Wigton’s auction mart is attempting to run business as usual - but with extra measures to keep buyers, sellers and staff safe.

Hope’s of Wigton, which is situated in the centre of one of the most important livestock areas, is continuing with its regular Tuesday and Thursday sales, due to demand to feed the nation.

David Bowman, the auction mart manager at Hope’s, said it was carrying on, while taking extra care of staff and customers. He said: “It is far better operating at this limited business than not at all.”

The popular Stocksman cafe has been closed, and farmers are dropping livestock off at the Syke Street mart. “The farmers do not get out of their vehicles, so our staff have very limited contact with them. Animals are unloaded and put into pens by our yard lads,” said Mr Bowman.

“Buyers are not allowed to inspect livestock in the pens, as was the normal practice before coronavirus, but they are allowed in the livestock ring, but observing the handwashing and two metre social distancing,” he added.

But Mr Bowman admitted that staffing was their biggest problem. “Some people have requested not to work, and we respect that. We do run a tight ship though. But it takes a bit of organising and people having to stretch themselves.

“We may be a bit over the top, but we want to keep everyone safe. Farmers have to keep going, and we need our staff to help keep the mart open,” said Mr Bowman.

“Farmers are not allowed in the mart, and I do feel sorry for the old chaps, who loved to come along to sales, not just for the livestock and the prices, but to have a bit of craic.

“We can accommodate 10 buyers around the ring safely. We have handwashing facilities and gloves. But some buyers are working together and are doubling up, which is fine. What I say is if you have a 100 farmers dropping off four cattle apiece, I know that is 100 farmers that have not contracted the virus.

“Last Thursday, we had 60 odd calves and five or six buyers around the ring, which was grand,” said Mr Bowman.

“It is important for us to stay open for as long as we can. We need to be here when the country opens up again.”

The Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) said:”We are maintaining regular contact with all of our member companies, ensuring adequate facilities for washing hands with soap and water are available, and guidance notices are provided.

“It is important that our auction marts can support and minimise any disruption to the red meat trade during the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, all necessary steps are being taken to protect the health and safety of history shows us that there is nothing comparable to trading livestock in the live sales ring to get a fair price, as was evident in 2001 when farmers were quick to draw back to the auction mart.”