Sold! While it was 6:30 in the evening and no livestock were going through the ring, we could hear sheep and cattle being unloaded into receiving pens and visualize the seats full of buyers, animals coming into the ring and the auctioneer asking for bids.
It was nearing the end of day five of our post-International Farm Management Congress study tour of agriculture in Scotland. Our group of nearly 40 farmers and educators from around the world were seated in one of four auction rings at the Thainstone Agriculture Center.
This was like no rural auction barn I have ever seen. Arriving at the center which opened in 1990, it looked like we were pulling into a nicely landscaped facility that you might see in an upscale industrial park with several satellite buildings and an entrance to a very nice restaurant on the west side.
Going inside was like entering an upscale shopping mall, with two levels of businesses, shops, and cafes centered around a two-story courtyard. The “shops” were actually offices of agriculture businesses including ag suppliers, lenders, ag accountants, legal firms and SAC Consulting (Scottish Extension). Literally a one-stop shop for farmers.
Alan Hutcheson, from the ANM (Aberdeen and Northern Marts) Group, spent more than an hour with us, showing us around the extensive center and talking about how the cooperative, established in 1872, works to support its 5,000 members.
Founded to provide marketing services, the cooperative expanded into farm machinery auctions, most recently adding car auctions (two per week) and four antique auctions each year.
Making full use of their investments in facilities and auctioneers, they conduct private herd dispersals at the center and on farm.
In addition to livestock sales, which by July had already sold 41,000 head of cattle and 156,000 sheep valued at £53 million (for the year), the diversification includes five more entities.
Aberdeen and Northern Estates is the rural and commercial real estate sales branch, TSA Auctioneers and Valuers offers auction, appraisal and valuation services, and the Malverston Estate Golf Course is self-explanatory, but not so profitable since 2009’s economic downturn.
Thainstone Events, focuses on upscale catering and event planning, helping to fully use the center’s facilities as well as going off site.
Finally, the Porterhouse Steakhouse and Coffee Bar features and promotes meats produced by members.
I can personally attest that they do a wonderful job as the restaurant, normally closed in the evenings during the week, prepared a wonderful meal for us. The menu featured roast ribeye of beef which was presented to us before carving — it was the biggest roast I have ever seen — and delicious!
Back to the sale ring
The room seats 300 comfortably in a well lit and airy facility. Animals entering the ring stop momentarily on a scale platform — which they don’t even notice — which weighs them and posts the weight with all other information about the animal or group of animals on a large screen for all to see.
Many animals arrive the night before a sale as 1,000 head can be held in the facility overnight.
Live-streamed viewing of the auction is available, with online bidding a possibility in the future. Commission is charged at 3.85 percent and farmers can collect their proceeds as soon as an animal is sold.
The sale ring was very nice, but it was the system behind the scenes that was really impressive. From the sale ring, we entered the catwalks above the receiving, handling and holding pens.
One massive room, two stories high, open, airy, and well lit, housed all the livestock which could be easily routed to any of the auction rings. The biggest surprise? It was absolutely spotless.
Regulations require that the whole facility, from receiving to the auction ring to the load-out ramps, be completely cleaned and disinfected each week. To ensure compliance, livestock sale barns are inspected each week.
Alan recognized that this was a big job and a big cost. They contract for cleaning services with crews typically working through the night after each sale.
Recognizing the tremendous impact that animal disease outbreaks have had in the United Kingdom (think foot and mouth disease), additional measures have been put in place to prevent and minimize the impact of future outbreaks.
In addition to the cleaning and inspection, each animal has a passport. These passports document each and every place an animal has been moved in their life.
To round out the cooperative’s offerings, the ANM group also has financing programs available to assist members with livestock enterprises.
Is there competition for this cooperative? Yes, and that is one of the reasons that they have stretched into food and related enterprises to use their resources efficiently and provide solid returns for their members.
When asked where their nearest competition was in the livestock sales area, our host replied, “In Huntley, approximately 30 km (18.6 miles) away, but not far enough!”
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