Buying and selling animals at market is a key part of a livestock farmer’s work. Livestock auction markets take place regularly across the UK, and they are the place to go if you want to acquire or sell a wide range of animals. Many livestock markets also offer a lot more than just the sale of livestock, with some offering everything from farm supplies and machinery dealerships to cafes, hairdressers, and even drop-in medical clinics. Of course, when buying and selling livestock it’s also important to consider livestock insurance and the different levels of cover available to protect your farm.
However, if you’re new to livestock markets, the prospect of buying or selling for the first time can be daunting. In this article, we partner with Zanna Dennis, from the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA), to talk you through the busy world of livestock auction markets, what you can expect when you visit, and give you some tips on making the most of the experience.
- What is a livestock market?
- What can you find at a livestock market?
- What are the benefits of going to a livestock auction market?
- Do I have to attend a livestock market in person?
- Where is my nearest livestock market?
- What should I expect when visiting a livestock auction market?
- What paperwork do I need to bring to the livestock market?
- What are livestock market reports?
- Commission rates
- Why are livestock auctions in guineas?
- Livestock markets and insurance
- What happens if there is a problem with livestock purchased at market?
A livestock market is a place where animals are gathered to be bought and sold at auction. For farmers, livestock auctions are often the preferred method of buying and selling livestock. Unlike a private sale, the auctioneer, an independent individual working for both the buyer and seller, ensures a fair price reflective of current market trends. The auctioneer takes bids from a ringside of buyers in increasing increments, selling to the highest bidder.
Livestock auction markets take place throughout the year with weekly, monthly, and seasonal sales.
Depending on the size or location of the market, you may be able to buy cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and horses. Occasionally you’ll be able to purchase other ruminants such as deer and llamas, plus smaller animals such as rabbits. In 2022, poultry gatherings and auctions were suspended due to the risk of Avian Influenza.
Which classes of livestock can you find at auction markets?
Depending on what’s available at your chosen market, you can bid for a number of different classes of livestock. For example, you can buy animals for breeding, those that need growth and fattening before slaughter, those that are ready for slaughter, livestock that are ready for culling, and young stock that are newly weaned or are still suckling.
What else can you find at auction livestock markets?
The larger the livestock market, the more facilities they tend to offer. For example, some sites have conference centres, offices, other rural businesses, cafés, hairdressers, and even drop-in medical clinics. Many markets will have a wide range of stalls on auction day, ranging from butchers’ stalls to those selling farm supplies and equestrian equipment. In addition, some markets use their sites to host other events such as car boot sales, farmers markets, and antiques fairs.
A key benefit of livestock markets is choice. A busy auction gives you the opportunity to examine and bid for a wide range of animals considering their breed, sex, age, pedigree, genetics, weight, health and production status, and intended use. Private sales can’t compete with this kind of scale and variety.
If you are a seller, an auctioneer will work to get the best price possible for your animals based on current market demands, ensuring that neither the buyer or seller can unfairly influence the price – a far cry from the set prices offered by direct supply chains. A seller will also benefit from a greater pool of buyers competing to buy their animals and avoid transactional risks associated with private sales.
Additionally, because no standard value exists for an individual animal, as a buyer you can use your own judgement to decide how much an animal is worth and bid accordingly. This helps to ensure you get good value for your livestock purchases.
Auctioneers can also offer buyers and sellers helpful advice about the sale and purchase of livestock, current market trends and future farming schemes, making the transaction easier and smoother, maximising the marketing opportunity, and supporting your wider farming practise.
A less publicised benefit of livestock markets is their social component. Sale days provide farmers and others the opportunity to socialise and network, which has mental health benefits for people working in what is often a lonely profession. In rural areas, auction markets can also act as a hub that provides vital services, ranging from drop-in medical clinics, agricultural chaplains, and farming support charities, through to barber shops.
Not necessarily. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many markets live stream their auctions and allow online bidding so you can purchase animals remotely. If you are purchasing remotely, make sure you familiarise yourself with the conditions of sale as these may differ to when purchasing in-person.
