Conversations are just starting around now, if they haven’t already, about the approaching festivities.
We’re still in November of course and for some it is all too much, but even if you haven’t yet begun thinking in earnest about it, your local butcher has and he or she will be attending their local livestock market with a view to making available the best quality meat from the county’s producers in the coming week or so.
That’s when each mart hosts its Christmas Primestock sale and for many this is coupled with a show beforehand where the champion beef animal or lamb usually attracts a bigger price in the ring.
In recent times the Christmas Primestock Show and Sale season has been expanded from simply being run on the same day to a two-day jamboree that often sees the show element taking place in the late afternoon and evening before the sale the following day.
Thirsk Farmers Auction Mart is the latest to join this scene that now offers the farming community, and anyone else who wants to come long, the opportunity for a social gathering the day before their hopefully lucrative sale of stock to butchers eager to purchase the winners and have the trophy and rosette on display on their premises.
Next Wednesday, November 27, Thirsk will be a hive of activity with the judging of livestock classes starting at 5pm, a Christmas fair, produce classes for everything from pork pies to ribs of beef and Christmas cakes, a charity auction, a visit from Santa and even live music in the mart canteen from myself and my band.
One man who has been with Thirsk Mart 48 years and has seen how the livestock mart world has changed and adapted is auctioneer Tony Thompson.
Tony was born into a farming family in Swarland between Morpeth and Alnwick, but with two elder brothers he decided very early on in his life that auctioneering was to be his career.
“When I was a kid I used to get my brothers and sisters to bring out the chickens and I would sit on the farm gate and sell to them.
“When I was five or six years old George Strachan, auctioneer at Morpeth, came to buy a horse from my father and said to my mother ‘what is this one planning to do when he grows up?’
“She told him about my auctioneering and I ended up joining him at 16. I worked at marts in Morpeth, Gateshead and Tyneside before coming to Thirsk in 1972.
“‘The auction mart game has totally changed. When I started numbers weren’t so good, but then we built to a peak of selling 1,000 cattle in one day. We also used to sell 3,000 pigs a day and up to 7,000 sheep.
“Foot and mouth disease restrictions and BSE affected all marts and particularly during foot and mouth time farmers started selling more deadweight, direct to abattoir rather than coming to livestock markets.
“We are holding our own averaging around 300 prime cattle per week and 1,500-2,000 sheep. To my mind the best quality cattle and sheep are still worth a major premium in the live market.
“I was talking to someone recently, who is involved with an abattoir, who said cattle prices are currently much better in the live market.
“One of my grumbles with farmers who sell everything deadweight rather than bring their stock to sell in the ring is that they will all say they want marts to keep going, yet they are the first to scream when they disappear.
“It is unbelievable how many markets have closed in Yorkshire alone. My contention is that most of those who are finishing cattle will have some that are definitely worth a premium here.
“If they all just put four or five in a trailer each week it would make a big difference to us and to them – and it would give them a bit more bargaining power else- where.
“We are very lucky in this area that we have a lot of small to medium-sized wholesalers and butchers who continue to buy alive. That’s because they can then buy exactly what they want.
“They are experts in looking at animals and making decisions on quality.
“That’s why the Christmas Primestock Show & Sale is highly regarded. Farmers will have been nurturing and in some cases holding back their best animals because they know the value of doing well at this one.
“I can guarantee anyone coming for a night out next Wednesday or at the sale on Thursday will be impressed by the cattle and sheep on show.
“The beef trade has lifted quite a bit over the last three weeks after having been about 10p per kilo down on last year’s average but coming towards Christmas it’s a bad job if there isn’t a bit of a lift in trade.
“We’ve found there has been a bit of movement away from big cattle overall.
“Our biggest demand is for a good quality, well finished suckler bred Limousin X heifer up to 570-580 kilos. Sheep-wise the market pays best for good quality Texel X and Beltex.
“There is a market for everything including rare breeds that are well liked by farm shops.”
Thirsk Farmers Auction Mart moved from its previous location near the racecourse to the new Thirsk Rural Business Centre, with excellent road links south of the town in 2006.
Its facilities lend itself to putting on large scale events like those planned this week.
Tony and all the team at Thirsk are looking forward to their first two-day Christmas show and sale where they will also be raising much needed funds for Thirsk Hospice and ‘Freddie’s Fight’ for a young local boy who is fighting a rare form of cancer.
“Hopefully, there will be something for everyone and plenty of good cheer around the rings and throughout the mart over both days,” says Tony.