My late father used to say that a live auction was ‘justice being seen to be done’.

What he meant, was that live sales happen in the public domain, with a group of folk around the ring acting like a jury: the 30 or so purchasers that we normally have at each store cattle sale in Ayr view the stock in front of them, size them up, and then compete for them.

Personalities come into play, experience and knowledge is pooled, and the audience works its way towards the price.

In short – this collective process results in stock being openly sorted, with a beast receiving a price worthy of it.

With a private sale however, the price is inevitably based on the going market rate, that being prices established at live marts, which takes in all shapes and sizes of livestock.

And it’s then just one person to another, without the pooled experience of others around the ring, or the public scrutiny. In these circumstances, how can the seller be sure their bargaining results in the best price as the buyer will want to spend as little as he can?

Private sales may be modernising with the help of apps and online marketplaces. They may even provide a lure of time-saving and no commission charges – but look harder and they’re a poor substitute for a live sale.

Not only do marts help ensure a fair price, they guarantee the seller is paid. We chase money seven days a week and I don’t know a single mart in the whole of Scotland that has ever not paid out. So, the commission – perhaps £30 to £40 for a £1000 beast – can be the best insurance policy a seller could take out.

As a business we’re also heavily governed by Trading Standards: we take care of all the paperwork and jump through multiples of hoops to ensure all is above board.

Our scales for example, are always the same, so you can be sure you’re getting what you pay for. If an unhealthy beast comes in, we take care of it, ensure its welfare is seen to and that it doesn’t enter the ring.

During the Covid pandemic, our care and diligence has not only helped keep the flow of trade moving in a safe way, but ensured we have a record of every person that comes on and off our premises.

Without the marts, this flow could have slowed as some customers became restricted in their movements, while others drove from farm to farm putting themselves and others at risk, and with no record of who had been where.

The public nature of live marts also plays another important role – marketing. Producers who spend all year round working to get stock looking their best get to show them off.

The ring effectively becomes their shop window where customers can see their wares and form often lasting connections. Word of mouth, in my experience, is the best marketing tool out there in farming – so why hide your stock away in your own yard?

But marts are also so much more than business. They are a social hub that play a vital role in our rural communities, where farmers who don’t see a soul for days, can come together and talk. In these strange times of increased isolation due to the pandemic, that can literally be a lifeline for some.

So, whether it’s ‘justice being seen to be done’ on price, marketing beasts, or catching up with friends, the live mart still has the edge over private sales.