Covid-19 has shaken up the way livestock sales can take place, with social-distancing rules making it difficult to operate as normal in livestock markets.
Although the sale of breeding stock is now allowed, with plans for some large sales still pressing ahead, there will be noticeable changes that farmers must adhere to.
Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA) chief executive Chris Dodds stresses the importance of protecting public health and asks the farming community to understand why changes are being made and to stick to the rules.
He says: “This is very different to foot-and-mouth; this is a public health issue. It is easy in rural areas not to grasp the severity and depth of the spread of the virus.
“If farmers don’t adhere to the rules and we are tripped up too many times, the service won’t be there. Ultimately, if auction marts are seen to be breaking the [Covid-19] rules, another review will take place.”
Mr Dodds says sales will not be “normal” and will be restricted by social distancing. “The pens and the ringside just cannot accommodate any more than necessary, so we are having to create a system where we can have social distancing.”
Here is a look at some of the changes already in place and what is being planned in livestock marts for the rest of the year.
1. Extending sale times
Thame Sheep Fair is an annual highlight for buyers and sellers of breeding sheep, with in excess of 20,000 sheep typically sold.
Normally held over two days, this year the sale will be extended to three days (5-7 August). Only ewes, shearlings and ewe lambs will be sold, with ram lambs and store lambs sold later in the month on 14 and 21 August at Thame Market.
It is expected there will be pen spaces between each vendor and the vendor will be allowed to stand in the pen with their sheep and take them into ring. They will then have to leave straight after their stock is sold.
There may also be a restriction on who can attend the sale, so only genuine buyers are present.
Other sales may also extend the number of sale days to allow safe social distancing. However, the LAA is asking regional associations to work together to discuss sales, timings, and dates to avoid overlaps.
2. Barriers around the ring
At Skipton Auction Market, perspex bidding booths have been installed every 3ft (0.9m) around the ringside to provide a barrier between buyers.
3. Selling stock privately/on commission
Private sales of stock, as well as individuals purchasing stock on behalf of several other farmers, is being encouraged to help reduce ringside numbers.
Sellers can provide videos and photos of the stock before the sale to help buyers select stock, so it is not necessary for them to attend the sale. This will help give them confidence to allow others to buy animals on their behalf.
Increased security, often from outsourced security firms, will likely be a regular sight across many auction marts. This is to make sure rules are being followed.
5. Online bidding and live streaming of sales
Lots of markets are now offering online bidding, timed auctions and live streaming of some of their sales.
Senior dairy auctioneer at Harrison and Hetherington, Glyn Lucas, says online selling has a big future to complement what is happening in the live ring and help reduce numbers at markets.
The first Border and Lakeland dairy breeding sale held online had 70 dairy bulls listed and achieved a 90% clearance.
However, Mr Lucas says it is “vitally important the pictures and videos produced for online sales are genuine” and no photoshopping has been carried out to make animals look better.
Guide to photographing and filming livestock
- Do not alter/edit the photo or video
- Give a 360deg view of the animal
- If filming, get the animal to walk so buyers can observe locomotion
- Do not make the video too long – 30secs is ideal
- Film/photograph the animal outside for the best light
6. Track and trace
Farmers attending live sales will be asked to provide their contact details as part of the government’s track and trace service.
The government has set up regional teams to trace everyone who have been in contact with a person testing positive for Covid-19.
People who have come into contact with someone who tests positive will have to observe a 14-day quarantine period.
7. Vendor forms
With vendors only allowed to drop stock off, many auction markets have been asking them to fill out forms so the auctioneer has the appropriate information to aid the sale of the animal(s) being sold.
Information can include:
- Whether it is home-bred
- EID tag type, breed
- Breeding information
- Reserve price
- Farm assurance details
- Performance data
- Medicine treatments
Measures in Scotland
The Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland (IAAS) has set out its roadmap for autumn sales, which it announced would go ahead. This includes the following:
- 2m distancing required, although the IAAS says it is working hard to reduce this to 1m to increase the numbers of buyers ringside.
- A “drop-and-go” policy for sellers, with only buyers allowed to attend sales.
- Every second drop-off bay closed to aid distancing.
- Once unloaded, paperwork must be left (if it wasn’t emailed in advance) and vendors should leave.
- Buyers must register for sales with their mart. On arrival, they must be checked in and contact details taken for the government’s test-and-trace programme. Buyers must also sign out when they leave.
- Additional hand-washing stations and foot dips are in place and should be used.
- Deployment of technology to allow more online sales. Buyers can view pictures and videos of an animal, and view its birthdate and breeding information ahead of the sale. They can then make an offer or bid during the sale using a live platform such as Facebook Live or web cameras. Auctioneers can be given minimum prices ahead of the sale and friends can attend sales on behalf of others.
- The use of two rings where possible. The second ring will have a screen to show the sale taking place in the first ring. A second auctioneer will be present in ring two to take bids and communicate with the main auctioneer in ring one. This would allow more people to attend sales.
- In the process of developing an app to electronically sign farmers in and out of markets, send alerts to remind people to wash their hands and ask people to move out of crowded areas.
- Hauliers and farmers will be asked to stay in their vehicle until a loading bay is available. Must ask for stock to be delivered to pen beside the loading bay and then farmer must complete loading to maintain safe distance.
- If island sales can’t go ahead, mainland marts will try to sell stock. The logistical challenges of transporting animals to these sales are being investigated.
For updates, visit the IAAS website.
Auction marts offer more than just a method for selling stock. They also provide a social element for farmers which is key for mental health. There is a vast array of help available for farmers in need. You can find more information at the FCN website.
The Farmer Network, is an independent not-for-profit company with more than 1,000 members that provides help and support to farmers and their businesses. Visit The Farmer Network website for more information.