Bentham livestock market regularly sees its sheep numbers beating its human population of just over 3,000 people. Every week it averages 5,000 sheep sold on a Wednesday evening sale that started in 1996 in response to its traditional morning sale not attracting the numbers any longer, but two weeks ago it hit a new record.
10,000 sheep were sold between 2.30pm and up to nearly 2am on Thursday morning. The town was as usual at a near standstill.
Mart manager and auctioneer Stephen Dennis, in his 40th year at Bentham Mart, said it was proof of the livestock market’s now national standing.
“Bentham is a little country auction mart that continues to gain customers from all around different parts of the UK that realise what is going on here.
“For the past month to six weeks we’ve had some really big numbers going through, which is usual at this time of year, but hitting the 10,000 mark was quite an achievement.”
Stephen said that Ramadan is always highly influential on trade.
“Ramadan and the Asian Muslim market is a very big player in the UK sheep industry. Around 70 per cent of the sheep we sell, made up of cull ewes, hoggets and lambs, goes into that market and it is increasing all the time.
“If any week was going to break the record it was going to be that week. It’s not only the UK home market that sales are being made for either, it is also going to the export market with carcases destined for countries such as France and Germany. We always see a massive spike at the time of religious festivals.
“Sheep prices are still good and are driven by Ramadan at this time of year, but they are not just as high as they were last year.”
Stephen pointed out why that was the case this time around.
“This season has seen an abundance of heavy lambs of 48 kilos and over that have proved slightly more difficult to place as supply has gone over demand, but the handier lambs of 40-44 kilos that are destined for supermarkets and the export trade have been not so plentiful and so they have been easier to maintain a price.”
Stephen said the Beltex-cross and Texel-cross remain the most sought after but that Bentham also sees a lot of hill breeds such as the North of England Mule, Masham, North Country Cheviot and Swaledale.
"Our supply alters with the season and what is on offer. Of the 10,000 sold a fortnight ago nearly 7,000 were the old season’s (2021 born) lambs, now year-old’s that are regarded as hoggets. By the end of this month it will have changed around and we will have more of this year’s lambs than hoggets.”
Greg MacDougall, who hails from Selkirk and started his career at St Boswell’s Mart in the Borders, has been auctioneer at Bentham Mart for ten years and is the UK’s reigning Auctioneer of the Year having won the title through a national farming publication’s ‘Mart the Heart’ awards in 2019.
Greg said he had an eye on achieving the record two weeks ago.
“I knew we stood a good chance and that this was going to be our week to get there. We have a really strong following from a wide area and the sheep largely come our way because of the name we have, but we did just give a gentle shove here and there to hit that figure. It was a great feeling.”
Will Alexander has been auctioneer at Bentham for six years after having started out with North West Auctions.
Will said the increase in the number of hoggets had been the major factor in Bentham’s historic achievement.
“We sold 1,500 more hoggets than at the same time for Ramadan as last year. In 2021 we sold 5,350 and two weeks ago we sold 6,850.”
Rosie Wilson is a farmer’s daughter from near Boroughbridge and has been livestock market administrator for four years. She is following in the footsteps of her mum Liz who is with Selby Mart.
Rosie said there was a tremendous atmosphere in the mart and around the town.
“It really was non-stop. We are in the centre of Bentham and this little town was at a standstill. It was gridlock. The locals are used to Wednesday being a very busy day but they were still probably wondering just what was going on.”
Stephen said that Bentham Mart couldn’t claim to be the trailblazers in moving to an evening sale.
“Kirkby Stephen Mart had started an evening sale a few years previous to ours because of similar reasons. The change to early evenings that now goes through to very early mornings has definitely attracted a wider audience of buyers and seems to suit both buyers and sellers.”