Online livestock auction proves a success almost a year since its launch

On-line trading of livestock is attracting a rapidly growing number of farmers and dealers who can buy and sell without incurring any commission fee – and the website Sell My Livestock is the successful trailblazer.

Jamie McInnes and Dan Luff launched the site last year and while they admit it took farmers some time to appreciate exactly what trading options they were offering, a surge of interest in the first two months of 2015 saw the partnership turnover £1m head of stock.

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In essence a buyer or a seller of stock can use the site without paying any commission. The only time any commission is charged is if either party requires SML to step in and provide additional security by handling the monetary transaction.

“We were initially approached by a farmer friend who felt he was too far away from an auction mart to make buying and selling stock through the ring a viable option. When we looked for online alternatives there was nothing dedicated to livestock selling,” says Mr McInnes, who is a website designer.

He joined forces with old school-friend Dan Luff, who comes from a Hampshire farming family, and spent almost two years developing the concept of Sell My Livestock. It now has over 2,000 registered users and about 13,000 followers on both Facebook and Twitter.

See also: The case for online auctions in the UK

“This year things have really taken off and we’re now short of stock to meet the demand from buyers. One seller had 27 enquiries in under an hour and sold all the sheep he’d put on the site,” says Mr McInnes.

He says there has been a big increase among farmers’ knowledge and awareness of using the internet. “Farmers are much happier than they used to be using the internet. They are embracing technology very rapidly and trading livestock online is a natural progression.”

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The SML partners say customer support is a very important part of their business. “We are always at the end of a phone line to help customers. This is a very traditional form of trading and we are keen to preserve that.”

For farmers wanting to sell stock the first part of the process is to take a photograph of the animals and then to follow the simple step-by-step on-site guide to log-on the details.

“We are happy to help farmers to do this if they need assistance, but it’s very straightforward. It can all be done in under two minutes.”

A full description of the stock is displayed on the site – including any relevant health status information. There is also a facility to include BCMS ear-tag information if required. Sellers will also soon be asked to include details concerning TB movements, and the site is linked to the Red Tractor database to give farm assurance status.

Sellers have the option to offer stock “by auction” by placing a reserve price and allow a period of their choice before accepting the final bid; alternatively they can opt to “sell now” at a set price.

Farmers will soon have the opportunity to use the Sell My Livestock app to post details of their stock on to the site from wherever they are using their smartphone or tablet.

Social media is used to promote the stock on the site. “We are actively promoting the stock we have offered and are issuing newsletters to all our registered users.”

Buyers, who must be registered with the site, can make direct contact with sellers. “The actual transaction is between the seller and his buyer and we don’t get involved. It is a totally commission-free transaction.

“But if it’s preferred by the seller that the transaction is handled through a secure payment process, the buyer pays the price agreed for the stock into our account and we transfer the money once the deal is done. In that case we charge 1.5% commission to the seller.”

Sheep producer Graham Tosdevine, Petersfield, Hampshire, says he was impressed when seling stock through the site. He’s sold shearling ewes from his 300-strong flock of Beulah crosses as well as store cattle.

“I had an immediate response and sold sheep and store cattle within a week. I had phone calls soon after the stock went on the site. The buyers came and looked and bought them – and it saved me the haulage costs because it’s almost a three-hour round trip to sell them through the ring,” says Mr Tosdevine.

He decided to use the secured payment system offered by SML.

“It’s so simple. The buyers pay the site company and then I give the buyer an invoice when the animals leave the farm. Nothing leaves until the money is in the bank. I then get an invoice for the value of stock less the 1.5% commission.”

Other online livestock auctions

Sell My Livestock isn’t the only online livestock auction in the UK, with Farmer Green Auctions launched earlier this month.

Run in a similar fashion to Sell My Livestock, Farmer Green Auctions will allow farmers to sell all types of stock including TB-restricted stock for approved finishing units as well as embryos.

Founder Ed Green is a fifth-generation beef and arable farmer and runs a family farm in Somerset. His inspiration for Farmer Green came from his own frustrations with traditional livestock markets and his travels in the US as part of a Nuffield Farming Scholarship.

“I got fed up with having to travel miles to a market, stand around a cold ring for hours on end to find ultimately too few stock to choose from with little or no information about them,” he said.

“Add to this the cost of transport and commission, and the gamble of what price will be paid on the day, I decided that I had to do something about it.”

Farmers selling through the site can upload photos, videos and details about their stock, providing genetic breeding values, sire names, complete herd health status, and farm assurance details.

Buyers can place bids on a price a head basis ,with a reserve put in place by the vendor along with a “buy it now” option. Auction length options will last seven, 14 or 21 days and buyers and vendors will receive search and bid alerts.

Mr Green says: “This is the beginning of something new and a movement towards a different way of trading livestock. We are inviting farmers to join us, at no cost, and be a part of something different.”