Great British Beef Week: Meeting the standard

Historically market towns such as Colchester have provided the primary selling place for farmers stock with both butchers and farmers purchasing stock and the livestock market in Colchester still provides a link for local farmers in supplying quality local sheep and cattle to butchers and local wholesalers.

The market is a vital link in the chain of the supply from field to plate and enables butchers to come and choose the animals they wish to sell to their customers and farmers to show off their stock and obtain the maximum price.

Colchester is now the only weekly Livestock Market in East Anglia. Only 20 years ago, we still had markets many major towns such as Chelmsford, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Diss, Cambridge, Sudbury, Stowmarket and many others. Now only Norwich has a bi-weekly sale of primarily store cattle and sheep and the number of stock in East Anglia has fallen dramatically as the options of the sale of stock has fallen dramatically.

Competitive bidding between butchers and wholesalers ensure prices are maximised to the benefit of the producer.

Sheep and cattle are brought to Colchester Market by producers from all over East Anglia and surrounding areas to benefit from that competition. The market provides a grading centre putting lambs into pens of suitable quality with each buyer having a different requirement and selling cattle individually.

The market provides quality stock for the butchers who are able to ensure minimal travelling distances for stock to abattoirs supporting the rural economy and the countryside providing jobs for stockman and workers within the industry.

Colchester historically was a major pig market selling in excess of 2,000 pigs per week in the busiest times. Unfortunately due to foot-and-mouth, swine fever and other restrictions the number of pigs kept in the area on small family units has substantially fallen and no pigs are now sold weekly at Colchester.

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Stanford staff will visit farms to select stock and advise farmers if stock is ready to send and the likely realisation. This ensures proper marketing and keeps the vital link between farmers and the butchers.

The market is also a meeting place of farmers, at times a lonely profession, who are pleased to meet friends and neighbours to discuss current farming matters and compare their stock. Many farmers are related and there is always a matter of pride when their stock maximises its value and makes more than their neighbour or relation.

Without the Livestock Market the smaller livestock produce would be put at a serious disadvantage and put the countryside under threat of change which would not be advantageous. Larger producers do have the ability to sell substantial numbers to major wholesalers but the cost of travelling long distances for smaller farmers to major slaughter houses is prohibitive.

With the good number of local wholesalers still running slaughter houses in East Anglia, Colchester Market is ideally situated to provide that strong competition and maximise the value of stock.

n Stanfords is a family-run partnership with Graham Ellis and his family having been connected to the market for four generations and, with the other partners and staff at Colchester, they are pleased to provide that vital link the chain to enable their clients and indeed friends to continue producing the stock that they wish to do and maximise their return.