A Year of Acquisitions, Apprentices and Exceptional Throughputs

An increase in numbers in all areas, during the last twelve months, has very much been the trend for the UK’s leading livestock trading company Harrison and Hetherington.

They have increased the number of marts that they operate, they have increased the number of staff and they have increased the numbers of livestock passing through their rings. Here Scott Donaldson, Sales Director and David Pritchard, Operations Director of Harrison and Hetherington, and the team review this year and look forward to next.

L-R Scott Donaldson & David Pritchard

L-R Scott Donaldson & David Pritchard

The highlight of the autumn for the company was its acquisition of two marts in North Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, raising its geographical profile to include the Northern England and Southern Scotland area, from west to east. This was the much-publicised purchase of John Swan & Sons Ltd, and their marts at Wooler and Newtown St Boswells. Promising a more proactive role in agricultural business in these important livestock areas, the company has already begun a proactive approach.

For Scott, one of his personal highlights is the role that the younger generation of auctioneers is now playing in the ongoing growth and development of the company:
“They are all developing and working very hard and we are seeing the benefit of this coming through in the numbers of livestock that we are selling every week. We also recruited four apprentice auctioneers in August. Aged between 16 & 21 they are each undertaking a targeted apprentice programme which will cover all aspects of the job of a Livestock Auctioneer.”
“Selling record price pedigree cattle and sheep is the icing on the cake,” says Scott, “however the bread and butter is where people judge us, and we have had a very successful year with our weekly sales at every centre, where it counts.”

In fact, throughput in all of the markets has increased in the past 12 months in all livestock classes. This is especially true in prime sheep, cast cows and store cattle, but even against predicted values for breeding sheep the group has fared very well. In addition, the main breeding sheep sales at all centres have proved to be successful with more numbers and higher averages that anticipated.

One of the governing factors over the last few months in terms of livestock trading has been the lack of cash in the system, and that is noticeable as buyers have become more cautious. The dairy industry continues to be under huge pressure and will without doubt see more changes in the next 12 months.

The prime sheep trade has been disappointing this autumn as currency has dictated the decrease in export value. This looks like it may continue for some time into 2016.

David Pritchard explains:
“From Borderway and our other auction marts, Harrison and Hetherington complete sales for most of the pedigree sheep and cattle breed societies/clubs. The quality of stock has been outstanding throughout the year, and never more so than the showing as part of Harrison & Hetherington’s annual Showcases, UK Borderway Agri Expo, which saw a record-breaking number of entries and earlier in the year, and the resounding success of Borderway UK Dairy Expo, both are growing each year and supporting the agricultural industry.”

Harrison and Hetherington have also worked hard over the last 12 months to form partnerships with other businesses within the industry. David adds:
“This has allowed us to make contact with customer’s out with our area in order to build our business and create sustainability for the future, and we look forward to building on this next year.”

Glyn Lucas, Senior Dairy Auctioneer for Harrison and Hetherington reflects on what could have been a very different year in the dairy cattle market:
“It has been well documented that the dairy industry has been going through a considerable downturn, but at Harrison and Hetherington, in keeping with national trends, the dairy cattle prices have remained resilient throughout the year with demand not decreasing through 2015. Most of the industry did expect many more farmers exiting the industry this year, however 2016 may differ in this respect as cash flows become more strained we may see more farmers exiting. I do still believe that trade will remain consistent in the New Year in spite of this.”

Also as a result of the struggles of dairy farmers this year there have been a lot more cast cows coming forward to the market, as David Holliday, Senior Auctioneer comments:
“With milk prices being so low in 2015 dairy farmers have been offloading their cast cows, the result of this has been the price dropping slightly. Contrary to this price drop the numbers of cattle are up on last year and Borderway is now the leading cast cow market in the UK with over a staggering 20 buyers each week – the numbers have well and truly brought in the customers. Prime cattle numbers have stayed the same as previous years, and the trade has had very little fluctuation over the course of the year.

This steady trend has been good for the market as it enabled people to plan ahead slightly, usually a luxury in this industry.”

Under the direction of Livestock Manager Mark Richardson, Kirkby Stephen has had a buoyant year, which has seen them building on quality, entries and buyers.

Mark said:
“Our Tuesday night prime sheep and cast sheep sales attract regularly between three and five thousand sheep a week. All have been very well supported throughout the year, with upwards of 15 active buyers competing for all classes. Trade for quality lambs on a Tuesday has stood the test of time. “Our vendors are improving stock year-on-year so farmers really need to be congratulated - it really is a credit to them.”

The September Mule Gimmer Lambs Sale, with 11,250 lamb stopped to a price of £600 each for a pen of ten with the average almost £94, for 700 more lambs sold than the same sale last year. With over 90 active buyers from Lanark to Devon, the two day sale of Swaledale Ewes and Gimmer Lambs saw nearly 4000 ewes with the champion pen selling for £600 each for a pen of ten, and the overall average of £124. There were almost 2000 Swaledale Gimmer Lambs with the average of £82.50 up over £12 on the year before.

