The welfare of the stock that go through our rings is paramount because, ultimately, good welfare relates directly to the quality of the end product for our buyers, resulting in higher prices for sellers.

Over the last year we’ve had to be mindful of this, particularly in our Islay, Tiree and South Uist marts, where issues with ferry sailings have created problems with getting stock on and off the islands on sale days. In the last 12 months we’ve experienced a rise in boats not sailing, which obviously creates significant problems for us.

In some instances we’ve had to cancel sales around four to five days before sale day when we know boats won’t be sailing. This is to ensure stock doesn’t leave the farm and end up stranded and also allows buyers and sellers plenty notice not to travel.

At the other side after a sale, when sailings are cancelled we’ve had issues with having to provide lairage for stock which has been sold but can’t leave the island. This results in a huge cost to us for fodder which can be up to a third or even a half more expensive getting it onto islands than on the mainland. However, we have to ensure all livestock is looked after before, during and after the sale.

We’ve always enjoyed a good relationship with CalMac and will continue to work closely with them to limit disruption as much as possible for our customers and their livestock.

Elsewhere in the group, we’re finding the price of prime cattle has been substantially less in this first quarter than for the same period last year. This has had a domino effect on the price per head for store cattle.

Buyers have to try to buy cheaply and unfortunately the farmer isn’t getting the return he needs because the return just isn’t there at the moment. As we move into the second quarter, we hope prices will start to improve and as ever we encourage our customers to keep selling through marts as this is the only way to get the fairest and most transparent price for livestock.

Donald Young is group director of United Auctions, a member of IAAS