Cattle sales have been working well during lockdown on Orkney.

We’ve had to change how we do things, but are grateful for the loyalty of our buyers, sellers and to Northlink Ferries for keeping business fluid.

Being on an island has been a challenge and a bonus. We rely heavily on mainland buyers to come over for the sales that were wiped out overnight at the end of March. On the upside, Orkney beef has a quality that buyers will hold out for.

Keeping connected has been key. Once we knew mainland customers would not be stepping foot on the island for some time, Jim Linklater, lifetime auctioneer at Orkney Mart (recently semi-retired), and I called all of our buyers and sellers to arrange sales.

Longstanding relationships meant they trusted us to select cattle for them, which could be transported as usual on the freight ferry on a Monday night, causing no interruption to their usual mode of business and they were thrilled with the quality of the stock. We sold 400 head, similar to what we’d anticipated at the special store sale due at the end of March.

Pre-lockdown, we had just moved to fortnightly sale dates and this model proved perfect for keeping the mart operating for our island customers under IAAS guidelines, with a skeleton staff and fewer cattle to process. Livestock agents and local farmers have been taking orders from buyers and putting in bids.

In May, we moved to weekly sales, which eased the process further for all and has suited the buyers to have the stock spread out.

The support of local customers for our mart is never underestimated and has been particularly appreciated during this time. Local farmers and butchers were initially concerned about the loss of food service and Orkney schools closing but the fat trade has held up well with the butchers very busy, a mix of more local buying and BBQ weather both of which I hope is sustained.

Keeping in touch with both the buyers and our farmers on the island has been valuable for us all, not just to keep trade going, but also that social interaction alive in the absence of the mart gatherings. The strictest lockdown hit lambing and calving time when folk especially enjoy the social aspect and outlet of the mart.

Constant phone contact has revitalised the mart’s role of offering a listening ear and general banter away from the day job. We’ve also regularly updated our website so everyone is kept in the loop as the situation has evolved as well as sharing stock and stories on Facebook.

Planning is full steam ahead for our autumn sales being back to normal, launching in August with our big Show Sale, which in a usual year would mark the end of the Orkney shows.

There may still be some restriction on numbers and IAAS is working hard with the local authorities, the Scottish Government and the health protection board to address the additional logistical and health challenges, and, most importantly, to keep everyone on the island safe and healthy.