Remote mart draws trade from far and wide

Whenever Ruswarp Livestock Market gets mentioned in the press it always seems referred to as a remote outpost or as an ideal set for TV’s Heartbeat programme.

Ruswarp Livestock Market.
Ruswarp Livestock Market.

While this may be true, it would be wrong to say that the market is living in the past.

Situated just out of Ruswarp over the River Esk and the railway line the mart is the only near-to-the-sea livestock market left standing. Twenty-plus years ago Seamer at Scarborough closed down and Lythe Cattle Market just west of Whitby also disappeared.

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At the mart’s helm are two men whose fathers were also responsible for the sheep and cattle sales held here twice weekly and this week Robert Smith and Ian Halley were once again in tandem for their new season of sheep sales that started on Monday and saw them selling on Wednesday, Friday and will see them once again in action today.

The mart is run by Whitby-based Richardson & Smith of which Robert is the latest generation following on from his late father Richard. His great great grandfather Thomas Smith was a blacksmith-turned-auctioneer from Glaisdale who started the family business back in the mid 1880s.

Robert’s grandfather Charles Smith amalgamated his business with Alan Richardson, who ran Lythe Cattle Market, in the 1930s by which time there was a mart based in Ruswarp.

Ian Halley’s father Ken was Alan’s protégé and Ian followed on. While I have seen Ian more as the frontman of the livestock auctioneering side of the operation during my years writing about agriculture, Robert has always been very much involved too.

“I came into the business in 1989 having trained in fine art sales but in more recent years Ian and I have concentrated hard on taking the mart forward. Foot and Mouth year in 2001 was a devastating time for farmers but we never had a thought that we would do anything else but open up again. Our core strengths are in serving our hill farming sheep and cattle producers, plus those off the Moors on lower lying farms nearer Scarborough.”

Since 2001, Ruswarp has steadily rebuilt its reputation, notably for its annual suckled calf sale that takes place the second week in October. This sale now attracts buyers from as far afield as Halifax and Lincolnshire. It’s a success story that has not gone unnoticed and shows Ruswarp playing to its strengths as a quality store cattle market.

“It suits the hill farming pattern around here, but what has marked it out even more is the massive improvement in the quality of breeding stock coming here in the past decade. The prices and demand have allowed for that increase to come on apace and we now have a much broader base of producers bringing very fine quality stock. The better prices also allow for better bulls to be used or higher value AI. At present we see a lot of Charolais and Charolais X cattle doing well here, but many other breeds also perform very well at market.”

Robert and Ian have recently turned their attention to looking more deeply at the sheep side of the mart by creating or moving specialist sale dates that have been running all of this week.

“We want to serve our hill farming sheep producers a little more effectively and much the same as we have strength in quality cattle production this is also a strong and increasingly important store production area for sheep.

“We called a meeting of producers in May of this year to discuss thoughts over revamping our autumn sales and we set up a committee. That’s how this season’s sales calendar has come about. We arrived at this third week in September as being the best given everyone’s input and also making sure that we didn’t cross paths or tread on the toes of others’ sale dates. This time of year is vital for all cattle and sheep men as it is their livestock harvest.

“At one time we held outdoor sales at the family smallholding in Glaisdale and another in Castleton but those dissipated after Foot and Mouth due to disinfecting and cleansing regulations. We felt that we could probably improve things by bringing the sales down to Ruswarp.

“Our Glaisdale sheep sale was always the first Thursday in September but since Foot and Mouth it had been felt that sale was now a little early in the calendar and that was perhaps one of the reasons why the number of gimmer lambs and shearlings was dwindling. We shifted it to Wednesday of this week and brought a breeding sale together that would bolt on to a dispersal sale for Tony and Betty Cother of Fylingdales that we’d been notified of earlier in the year. We then extracted the store lambs from that sale and added them to the primestock lamb and cull ewes date today (Monday when I visited) and it has worked very well because we’ve had a number of fresh faces around the ring.”

Next week’s special sales include ram sales on Thursday and Friday. Ruswarp is the appointed market for the Swaledale ‘E’ District and Scotch Blackface. Rams of both breeds will be sold on Friday.

Robert and Ian are keen to encourage younger producers to get involved around the ring. A Young Farmers Primestock Show and Sale in conjunction with their Annual Christmas Primestock Show and Sale of cattle will be held on the last Sunday in November this year.