LOOK OUT BOYS!
I’ve been working in Penrith Auction today. We have been selling all things bovine including breeding cattle, stores, cows and prime cattle for the butchers market. It has been a busy day and after a thirty year career I find myself having come full circle doing the same jobs now in my fifties as i did as a young auctioneer. Nowadays i am part- time, helping our young auctioneer Andrew Maughan at Penrith Auction on monday sale days. I can honestly say i love every minute.
My day begins at the unloading docks meeting and greeting customers. I try to get the back door of their trailers down and the cattle unloaded and heading for the numbering race before the farmers get out of their vehicles.
In all the markets I have worked in and managed, i have always tried to impress on colleagues that customer care is of paramount importance. Auctioneer’s have no divine right to sell any farmers stock. You have to earn the right. Most farmers in Cumbria have a choice of two or three markets. The success of any market is judged around two things; price and service. If a customer goes home thinking their stock has been traded fairly and that they have had an enjoyable day, then he or she will be inclined to return again.
So I hope that my little gesture and the fact that i am prepared to get my hands dirty is at least acknowledged as good service. Apart from that, i love the banter with our customers. You can be sure that when Jonty Stalker from Ratten Cattle pulls up, there will be an exchange of words. It always good-natured but sometimes close to the bone. In recent weeks he claimed as a teenager to concrete an entire silage clamp with a portable cement mixer and a barrow and an old lad to help him tamp. “Started at Easter and finished by first cut”. With his broad smile you never know if he is jesting or not. This morning i asked him if it was his birthday as someone had steam cleaned his cattle trailer. This type of thing is an important part of the market for me.
I don’t want to appear gung ho. I am not. At 52 years of age, with an expanding waistline and aching knees I am always careful when handling cattle. Working on the docks you must have eyes in the back of your head and your wits about you. An experienced team of drovers work closely, watch each others backs and look after the customers as well as the cattle.
Everyone carries a stick to guide cattle and for self-protection. It is absolutely necessary. If cattle don’t need guided, then a stick need not be used. I abhor the heavy use of a stick on any animals. This should never be necessary if the animal is going forward in the right direction.
However there is no doubt about it, the livestock auction mart is potentially a dangerous working environment. Animals even of the domestic farm type can suddenly become very upset and agitated. They are unpredictable, can turn on you, take flight and even attack. In that case the only course of action is to run or jump over the rails. At my time of life I prefer not to do this too often. So i try not to take too many chances.
I would like to have been given one pound for every time a farmer selling a beast in the ring has had to exit in double-quick time only to say; “I can’t understand it. It’s very quiet at home……”
Sadly accidents do happen although thankfully they are rare. Personally I have only had one bad incident in my career (so far). Here is what happened: –
It was a typical busy Thursday morning at Penrith Auction Mart. I was a young junior auctioneer working on the unloading docks where the cattle were to be numbered for sale. Prime cattle were arriving into the auction mart from every angle. It was only five minutes before start time and all farmers were rushing to get their stock in to the market. The cattle auctioneer Richard Morris was calling over the tannoy that the sale would be starting shortly. The alley leading from the loading docks to the numbering race was bedlam. I was working in that alley trying to get as many cattle into the race as fast as I could. Gates were clanking, cattle lowing and there was really good buzz about the place. The job was “bouncing”.
John Armstrong a director of the company appeared at my side. “We are going to be busy today” He said smiling. I gave a polite reply as I tried to get on with my job.
“How is the trade going to be?” he enquired. I turned to give him my opinion. As I did so I took my eye off the cattle waiting behind me to come up into the race. All of a sudden there was an almighty clatter and I heard the sound of a metal gates being burst open.
“Look out boys!” one of the drovers shouted. I turned around just as a huge 750 kg Charolais bullock burst through the gates and into the alley in which we were standing. In a moment it was past Mr Armstrong and hit me full on in the stomach. I was bodily lifted onto the animal’s head as it continued to charge up the alley at full pelt.
It carried me a full fifteen yards before throwing me down onto the concrete floor. Whilst I rolled over and over in the cattle muck, the beast proceeded to step on me with three out of four hooves, one on the shoulder, one in the midriff and one on the “upper thigh”.
I lay in the gutter pole-axed and unable to breathe. John Armstrong who was well-advanced in age ambled up as fast as he could. Slowly he bent over me and I raised an arm expecting a hand up. He just looked at me quizzically and then he spoke.
“Are you alright?”
” No Mr Armstrong, i’m not alright”! After a long pause, he rubbed his chin rather quizically.
“I can’t understand it” he said. “That bullock is mine…. and It has always been very quiet at home!”………..