The same day saw a sale that continues to grow from strength to strength, the annual Blue-Faced Leicester Lamb Ram and Female Sales. With top quality consignments from noted flocks it attracted many buyers, a better trade and hopefully even more entries for next year.

The annual three-day Swaledale Ram Sales, held on behalf of the Swaledale Sheep Breeders Association C District, featured on the first day, the aged rams and ram lambs. A total of 732 Shearlings were sold, averaging £1674 up £167 on the year - a tremendous outcome and far greater than anyone expected.

The finale of the year was the annual Luke Fair, a sale of all classes and breeds of females and breeding ewes and rams which saw nearly 5000 on offer. It brought in a packed ringside of buyers from all over the UK and a very strong trade throughout.

The final November beef breeding cattle sales saw 611 beef breeding head sold to a top of £3600 for a British Blue Cross Heifer with a Limousin Bull Calf at foot.

This was another exceptional sale with tremendous quality. Heifers and calves at foot averaged £2,095 – up over £85. In calf Heifers averaged £1684, which was up £98 on the year.

At Lockerbie Auction Mart in the Scottish Borders, auctioneer Michael Stewart has seen sales well supported by both vendors and purchasers, many who have travelled very long distances.

The Store Cattle sale is a highlight of the year for many livestock farmers in this part of Scotland, and purchasers travelled the length of the country to secure some tremendous cattle.

The North Country Cheviot sale was an outstanding success and the South Country Cheviot sales saw a superb average of £744 and a near 100% clearance of tups sold.

One of the biggest successes for Lockerbie during the last twelve months has been the changes to operating Lockerbie as a collection for prime lambs. This has allowed the Mart to offer guaranteed prices for prime lambs and they have a large number of companies working with them on a weekly basis.
“The numbers we have achieved at the collection centre have far exceeded our expectations such as been the success. It has been so successful,” said Michael, “we now have many new vendors from across the area using this new facility.”

Auctioneer Grant Anderson based at Carlisle is also responsible for Sales of Prime Cattle, Bulls, and Store Cattle, and on the pedigree side, the sale of Limousin, Blonde and British Blue cattle and Beltex, Texel and Zwartbles sheep. Grant is also closely involved with the seasonal sales at Newcastleton Mart, the home of the Blue Grey.

For him, 2015 has also been a very successful year: “Despite a lacklustre trade for prime cattle, store cattle numbers have increased at Carlisle and the trade has held up very well, however the pedigree sales have given us the real highlight of the year.”

The Beltex ‘Premier’ sale at Borderway proved to be the most successful Ram Sale of all the breeds this season, with more sheep sold and only a marginal drop in averages on the year. This trend continued at Kelso Ram Sales with another sound demand in the Beltex ring. The record priced Limousin bull in October was a highlight, however the sale itself was one of the best October Bull Sales the mart has had for many years.
Grant continues:
“The Zwartbles breed continues to create great interest and both our ram and female sale in August and the in lamb sale in November, were a great success with more numbers forward and a huge crowd in attendance at both sales.”

Newcastleton Mart’s heifer day proved to be a real flier as the demand for Blue Grey heifers was fantastic with interest from all over the British Isles.

Looking elsewhere in the UK Grant adds: “On a personal note it was a great honour to be asked to judge at ‘South West Beef’ down at the Westpoint Arena in Exeter, I was very impressed with the quality of stock.”

Grant believes the addition of St Boswells and Wooler to the business is an exciting move and he is Iooking forward to being involved in both centres.

Auctioneer James Little, who regularly sells at Borderway, Lazonby and Kirkby Stephen, reports that 2015 has been a good year for Prime lambs at Borderway: “Prime Lamb numbers at Carlisle continue to rise, a contributing factor in this and also as a result of this has been that there are many new customers being drawn to the mart week on week.”

Commenting on Broughton in Furness Mart James said:
“Broughton in Furness has had a very good season; this is mainly down to the excellent team of Farmer Directors who are willing to push the mart to the next level. The increased productivity surrounding the mart has resulted in the cattle and sheep sales drawing in more customers than expected.”

Lazonby’s Alston Moor Sale was a record-breaker in 2015; it was a much better year than expected with a very pleasing average of £95.82.

A personal career highlight for James was selling the 140,000gns Limousin Bull which broke the records. He said:
“This record-breaking sale for me has been 12 years in the making; I have worked at Harrison and Hetherington since my career inception, and enjoyed every minute, 2015 has been an excellent year all round.”

In conclusion David Pritchard said: “2015 has been a successful year on all fronts for Harrison and Hetherington. This is in no doubt a reflection on the outstanding team that continue to work exceptionally hard year on year to make the business a success, and long may it continue.”

HH Group

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