Growing livestock market celebrates record cattle entry in anniversary year

Norwich Livestock Market chairman Stephen Lutkin

Norwich Livestock Market chairman Stephen Lutkin - Credit: Chris Hill

Norwich Livestock Market has celebrated a record cattle sale - a sign of the continued growth which could prompt the fortnightly auction to be held more regularly.

The market on Hall Road sold 500 cattle and calves on April 30, the biggest entry since it reopened following the devastating Foot and Mouth disease crisis 20 years ago.

Market chairman Stephen Lutkin said it was fitting that the milestone should come during the 20th anniversary year of the relaunch.

And he said the growing number of animals being sold means his fellow directors are now considering making the market a weekly occasion during busy periods.

Cattle at Norwich Livestock Market

Cattle at Norwich Livestock Market - Credit: Chris Hill

He attributed the success to factors including the market's low-risk "TB4" status for bovine tuberculosis, as well as the more recent high fuel prices which made transporting animals to other auctions increasingly expensive.

"We are fortnightly mostly, but the way things are growing, the directors are looking at going weekly at busy times of year to ease the pressure," he said. "But it is a good problem to have because we are so busy.

"That sale was always going to be a big day as we had the Paul Davis Memorial Cup. Paul had been a director for several years, he was a great supporter of the market, and he passed away last year, so we thought this annual event would be a fitting tribute.

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"But the numbers exceeded anything we were expecting. Five years ago, we would have classed 300 head of cattle as a really good sale. But this was 500, and there were 900 sheep in there too, so both sides are doing well.

"I think Norwich is lucky in some respects, we are a TB4 market, there are not many 'all TB4' markets in the country. That is making a big difference.

"The cost of fuel and transport is also having a big effect, because it is not cheap to cart animals out of East Anglia to other markets because you have either got to go to Melton Mowbray, or down to Colchester or Ashford.

"The fuel issue is one thing but there's also the prices. The price of the stock at the moment is just incredible. There is so much demand for the end product.

"Livestock markets have been going for years and it is the fairest way to get the market value. We've had a lot of cases where the prices have been up to £200-250 a head more than the reserve price the sellers have put on them.

Cattle being sold at Norwich Livestock Market

Cattle being sold at Norwich Livestock Market - Credit: Chris Hill

"The price of beef is a big factor. We had 31 cull cows in Norwich last Saturday and they were selling up to £1,500 per head. 

"The breeding animals are worth more too. If I sell some cull cows, I then like to replace it with a cow and calf, so if you have got a cull cow making £1,200-£1,300 you are then not afraid to spend £1,500, £1,600, 1,700 for a cow with a calf.

"I know we had pedigree cow on Saturday which made £4,000 and last year we had a pedigree bull that made £6,700 in Norwich.

"It just shows that for Norfolk and East Anglia, you do not need to go to what they call the quality areas, the likes of Skipton and Carlisle to sell quality stock. If you have got quality animals, people will buy them in Norfolk."

Sheep at Norwich Livestock Market

Sheep at Norwich Livestock Market - Credit: Chris Hill

As with every farming sector, the high prices for livestock are being countered by the soaring cost of fertiliser and animal feed.

Mr Lutkin, who farms at Langley, near Loddon, said: "Our feed prices went up nearly £100 per tonne from the beginning of March to the middle of April.

"We buy fertiliser for the silage grass to feed our cows through the winter - last year it cost us just under £300 per tonne, this year it is just over £1,000 a tonne.

"So even though we might be getting a better price for our livestock at the minute, it is not going to offset these increase costs.

"Anyone with a household knows the cost of everything is going up, and to be honest beef now is what you'd call a luxury item - but we are all in the same boat with these high prices."

Cattle at Norwich Livestock Market

Cattle at Norwich Livestock Market - Credit: Chris Hill

Mr Lutkin said the market directors are still in discussions with Norwich City Council over the growing market's long-term future home.

A High Court hearing in 2018 confirmed the council's legal obligation to provide land for a market within the city's boundaries - which it currently does by leasing the Hall Road site from its landowner.

"I don't think there are any firm plans at the minute, but at the moment we are here until the council finds us a suitable location somewhere else," said Mr Lutkin. "I would love to see Norwich get a brand new market, but I don't know when it will happen."

The market is planning to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its reopening with a social event at the Norfolk Showground on September 24.

Sheep being auctioned at Norwich Livestock Market

Sheep being auctioned at Norwich Livestock Market - Credit: Chris Hill

Cattle at Norwich Livestock Market

Cattle at Norwich Livestock Market - Credit: Chris Hill