If you are selling stock, markets will generally offer you a ‘drop-and-go’ service. This means you can drop your animals off before the auction and the auctioneers and market staff will prepare your livestock for sale and report your prices – you don’t have to remain at the market for the sale.
How many livestock auction markets are in England and Wales?
As of 2021, there were 70 livestock markets in England and 22 in Wales. There were also a further 25 in Scotland.
To find your nearest livestock market we recommend visiting the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) Auction Mart Directory for markets in England & Wales, or the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland (IAAS) list of Livestock Auction Marts in Scotland.
If you are planning to buy or sell livestock at market for the first time, you’d be best to find out as much information as possible beforehand to ensure a smooth visit. Check out the website of your chosen livestock market or, better still, speak to an auctioneer. They will be able to talk you through the steps of both buying and selling. For example, if you are buying you may need a bidding number to bid for livestock, especially on large sale days. Alternatively, you may simply need to bid under your own name or your farm name. In these cases, you may need to register with the market operators beforehand and it’s a wise plan to make yourself known to the auctioneer.
Depending on the type of livestock being sold, the sale may be conducted in pounds sterling, or guineas and livestock may be sold as a price per head or by weight. In this case, livestock may be presented in the sale ring individually or in small groups, with the price given usually for each individual animal in the ring at that time. For livestock with young at foot, such as cows and calves or sheep and lambs, they may be sold as a price for the family unit, or as a price per life.
If you are selling livestock, you need to be fully up to date and compliant with relevant legislation, such as The Welfare of Animals at Markets Order 1990, Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) 2006 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 . For example, it is illegal to put an animal up for sale if it is ‘unfit’. This includes animals that are infirm, ill, diseased, or injured. There are also highly specific requirements that you need to adhere to. For example, if you want to sell a calf under 12 weeks of age, it is an offence to bring it to market if it has already been brought to market within the last 28 days.
If you are a Red Tractor Farm Assurance or Farm Assured Welsh Livestock member you will need to be up to date with assurance standards and ensure you sell your livestock through an assured market if you wish for your livestock to maintain it’s assured status at point of sale .
If you are new to livestock auction markets, please do talk to an expert, such as an auctioneer, beforehand. They will help you sell your animals without running the risk of breaking the law.
It’s also worth noting that you need to report movements of livestock, including when buying and selling; you can do this via the Livestock Information service. To do so, you will require a County Parish Holding (CPH) number for the land and/or buildings used to keep your livestock. You can register for a CPH with the Rural Payments Agency.
If you are selling animals, you will need to bring the correct paperwork with you. Again, seek advice if you haven’t sold animals at market before. You will need to bring a movement document or passport, and depending on the type of livestock, may also need to bring, milk records, pedigree status, health status, and farm assured status. These must be accurate – it is a criminal offence to mislead potential buyers about any animal.
Livestock market reports give you an excellent insight into how much animals currently sell for. Each report summarises top and average prices paid for animals, either per kilo or per head (or both). Some will give details about each individual sale and the prices paid. You can usually find the reports on an auction market’s website and can often subscribe to a mailing list. Note that livestock market reports summarise recent sales, upcoming sales are covered in livestock catalogues listing sellers and types of livestock entered for sale.
When you sell livestock at a livestock auction market, you’ll be charged commission. This is typically between 2% and 4.5% of the sale price, although members of certain markets may be charged a lower rate than non-members. Some markets charge a different rate for different types of animals. There may also be a maximum commission per ‘head’.
Some livestock auctions (particularly of pedigree breeding stock) are still conducted using guineas, rather than pounds sterling. Guineas were coins that were minted in Great Britain between 1663 and 1814, each containing approximately one-quarter of an ounce of gold. Originally, a guinea was worth 20 shillings (£1), but fluctuations in the price of gold caused its value to increase as high as 30 shillings. Between 1717 and 1816, the value of a guinea became fixed at 21 shillings (£1 1/- or £1.05).
Traditionally, auctions quoted prices in guineas. For each guinea an animal fetched, the vendor would receive £1 while the auctioneer would receive the remaining shilling. This equated to a commission of 5%.
