Life as a young female auctioneer

Female linesmen have been in the news lately, but they’re not the only women in a traditional man’s world – the countryside also has professions comprising mostly men. Farmers Weekly talks to a female auctioneer.

Life can be tough at Britain’s livestock auction markets, especially when there are hundreds of farmers milling around, all anxious to get the best deal for their cattle or sheep. And often men will try and lord it over weaker auctioneers in their determined efforts to sell their animals or get a better price.

But 34-year-old farmer’s daughter Jenny Layton will have no truck with them after more than 10 years’ experience as one of the few female livestock auctioneers in the UK.

“It’s a grand job,” says Jenny, who became a partner at McCartneys at the Knighton Market, Powys, after five years with the company. She now sells cull, store and breeding sheep, as well as store cattle, on a regular basis. She is also a dab hand at farm dispersal sales.

Although she admits it was nerve-wracking at first, Jenny says: “I have always been a bit of a tomboy and can remember being taken to markets by my father when I was five years old. I loved the buzz and excitement of the place and the way adults accepted you and spoke to you as a friend – and even then I started thinking that I wanted to work in a place like that.”

After obtaining a national diploma in business and finance at Hereford and a 2:1 honours degree in rural enterprise and land management at Harper Adams University College, Jenny went straight to McCartneys in 1999 and she was soon out in front of the farmers selling their stock.

She also quickly found time to do the exams to qualify as a Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and fellow of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, as well as become a Fellow of the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA), ending up with an impressive string of letters behind her name.

And today she says: “There has been no problem whatsoever going into what many people still consider to be a man’s world. Sure, you have to be strong and you have to be fair – and you can’t let anybody walk all over you. But I ignore any insults and get on with the job. I think a weak bloke could have as many difficulties becoming a livestock auctioneer as a weak woman might have.

“We have a good crowd here and as long as you do your best and people can see you are trying to do a good job, they will leave you alone. In addition, the LAA does a lot of work to help people like me stay on top of things and to help keep the markets running smoothly.

“It provides a great service, going through the information from the government and health authorities and then feeding the relevant bits through to us,” says Jenny, who is also recognised as an independent expert for the RICS and often gets called in as an expert witness to help settle land disputes.

In addition, she is McCartneys’ cross-border specialist for the Single Payment Scheme and is involved in a large range of other work, including valuations for borrowing, probate, farm business tenancies, divorce and tax in the office during the week.

But auctioneering remains her first love. “I enjoy the excitement of the trade. There is a good feeling if you have a successful day in the yard. It puts me on a high and keeps me going for the rest of the week.”

Jenny normally does two sales at Knighton market every week – lambs on Thursday and cows on Friday. But she is often called in for sales on Tuesdays as well, with the occasional farm sale on Saturdays.

But, usually at weekend, she can be found either helping her Dad out on the family farm, or playing a strenuous game of league-class hockey for the Kington Ladies.

“Luckily I live quite a way from the market, so I don’t always have to talk about work when I socialise in the evening,” adds Jenny, although she says she is often called on by friends to be the “star turn” at hen parties, where she is asked to auction off various naughty items amid what she describes as “great hilarity”.

Jenny’s top career tips:

• Get educated – consider a course at Harper Adams in Shropshire, where the LAA sponsors a degree course for auctioneers and market managers

• Be practical and have a hands-on approach

• Always be willing to take advice

• Keep a level head at all times

• Be determined to get to the top

• Enjoy your work and be nice to clients. Remember, a smile counts for a lot

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