Time to support your local livestock market

Chris Berry bemoans the drop in number of butchers who attend livestock markets but finds that one market in particular is thriving anyway.


One of the myriad of thoughts in households up and down the country about now is to make sure the turkey is on order but Christmas food isn’t just about buying a big bird.

We consume more of everything at this time of year and butchers are inundated with requests for every variety of meat in the run-up to the festive season as housewives and those inspired by TV chefs seek to satisfy friends’ and relatives’ palates.

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There was a time when all local butchers vied against each other to have the very best beef, lamb and pork that they could from their nearest livestock market. They would stand against each other in the weeks leading up to Christmas and compete for what they considered would make the best rump steaks, sirloins, joints, shoulders or legs.

Sadly, less butchers now attend livestock markets regularly than they used to and there are some who may never have taken the time to see what they sell ‘in the flesh’.

Part of the reason behind their non-appearance can rather flippantly be put down to the way life has moved on. A more salient reason is years ago many butchers ran their own abattoirs and took a greater interest in their local market as a result.

Butchers still attend markets, particularly those whose businesses are based in villages in rural areas, but they are largely not present in anything like the numbers they once were. Some don’t even buy from livestock markets at all, even through an agent or abattoir representative, preferring to be supplied direct by independent farmers where they have developed their own contracts.

The Christmas Primestock sale is the one time when one or two more do take the opportunity to see and bid for what will eventually be hung in their shop and placed in their counters. The sale, often accompanied with a show, remains a highlight of the livestock market auction calendar right across the UK and in the next five days nearly every one of the remaining 14 markets in Yorkshire will be hosting their annual events.

Those butchers who do attend take pride in purchasing the champion beast on the day and often displaying the winning trophy or rosette in their shop window.

Perhaps the least known livestock market in the county is at Dunswell between Hull and Beverley. It is unlike larger auction premises such as Thirsk, York and Skipton in that it is unheralded by the roadside. The slightest flicker of your eyes as you approach and you would miss the entrance. I have before now, and I know where it is!

The market was started here 11 years ago following the closure of Beverley Livestock Market, that was redeveloped into a Tesco supermarket, and is now referred to as Hull Livestock Market, the last remaining market in the East Riding.

On Monday of next week Dunswell, along with four other livestock markets in Yorkshire, will host its Christmas Primestock Sale and auctioneer Ralph Ward was limbering up for it at the regular sale earlier this week. I asked him about the buyers who will be around the ring on Monday.

“We get great support from the butchers who attend. Next week we will have Laveracks’ from Holme on Spalding Moor; Stuart Voase from Preston; Mike Wilson from Patrington and one or two more but sadly we don’t get any of the butchers based in Hull at all.”

Ralph is not downcast by the lack of interest from the city’s butchers in what is their only livestock market for 25 miles. In truth that’s probably more my own disappointment of a somewhat romantic image that everyone in the industry should want to be involved together, especially at this time of year in a kind of whimsical It’s a Wonderful Life notion. Ralph is more philosophical and employs his own common sense about Hull Livestock Market’s position.

“We have had a good 11 years since we opened here and the farmers have got right behind it. Today we’ve had not just local men but also plenty from Lincolnshire and the Pocklington area. Everybody knows this is not a big livestock producing part of the world but the lack of Hull butchers around the ring isn’t a problem. Ten years ago we might have seen it that way, but we’re over it now. We’ve moved on and we’re running well.”

The slightly larger but again not insurmountable problem for the livestock market at Dunswell is that one of its other local buyers, an abattoir in Roos, has just closed down. Ralph believes this may cause more problems for those who don’t come to the market than those who do.

“This means that the nearest killing-out centres are at Bubwith, Escrick and Sutton-on-the-Forest. None are too far away and it hasn’t affected our trade, but it may have a repercussion on those who box their own meat with increased haulage charges.”

Ralph is bullish about the market’s future without getting carried away and is looking forward to Monday.

“We’ll have about a dozen fat cattle next week and roughly the same number of stores; around 50 fat pigs and 150 sows; plus about 150 fat sheep. The sow trade is very much our bread and butter as this is still a heavy pig production area.”

Andrew White was also present this week. He farms at Eastrington and will be selling stock on Monday: “We will be bringing a bullock and a heifer for the Christmas Sale and we will also be trying to buy some of the store cattle too. “I think people need to support local markets because if they don’t then part of the character of a local area will disappear.”

On a personal note I’d like to think that one or two more city-based butchers may just take a little time out this week and support their local livestock markets.

Christmas Primestock

The Yorkshire Livestock Market dates are as follows:

Sunday, December 1 – Skipton

Monday, December 2 – Hull (Dunswell), Ruswarp, Thirsk, Wharfedale (Otley), York

Tuesday, December 3 – Bentham, Hawes, Holmfirth, Malton, Northallerton

Wednesday, December 4 – Bentham, Selby

Tuesday, December 10 – Hawes, Holmfirth

Leyburn and Pateley Bridge Livestock Markets held their Christmas sales yesterday (Leyburn) and last Saturday (Pateley Bridge).