If you buy animals, you’ll normally want to insure them. Livestock markets themselves don’t sell insurance. Nor will their insurance cover your animals after purchase, although all livestock markets have a duty of care while your livestock are on their premises. Some markets that specialise in pedigree sales will recommend their on-site insurance provider at the point of sale, but it’s wise to shop around for the right cover.
At what point do I need to take out insurance?
You ideally need insurance from the moment you have paid for and taken ownership of the livestock. In the livestock market, you take ownership of the animal as the highest bidder at the fall of auctioneer’s hammer. It’s possible that you will already have adequate cover in place, for example, if you have already insured a general cattle herd this may be sufficient to cover your new purchases. However, if you buy valuable pedigree livestock, you’ll be well advised to take out cover for all-risks mortality (including or excluding infertility). You can sometimes amend an existing policy to include this kind of cover, or you may need to take out a new policy.
What insurance do I need when purchasing from a livestock auction market?
Farm combined insurance tends to give you a basic level of protection, generally covering you against loss, injury, and death, plus some infectious diseases. Farm combined policies generally have a set of standard perils with the option of adding:
- Worrying of sheep and cattle. Covers against worrying to the point of death by dogs, foxes, and vermin.
- Theft or mysterious disappearance. Protects against animals being stolen or if they disappear under unexplained circumstances.
- Fatal injury on or off your premises. Covers you for livestock that stray off your land, including onto public roads or rivers, as well as poisoning on your own land.
- Fatal injury in transit. Protects against death while in-transit, including animals you have bought from a livestock auction market.
However, if your livestock are particularly valuable – such as prime breeding stock – then it’s wise to opt for specialised livestock insurance. This allows you to choose optional covers for your animals and/or higher limits of cover, including:
- Disease cover. Insures against a wide variety of contracted diseases, including Foot & Mouth, Aujeszky’s disease, Swine vesicular disease, Tuberculosis reactor, and Maedi Visni. Availability of cover often depends on current outbreaks, or likely outbreaks of any given disease, unless the cover is already in place.
- All risks mortality (including or excluding fertility guarantee). Ideal for higher value livestock (worth £3.5k+). This covers specified animals against death from accidental, violent, external and visible means, and illness or disease. An optional fertility guarantee pays out if an animal becomes infertile, impotent, or incapable of service. The insurer will usually require proposal forms and vet reports. All risks mortality cover can be included in a farm combined policy, but will be subject to a limit on any one animal, usually around £10,000, so a specialist policy would be required if the limit is not sufficient.
Markets that are LAA members sign up to National Conditions of Sale. These outline vendor warranties and buyer rights. A vendor’s guarantee offers purchasers a guarantee of facts or, in the case of livestock, a guarantee of health and performance. Sellers cover themselves by buying Vendors’ Guarantee Insurance, which covers them against subsequent issues such as infertility or disease. Legal liability can arise under any of the following:
- The Breed Society’s Auction Rules
- LAA National Conditions of Sale
- Similar rules applying at the point and date of sale.
What happens if my livestock dies during transit?
If you have a haulier transporting the animals for you then they would normally be responsible. If you are transporting the animals yourself then you will need to make sure your insurance includes fatal injury in transit, which would also include loading and unloading.
Enjoy the livestock market experience!
While it can be daunting to visit a livestock market for the first time, always remember that experts are on hand to help you make the most of the experience. If you have any questions, talk to an auctioneer or other staff member at your chosen livestock market. Lastly, if you do buy animals at market, you must make sure you have the right insurance in place. Opting for dedicated livestock insurance or combined cover farm insurance can give you peace of mind and protect your animals against everything from disease and theft, to infertility and unexpected death.
The history of the Livestock Auctioneers Association dates back to 1939 and, under its current style and title, represents the vast majority of firms operating livestock auction markets in England and Wales. The LAA aims to develop the 200-year-old practise of selling livestock through auction markets, represents the interests of auction markets with Government, and helps member firms to keep on top of administrative and legislative changes, amongst other things.