A New Year often heralds new beginnings, and for two of Scotland's best known livestock trading characters, 2019 starts a new chapter in their farming careers.

Last month saw Harrison and Hetherington’s auctioneer, Billy Stott and fieldsperson, Andrew Dickman, each reach their 65th birthdays, and thereby a new era in their working life.

For Billy, who has spent a lifetime working at St Boswells Auction Mart, it is the chance to reflect on some of the good and bad times in farming having spent 45 years with the auction mart.

Aged 18, Billy started his career in the industry in 1972, taking up the role of office clerk at St Boswells Auction Mart and over the years, he climbed up the ranks to be one of the most well-known and respected auctioneers in Scotland.

Joining John Swan and Son straight from school, he started as the office clerk, stuffing and sticking envelopes. In those early years, John Swan and Co also had marts in Haddington, Dalkeith and Gorgie, and Billy spent two days each week up at the auction mart in Gorgie.

Moving on from being a junior clerk, Billy was then given the opportunity to look after the prime cattle and sheep. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, every farm had sheep and cattle so there were massive livestock sales across all of the auction marts.

Billy says: “We sold prime cattle, prime sheep, calves, pigs, poultry and anything else that anyone wanted us to sell.”

Gradually, he built up this area of the business and remembers some of the huge store sales: “In those days, Buccleuch Estates would sell 1000 store cattle in one day.

"We would also often see in the region of 6000 to 8000 Half-bred ewe lambs, with consignors from as far away as Kirkcudbright. This was the era of the Saturday sales and in the region of 15,000 to 20,000 head of lambs would go under the hammer at the store lamb sales.”

He also remembers fondly the commencement of cast cow and cast sheep sales on a Monday, where they would see more than 100 head of cattle going through during the peak of the season and up to 1000 cast ewes.

Following the highs, there are often the lows, but Billy never talks about these. He remembers only the tremendous prime cattle days where, in the early 2000s, they would see more than 400 head of cattle going through the rings.

A personal career highlight was the introduction of the non-registered Suffolk tup sale ring at Kelso.

“We started with only a very small number of tups and at its peak, we would see more than 500 tups going through the ring on Kelso tup sale day”.

One area that Billy feels has had a huge affect on the market was the closure of the small abattoirs: “I look back, with great sadness, at what followed after these disappeared. This had a huge effect on the entire supply chain.”

Of course, like many other people, one of the most challenging times during his career was the outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth. Having worked across the Lothians down into North Northumberland throughout his career, Billy knew the farms and farmers in the Borders like the back of his hand. He used his strengths as a people’s person, with decades of experience within auctioneering, to provide support to those farmers who were affected.

But he also relishes the support that he has had from everyone within the industry.

Will Hamilton, a director of Harrison and Hetherington and a former auctioneer who sold cattle at St Boswells almost every Monday, added: “Everyone you speak to testifies to his way of getting on with people. Billy is a real grafter, he is always there for his customers and is very straight forward and transparent. Integrity is what people, above all, respect Billy for, he is always in contact with you and a tremendous member of our team.

"Billy is highly respected, incredibly well thought of and operates with total integrity. We are absolutely delighted that, although he is reaching retirement age, he is there to support the next generation.”

In short, Billy has loved every second of his career. “It is a job where there is always plenty to do and the phone never stops ringing."

Along with Andrew, Billy is about to reduce his working week to three days and he secretly hopes that the phone does continue to keep ringing.

“The auctioneering business is a team business and I have had the most enjoyable working life, and this has only been made possible by the people who I have worked with; the farmers, the butchers, the processors, the buyers, hauliers and of course, my colleagues," he added.

"In recent years, it has been a real privilege to be part of Harrison and Hetherington and to have had the opportunity to work closely with David Pritchard and Scott Donaldson. Both have given me real support and they really should be praised for having established the most effective and dedicated teams of staff across the company and running such excellent livestock centres in all of the areas in which they operated.

“When I started, I was mentored and helped by many people within the industry, and I see my future career taking on a supporting role. I aim to assist, and mentor our tremendous young team here; Tom Story, Adam Grieve Ian Dick and Andrew Hutcheson,” concluded Billy.

Andrew Dickman has also reached his 65th year and retiring age. Just like Billy, he has reduced his working week to three days. A renowned shepherd and sheep man through and through, he has been a fieldsperson for St Boswells Auction Mart for the past 15 years, and the face of sheep trading in the Borders.

Prior to joining John Swan and Sons in 2003, Andrew was a shepherd at Hell House, Hartside and Bowerhouse farms. A keen Border Collie sheep dog breeder and trainer, he is well-known and respected within the sheep industry across the Scottish Borders.