Opinion: Sights, sounds and smells – live marts have it all

We had our first TB breakdown in our cattle back in November, and last week we went clear again.

I could write about it here: the associated stress and business disruption, the balls-up with the blood tests in the lab which delayed things further, the woeful level of communication from the advisory service, but what would be the point?

We all know that the entire situation has been a disgrace for decades now, and I don’t think those in power care at all. But anyway, this is a family magazine, and the language that I’d need to use wouldn’t be appropriate.

See also: How livestock auctions fit in today’s meat markets

About the author

Will Evans

Farmers Weekly Opinion writer

Will Evans farms beef cattle, arable crops and a free-range egg unit in partnership with his parents over 200ha near Wrexham in North Wales. He also produces a podcast, Rock & Roll Farming.

Instead, I’m going to write about livestock markets (or marts, if you prefer).

Of course, mention that you prefer to sell live to some people in the industry and they’ll look at you as if you were brought up in a Victorian workhouse.

The thrusting young blades of farming don’t have the patience for such frivolity. “Who’s got time to hang around all day?” they jeer.

And perhaps they’re right; taking our finished cattle directly to an abattoir over the past few months has undoubtably been quick and convenient, and it’s always good to have options.

But at the same time, there’s been something missing, and I think it’s a sense of both community and familiarity.

Like many of us, I’ve been going to livestock markets since I was a small remember child, and in what must be one of my earliest memories I standing with both my grandfathers at the long-gone Wrexham market.

I still think of them when I drive past the site where a bingo hall now stands.

Around the ring, my Dad would tell me to sit still and be quiet or they’d think I was bidding and, terrified, I’d freeze like a statue.

It was years before I realised that he only did that to get some peace from my endless pestering.

A noble tradition – I’ve done the same thing with my own children, and perhaps they’ll do it with theirs one day too.

Broadly the same wherever you are in the country, or indeed the world, markets are always an assault on the senses.

The smell of cattle and sheep, the sight of so many pickups and trailers, lorries and tractors, the sound of clanging gates and ramps being lowered, the staccato rattle of auctioneers through cheap PA systems, the taste of strong tea and egg, chips and white bread in the café.

But perhaps the most important aspect is the human contact with the friends and neighbors you see there; the chance to share grievances, compare the day’s prices, complain about the weather, whisper the local gossip, pull each other’s legs, and have the opportunity to look them in the eye and ask them how they and their families are.

That feels more vital than ever, given the past few years we’ve had and how isolated many people in farming have been.

I’m not sure what the future holds for livestock markets, with over 500 of them ceasing to exist over the past 60 years and there being fewer than 140 left.

But I suspect that those remaining will adapt and innovate, and they’ll continue to play a central role in livestock farming communities, the way they have for hundreds of years. I hope so.

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