staff,” he recalls.
An opportunity to join Heyward & Son at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, in 1969 – immediately in the wake of foot-and-mouth – looked good. “The company had the town market but also a day a week selling at Leek. In those days there were many markets in the county; today only Leek remains.”
Initially put in charge of selling the killing calves, he immediately took to the local farming community and the landscape within which they worked. “It’s just a marvellous place,” he says.
With the Staffordshire moorland outside to the town, Derbyshire’s rising Peak District and the fertile Cheshire plain nearby, there is a huge wealth of character in the landscape and those who work among it, he points out.
That was tested during the 1970s when livestock values crashed amid a wider economic downturn. “Things were bad. Farms in the eastern counties were sending over free fodder to Wales to help. Government guarantees [for prices] were in place, acting as a buffer for many.”
The ’70s and ’80s saw social change. Farmhouses and small parcels of land were sold off to wealthier, non-farming buyers who now form part of the mart’s clientele. “Whatever and whoever, they all have a need to buy and sell whether in the weekly livestock market or fortnightly Saturday market.”
One constant remains, he says. The auctioneer is at the very start and end of the livestock world whether buying calves or lambs for fattening or selling prime lambs, barren cows and cull ewes for killing. It’s an essential role that’s kept Bruce keen to serve.
With more than 40 years’ experience he only regrets two developments: The farm cattle trailer and the mobile phone. “Every farm has a trailer today and that makes marketing more mobile [between auctions].
“And when you see a buyer get a call on his mobile phone at the ringside and put his hands in his pockets you know there’s nothing you can do but make the best of the remaining trade.”
Economics – pushed by government regulation – have driven out many local town markets. Little surprise he took the opportunity to act as chairman of the national Livestock Auctioneers’ Association to defend his profession in the wake of recent disease disasters administered over by MAFF and DEFRA.
“There’s huge need to educate and inform politicians of what we do. We’re not here just to sell stock but counsel farmers and advise on business decisions. And that’s been one big change – understanding the ever-changing tide of schemes and regulation facing farms today.”
But farmers are quick to latch on, he says. During BSE, cull cow compensation of 85p/kg liveweight soon saw farms react by feeding cows before sending them to market to boost revenue. “Silage has never been worth so much money.”
With market days returning to as near to normality as regulation allows, Bruce is aware that nationally sales of prime sheep and cattle through markets are following prime pigs and in decline. “There will still be a need for auctions like Leek. Not everyone wants to sell deadweight. We still need to find homes for store stock. Dairy herds still need replacements. We have to move with the times.”
At Leek, that has seen a recent change in the partners that make up Leek Auctions adding new vibrancy to the dairy section in particular but also the wider market atmosphere.
“Having celebrated its 50th anniversary at the edge-of-town site this month, the auction goes from strength to strength backed by loyal farmers, buyers and traders.”
With an eye to spending more time in future years exploring the lanes of Britain and, hopefully, Europe, Bruce can look back having contributed as a driving force within the county’s remaining livestock market.
Do you know a farming stalwart?
Farmers Weekly would like to hear of other “farmign stalwarts” to appear in this series.
Have you or someone you know been associated with the countryside for many decades?
It might be through a connection with the family farm, or as a employee on one. It might, alternatively, be through an involvement in one of the many allied trades and professions that are so integral to our rural areas.
You can nominate yourself – or a friend, a neighbour, relative or colleague.
Just email a few bullet points about the person you’re nominating (you can nominate yourself) to Tim Relf .
Please include your phone number.