Holmfirth defies the tide of closures

Years ago it was the place to be, where farmers would arrive every week, sell their livestock to local butchers and abattoirs or as ‘stores’ sold on for other farmers to take on further before bringing them back to a finishing weight.

Summer show and sale of livestock,  sheep and cattle at Holmfirth Attested Auction Mart.
Summer show and sale of livestock, sheep and cattle at Holmfirth Attested Auction Mart.

It was also the day-out in the week, the opportunity to chew the cud with their peers, learn how to achieve better prices, buy essentials such as feed and farm supplies, keep up to date with the farming world and enjoy social interaction in what was largely an isolated profession the rest of the week.

Much has changed in the livestock mart world in the past 30 years and Yorkshire has certainly not been immune to the closures that have taken place with upwards of 20 marts having disappeared in that time.

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Fortunately, the livestock market graveyard in the Ridings has not been expanded in more recent years but others have ceased trading, notably Chelford near Macclesfield just two years ago.

Summer show and sale of livestock, sheep and cattle at Holmfirth Attested Auction Mart.

However, smaller marts such as Holmfirth, now a livestock market oasis in West Yorkshire, continue – and with gusto.

If you could bottle the homely, family, friendly atmosphere at Holmfirth’s livestock market there would be many who would gladly purchase, take home and drink in the good feeling it conveys. There are no airs and graces.

It is a mart that has found its niche, partly because it is virtually a last man standing, but also because the people involved are committed to its future including mart chairman and shareholder Anthony Hobson, who farms with son Andrew at Stalybridge where they run a 300-acre operation that sees them with 300 beef cattle and 200 sheep.

“We’re quite high up next to Saddleworth Moor on moderate to good land, although 20 acres was burned last year due to the moorland fire. It is recovering now but will take four to five years until it is back properly.

“It came through the fence, which we’ve never known before as it always previously stopped at the moorland boundary but with the weather being so dry it burned continuously for weeks.

“Andrew is now the fourth generation to farm and also handles quite a lot of contracting business. He’s keen to farm but also realises there is more money out of the job than there is in it. As well as the farm I also look after a herd for another farmer.

“Years ago around Stalybridge, which is 12 miles from Holmfirth, the farming around us and around the mart would have seen nearly every farmer with milk cows.

“The next generations, including mine, went into beef cattle, sucklers and sheep and now the latest generations are combining farming with diversifications into whatever they can as well as having moved into suckler cows and sheep.

“Currently with suckler cows not paying as well as people would like there’s another twist with people now going out of them. If that trend carries on there will be less suckler and dairy cows around and that will mean less stores too at market.”

It’s a potential problem for someone like Anthony as he presently buys 90 per cent of his store cattle out of Holmfirth, but he sees the rise in sheep being brought to market as the flipside.

“We have decent trade for cattle, as we’ve had today (July 23) with competitive prices and not as far reduced on a year ago as some were talking of three weeks ago.

“We believe that’s partly down to the quality of stock that is produced around here and buyers of quality around the ring.

“Our market is for well finished rather than leaner cattle at just under 400 kilos deadweight to attract the premium and we also attract quality calves.

“We have an excellent trade for the better quality lambs too and can sell as many Texel X and Beltex X as we can get in.

“As farmers get older they tend to be keeping sheep more than cattle, as they are easier than having to calve cows.

“We had up to ten buyers of sheep today at our summer show of sheep and sale with local butcher Brindon Addy of Hade Edge as judge. You might expect it to be a spring show and sale but lambs in this area are mainly born around or after Easter so it is better to have it in July.

“We like to encourage the younger ones, the next generations, to come along and that’s also why we put this sale into when the grandchildren of farming families are on school holidays.

“We are very much a family market, a local market for the local trade with quite a lot of our vendors still arriving with their stock driving a tractor with a trailer.

“We are quite a profitable little market and we don’t try to be something we’re not.

“Our buyers are largely the smaller to medium wholesalers who don’t need farm assured stock. There’s a swing away from that at the moment, so far as we have seen.

“Everyone who comes here is taken with the easy-going nature of the mart.

“We’ve also recently had a defibrillator installed outside the mart front door due to fundraising whether from individuals, businesses or through sponsored events.

“It is available for all as we also have public footpaths running through the land.”

“Many come here for a day out, sometimes to watch the trade if they have nothing to sell, it’s time when they can sit down, have a catch-up and also enjoy the social side in the café, around the pens and in the ring.

“The NFU is represented here virtually every week on our Tuesday sale day and it is surprising just how much work is done.

“Our biggest period in the year in common with most marts is in the autumn when we have three main sales on a Sunday including the annual Meltham Sheep Fair and the Whitefaced Woodland breed show and sale.”