8 March 2002

Private deals go down well

By Jeremy Hunt

North-west correspondent

TRADING livestock in private deals arranged by auctioneers has proved popular over the past 12 months, and looks set to continue.

For some producers, such as Herts dairy farmer Alistair Clark, it was the only option when foot-and-mouth prevented him from holding a dispersal sale.

"We had planned to disperse the herd and even though we decided to stay in milk production, the private sale to move 100 of our best cows was very straightforward," says Mr Clarke, who runs the Kimpton herd, one of the highest yielding Holstein herds in the UK.

"If selling through the ring is not an option, selling through a sale register is a convenient way to bring buyer and seller together, and it means much less stress for the cows," adds Mr Clark, who used Cheshire-based auctioneers Wright-Manley to find a buyer.

Wright-Manley remains committed to direct farm-to-farm sales and is setting up a new department within the company to deal with the ongoing demand.

Clive Norbury, the firms head auctioneer, says the new private sales register department will not undermine the firms commitment to auction marts. "We view the private sales register working hand-in-hand with auction sales of dairystock and not as an alternative.

"But there are farmers who prefer to trade privately and we must provide a professional service to facilitate that," says Mr Norbury.

Last years circumstances forced farmers to trade stock through sales registers, both for restocking purposes and to enable others to market stock when auction marts were closed.

Auctioneers admit that while many farmers would never have considered this mode of trading before, it has won a lot of support.

"It is cost effective and cheaper than putting cattle through an auction sale, but it is not the ideal way to sell every herd. We still feel that for better quality dairy cows there is nothing to beat selling under the hammer."

Harrison and Hetherington, the Carlisle-based farmstock business, has been at the sharp end of restocking in Cumbria and has traded millions of £s worth of dairy stock, principally from the south-west.

Edward Brown, the firms senior dairy auctioneer, says the trend towards private sales was underway long before the F&M outbreak. "Everyone has less time and herds are getting bigger and staffing is pared to a minimum. Asking a commercially minded large-scale milk producer to attend pedigree sales to buy two or three animals, when he may be looking for 50 calved heifers, is unrealistic."

Mr Brown says H&H must provide a service for this part of the dairy trade, and offering a comprehensive list of stock that is for sale in batches or groups is one way of doing this. "If it looks good on paper and the herd meets expectations on inspection a deal can be struck rapidly for anything from 10 to 200 or more cows. It is a system that increasingly suits many farmers."

Mr Brown recommends sellers examine all the sale methods. "It may be that a herd of cows, or a batch of heifers, will sell better through the ring, so it is important to look at all the options."

Tom Brooksbank, of Cirencester-based auctioneers Norton and Brooksbank, says his company will continue to undertake private sales of stock between dairy farmers, but believes there has to be a more realistic approach to values.

As more farmers restock there is less demand for whole herds, he says. And although privately offered dairystock have sold well for restocking, prices for dairy animals now have to be more realistic in response to the drop in milk price. "If vendors are prepared to trade at realistic figures and their cattle are what we consider to be the "standard product", the private sale option will appeal to some.

"But we still reckon better quality cows should be sold at auction. The ring will remain the most efficient indicator of dairy cow values, however cattle are sold," says Mr Brooksbank. &#42