Christmas eating on a plate

Shoppers’ growing interest in where their food comes from has boosted Christmas fatstock sales. Chris Berry reports

Altogether now, “Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat”. The festive food chain starts this weekend with livestock markets all around the county hosting special sales of cattle, sheep and pigs.

Known as either Christmas primestock or fatstock sales, they have become both an important event in the farmers’ social calendar, often incorporating a show of livestock, and a strong marketing aide for local butchers.

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Four years ago Selby Livestock Market switched their Christmas event to a Sunday which this year is a week tomorrow. It’s one of the first to do so.

Richard Haigh the auctioneer, and from this week the newly-installed managing director, explains how the move became a success. “We still have our regular fatstock sales on a Wednesday either side of the Sunday, but this gives our farmer customers an opportunity to show their stock as well as sell it.

“Farmers earmark some of their livestock a month or two prior to the show and sale thinking, ‘that’ll do for the Christmas sale’.

“In the case of pigs they will probably draw a pen out a couple of weeks before. We start the show around nine o’clock, with the sale starting at noon. It creates a nice atmosphere and attracts a very high calibre of stock.

“We get a lot of families and interested spectators from all walks of life with it being held on a Sunday. It is a lot more relaxed than a normal sale day and our butcher customers get more of a chance to be involved.

“This year we are also incorporating a pork pie and sausage competition for the first time – so they will compete against each other as well as buy stock.

“We always have a good following of local butchers and they are keen to come and buy a prize winner because it’s an extra draw for their shop.”

The lead-up to Christmas is a butcher’s biggest selling period of the year. The turkeys and geese may be getting fat, but they’re not ready for a while yet and they have their own special sale in the week before Christmas. Beef, lamb and pork sales are a different matter and local butchers are finding that customers are more interested than ever in where their meat is coming from.

Philip Parkin, who runs Parkin Family Butchers in Howden with his partner Marie, says: “December is becoming an even bigger time for meat buying than it was years ago. Our customers want to buy local produce and there isn’t anywhere better than Selby Livestock Market.

“The Christmas fatstock sale didn’t seem to be as important a few years ago and customers didn’t seem as bothered about it either.But the Sunday sale has been brilliant. I couldn’t afford to go and spend so much time there during the week. Now I can go and talk shop with other butchers, and last year I judged at the show. I love being around livestock markets and regularly visit Skipton. I’ll be going on to Bakewell for their Sunday show and sale straight after Selby. I bought the champion pen of pigs at Selby last year and received a trophy. We put rosettes and trophies of the winning stock we buy on display in the shop so that our customers know that what they are getting is the best. It also provides us with greater publicity.

“Last year, the pigs were from a very local man, they went to Selby then came back here. That’s just about as few food miles and as traceable as you can get.”

Prices at Christmas fatstock and primestock sales are usually higher, partly because of farmers holding back better quality animals and because of demand. “The whole trade has a bit of a steam on,” says Richard. “There’s an extra push in the lead-up to Christmas and these coming weeks are an important part of the procuring process.

“As well as the local butchers, the supermarkets always want to maintain their stock levels. There is a fairly strong and stable demand in meat, and prices have been running higher for some time.

“That may mean that the difference between a Christmas sale price and the current weekly price won’t quite be as accentuated as in previous years.”

FATSTOCK SALES

November 26, Pateley Bridge.

November 27, Skipton.

November 28, Otley and Ruswarp – cattle.

November 30, Leyburn – cattle.

December 1, Thirsk.

December 4, Selby.

December 5, Hull (Dunswell) and Ruswarp –- sheep – and York

December 6, Bentham, Hawes, sheep and Northallerton

December 7, Hawes