Despite the challenges and social distancing restrictions relating to Covid-19, Aberdeen and Northern Marts has continued to find new ways to operate, enabling sales to go ahead safely while adhering to government guidelines.

In response to social distancing, the firm launched the online bidding system at its store sale on March 20, giving buyers an alternative option to attending the mart.

Over the past 11 weeks, the firm has traded more than 16,000 store cattle and held its first online multi-breed pedigree bull sale, as well as four commercial breeding cattle sales throughout April and May.

“Our online bidding system is proving very successful with old and new customers joining the system every week to source all classes of livestock,” said John Angus, head of livestock at Aberdeen and Northern Marts.

“We’ve consistently had in excess of 300 people viewing the sale in addition to those registered to bid.”

While the online bidding system has been well supported at Thainstone and Caithness sales, the store cattle sales have attracted a maximum of 58 active bidders in the ring at Thainstone every week, with more buyers situated in an overspill area.

The firm’s commercial beef breeding cattle sales have been held in the Exchange Hall to allow more buyers to attend, with more than 90 bidders present at many.

Latest statistics show that the online bidding system has supported as many as 71 registered buyers at the firm’s store cattle sale on Friday, March 27, with other sales regularly attracting 50 + registered buyers.

At the firm’s second breeding sale at Thainstone in May, 10% of the cattle sold to bidders online, while 8% sold at one of the firm’s largest store cattle sales went to bidders online.

“The store cattle trade has moved considerably in the last fortnight in line with the prime trade, with the weekly sale on Friday, May 22, averaging 10p per kg dearer. Stots levelled at 229.3p and heifers at 224.2p.”

The firm’s first online multi-breed bull sale in conjunction with SellMyLivestock, also went well with 59 online bidders and bulls selling as far south as Norfolk and Cornwall, with others up to Caithness and Orkney.

And throughout April and May, some 479 beef breeding heifers with calves at foot were sold to average £2423.27.

Cull cows have also been in demand too according to prime and cull cattle manager Tim McDonald, who reported a 6p increase in trade over the last fortnight, with more suppliers coming forward due to fast food restaurants re-opening.

“The cow ring has welcomed registered bidders from abattoirs in the south who never had the chance to buy at Thainstone before,” said Mr McDonald.

“Butchers who can’t leave their shops are also now able to purchase cattle over the internet.”

In the sheep sector, some 500-600 adult ewes and hoggs with lambs at foot have been selling well every week, at Thainstone.

“The online bidding system has been proved popular with buyers registering online every week,” said Colin Slessor, deputy head of livestock at Thainstone.

“There seems to be a lack of young stock this year so gimmers and hoggs with lambs have been selling at £80 to £90 per head.”

Mr Slessor said trade has exceeded numbers forward, with Mule cast ewes with twin lambs at foot regularly making £60 to £68 per head and continental cross and stronger ewes with top-end lambs realising £70 to £80 per life.

Prime sheep sales have continued every week with trade rising week on week.

“Our new season lamb sales have also commenced and again, are trading ahead of last year, with 352 sold on May 21 to level at 239.9p.”

Cull ewe numbers are nevertheless starting to slip, with trade less than it was before the pandemic.

As numbers weaken throughout the summer, Aberdeen and Northern Marts is moving its store cattle sales to fortnightly from now until September 1, which should strengthen sales and attract more buyers.