The beauty of livestock markets

LIVESTOCK Markets have for many centuries been the focal point for farmers and country people to meet on a weekly basis.

In the middle of the 20th century many East Anglian towns still had thriving livestock markets selling cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry.

The largest markets were based in Bury St Edmunds, Norwich, Ipswich, Wickham Market, Kings Lynn, Chelmsford, Cambridge and Colchester. Other markets were also held weekly in towns such as Stowmarket, Sudbury, Acle, Beccles, Diss, Saxmundham, Bishop Stortford and other local towns with Braintree, Witham and Thorpe le Soken had weekly livestock markets in the early part of the 20th century.

The markets were a scene of great activity where farmers could meet to show and sell their stock to best advantage. Most livestock markets were held on the same day as the local grain market at the local Corn Exchange. In Colchester the Corn Exchange was based in the High Street on a Saturday with the livestock market being held on the same day. This gave a genuine excuse for the farmers to attend all day in Colchester!

Many farmers still have great memories of their days out in Colchester and miss that weekly trip to meet friends and the chance to discuss current farming matters.

For various reasons in the last 25 years all but two markets in East Anglia have closed removing that meeting place for farmers and livestock producers. The reasons for this decline have included the reduction in the stock numbers throughout the Eastern Counties due to BSE, foot-and-mouth, Swine Fever and the financial pressure on valuable town centre sites. Many of the old markets were based in town centres and only those that have moved out have survived. The two surviving markets in East Anglia are in Colchester which trades weekly with prime and store cattle and sheep and Norwich which trades bi-weekly selling mainly store cattle and sheep.

From a peak of over 500 livestock markets in England and Wales there are now only some 86 operating sites in England and 38 in Wales. It is good to see however that many new livestock markets have been built in the last 10 years where markets have moved out of town centre sites.

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Livestock markets still sell a large percentage of the prime cattle sold for slaughter and 65% of sheep giving a true indication of the market value of stock.

In the past Livestock Market would have sold 90% of all slaughter pigs and a similar percentage of store pigs sold in England. The selling of pigs has seen the biggest change due to foot and mouth and swine fever where the smaller pig units have disappeared and the use of markets has declined.

However, this has meant the marketing of pigs has been very much affected with a lack of competition affecting the prices paid to producers, the reason why current livestock markets are thriving where vendors are wishing to see competition and the full price for paid cattle and sheep.

Markets now run under very strict bio-security rules due to the decimating outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 2001 one of the major reasons why market numbers fell and also the number of cattle and sheep kept on local farms fell to the lowest level recorded.

In Essex Colchester Market run by Stanfords Chartered Surveyors and Auctioneers attracts stock from all counties in East Anglia and surrounding areas. The Tuesday Market is successfully selling quality stock every week to a wide range of retail and wholesale buyers keen to buy good stock from a known source.

Livestock markets usually also have a general country market selling a range of poultry and produce and other general items by auction.

At Colchester, due to the bio security rules currently applicable, this side of the business trades on a separate day, but it was not long ago when live stock and general produce were sold on the same day.

The market gives the opportunity for local farmers still to meet to discuss the trade as well as other current issues in farming providing a vital link for people involved in a vocation that is often lonely due to the type of work carried out.

The advantage of selling stock live gives the vendors the chance to take stock home if they are not happy with the price which is not possible if selling direct to slaughter.