Business at Devon's newest livestock market booming five years on from historic final sale in town centre

24th January 2019
An aerial view of a machinery sale under way at Holsworthy Livestock Market

An aerial view of a machinery sale under way at Holsworthy Livestock Market, which opened for business in September 2014 after 100 years of trading in the heart of the town

From left to right: Kivells Directors Mark Bunt, Kevin Hicks, Simon Alford, David Kivell and Mark Bromell

From left to right: Kivells Directors Mark Bunt, Kevin Hicks, Simon Alford, David Kivell and Mark Bromell

A packed crowd of buyers gather around the cattle ring

A packed crowd of buyers gather around the cattle ring

Machinery sale at Kivells Holsworthy

Machinery has grown to form a large part of the sales calendar, with auctioneers carrying out dispersals all over the region

Holsworthy's £6 million market and agri-business centre opened back in September 2014

By Athwenna Irons 12:36, 24 JAN 2019

Taken from the original article on Devon Live

After a century of trading in the heart of the town, it was for many the end of an era when the gavel came down for the last time at Holsworthy Livestock Market on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.

Excitement, tinged with sadness, hung in the air as the prospect of leaving this chapter behind and moving to a brand new, £6 million state-of-the-art market and agri-business centre, funded by Torridge District Council and located just outside the town centre, was fast becoming a reality.

Now five years on, the Kivells-run development has blossomed into one of the leading auction centres in the South West, providing an important selling platform for all types of prime and store stock and welcoming around 500 people through its entrance gates every Wednesday.

“I think its fair to say that the market has gone as well here as you’d wish for it to,” says David Kivell, the fifth generation of the Kivell family to be a director of the firm and recently appointed as chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA).

Since trading began at the aptly-named New Market Road site on September 3, 2014, Holsworthy Livestock Market has seen a £2 million turnover increase, along with a “marked” rise in the value and numbers of livestock passing through the pens each week.

As David explains, numbers of calves and stirks being sold at the market have increased by 2,000-head per year since 2014, with store cattle up by 3,500-head, fat sheep by 7,000-head, store sheep by 4,500-head and cull ewes by 3,500-head.

“When we moved our plan was to bring the town with us, and I think slowly but surely its happening,” David adds. “Whenever there’s change there is sometimes resistance and thoughts of “it isn’t like it used to be”, which we can understand.

“The last thing we wanted to do was have any sort of animosity or drive any sort of wedge between us and the town. Kivells’ main agricultural base is here, Torridge’s biggest economic driver and employer is farming, and we’ve got a key role to play in that.

“Where we’ve seen some livestock markets sadly close, here in Holsworthy we’re happy to say that we are continuing to expand.”

And expand it has, with Holsworthy not only boasting a vibrant livestock market but also a packed catalogue of equestrian saddlery, furniture, festive oven-ready poultry, fodder and machinery sales. Machinery has proved to be a particular success story, with over £2.5 million worth of tractors, machinery and equipment sold during 2018.

Moving to the new site has also helped to widen the market’s catchment area, David adds, with both buyers and sellers now travelling from throughout the region and further afield to do business here. “It is very much a professional operation now compared to the old market,” he says.

“We dress differently, we act differently, we pen the cattle differently, they’re shown differently and they come in the night before, which is so much easier. I think the whole picture has helped to increase the catchment hugely.

“From those in deepest Cornwall, Exmoor and then right round to the edge of Crediton, it’s a big sweep now whereas at the old market you knew your locals would come, but we weren’t pulling a big number from further away.”

And as well as bringing new faces to the town, this has in many cases had a positive knock-on effect for other local businesses, with the market’s specialist and dairy sales in particular attracting visitors from outside the region.

Auctioneer, James Morrish, gives an example: “We’d have a number of people who would come down the day before to view the animals, then we’d find them a local bed and breakfast or hotel to stay in. They’d then most likely go out for an evening meal, which brings business to one of the local pubs or restaurants.

“Coming back the next day, they do their business and would then need to employ a haulier to take those animals back home.”

James is also keen to add that TB-restricted sales have become an important fixture on the Holsworthy calendar, providing a facility for Defra-approved buyers and sellers to trade store stock. “There are very few options for farmers who are shut down with TB,” he explains. “It’s not straightforward by any means.

“A lot of our customers get very worked up and worried about the paperwork, rules and regulations. They often need somebody to assist and help them, and that’s where our team come into their own.”

For centuries, livestock markets have not only provided farmers with an outlet to buy and sell stock, but also stood the test of time as an important social occasion. And with loneliness and isolation in the countryside a growing issue, especially within the farming community, James says the team at Holsworthy are committed to upholding the market’s special social qualities.

“It’s still a very friendly, traditional market here,” he comments. “Yes, we’re here to do business, but then you’ll have a table full of people sat in The Cow Shed Cafe who won’t move for a good few hours, because that’s their day out.”

“I think the social factor of a livestock market is still very much here, whereas I think in some markets up and down the country it is becoming a bit more clinical.”

In addition to this a market chaplaincy team, coordinated by rural support worker Andy Jerrard, is on hand to offer a listening ear, a friendly presence and practical support to anybody who needs it.

James adds: “We have a responsibility and duty of care to our customers, because if we don’t look after them and they’re not here, our business fails.”

And with increasing biosecurity measures, as well as changes in the way that business is done, James believes that for some farming is now becoming even more isolated “Milk tankers are quite often turning up to dairy farms in the early hours now, because its cheaper to run at night than in the day,” he says.

“A lot of the ordering, such as cattle cake or fertiliser, is happening online so the sales reps and incidences of people coming onto the farm are getting less. Biosecurity is getting higher and higher, so again people aren’t going onto farms so much.

“For many of our customers, its a lonely old world and we’re very aware of that, and what to do what he can to help them.”

When asked where they see Holsworthy Livestock Market in another five year’s time, both David and James are confident that the business is “well placed” to deal with whatever the future holds, most notably Brexit and the cloud of uncertainty it brings.

“I think we’re well placed for Brexit, because there’s almost certainly going to be some fallout in the next few years,” says David. “We have to bear in mind that, come the end of March, it could all go very wrong, but I think we’re well placed to deal with that. We’re in a position where we’ve got staff with intellect, understanding and serviceability, so can deal with whatever comes out of it.”

James adds that you’ve only got to look around the local area to see that farming continues to play a key role in how the countryside is managed. “It’s fairly heavy land in Holsworthy and then down to Launceston, up to Barnstaple and out to Okehampton,” he explains.

“We’re still blessed with lots of livestock farmers in the area and when you drive around, the reason the countryside is a patchwork quilt is because of those farmers, not because of anything else.”