Eyes of the world on Skipton Auction Mart as prestigious sheepdog auction gets underway

A working dog in action is a wondrous sight, turning heel with precision at the slightest whisper of a whistle or the classic call of 'come by'.

Eve a shepdog bitch born in 2019 one of the dogs in the online sheepdog auctiuon held by Skipton Auction Mart.

But sheepdogs are a serious business, and the eyes of the world now rest on an auction house in Skipton which has set global records with its sales.

What may be one of the most prestigious sheepdog auctions in history is underway, as the auction mart breaks into unchartered territory online.

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These beasts, such a wonder to watch, could see staggering sums change hands as buyers' interest peaks amid a newly levelled playing field.

Jeremy Eaton of Skipton Auction Mart

"We know that there's quite a big appetite in the States for working dogs," said general manager Jeremy Eaton. "Putting them on the same platform does open the market up. In some respects, it has awakened the potential."

A world record was broken at Skipton Auction Mart in February when Northumberland shepherdess Emma Gray sold sheepdog Megan for £18,900 to an Oklahoma cattle farmer.

A new record was set again just weeks ago in Wales, when a small auction house, dipping its toe into online sales, saw 19-month old Sally reach a bid of £19,451.

The auction house in Skipton is known for its May sales, which traditionally sets a measure on global prices and is known as the biggest in the business.

Skipton Auction Mart

And while this year's event was cancelled under strict border controls, pressure has grown for it to begin again to keep farmers in trade and in preparing for trials.

Initial concerns, with such large sums involved, have given way with carefully-wrought controls in place and a real-time auction online.

For some years video has been in use, and under the new system, pre-sales conferences every evening over Zoom have seen buyers quiz sellers before the bidding begins.

The first sale started last night, with 25 sheepdogs from England, Scotland and Wales, and concludes tonight with the Northern Ireland contingent.

Excitement has been peaking, with nearly two dozen bidders having registered their interest in one dog from Wales called Jet.

"We can have something like that dynamism of an auction taking place in front of you," said Mr Eaton. "It all tends to happen in the last hour.

"When you see them operating, on a farm, they justify their values," he added. "If you bought a good dog, it would do everything for you. It could almost look after the children."

The Skipton Auction Mart, deemed an essential part of the nation's supply chain, has remained open with sheep sales continuing yesterday under rigorous controls.

And while the new venture online may open up the playing field to international and in particular to European markets, said Mr Eaton, it cannot replace a live auction.

"These guys are all businessmen, and it's a networking situation from the Scottish Highlands to Cornwall and France," he said. "An awful lot of action happens in the car park before the sales begin. The most important thing in our world is to give our regular customers the opportunity to sell. We never want to get to a situation where we are selling to empty rooms.

"Markets, the real market, is a perfect competitive measure, where you can always sell an animal for a price. It's quite refreshing, to see how markets have adapted. But the core of our business is still the service that a farmer can walk in, on any given day, and walk away with a cheque."

This week's sale, featuring 47 working sheepdogs, will conclude on Thursday, July 16 at 10pm.

The catalogue includes videos of the dogs being put through their paces, with a major emphasis on authenticity to protect the integrity of the sale.

This is new territory for the auction mart, which usually has four sales, and attracts 100 entries from reputable breeders from across the UK and northern Europe.

To view live, click here.------------------------

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