MY first attempt at selling prime sheep took place one Thursday morning at Lazonby Auction mart, in 1989, says Adam Day, Farmer columnist.

The boss, Norman Little, was away on holiday, and I was entrusted with the job. His parting comment was “make sure you get them to Penrith prices, and no less”!

In those days, the sheep trade hardly varied from day to day. There were no mobile phones and buyers rarely received a phone call on the auction phone.

On this particular day in early May, there were 150 spring lambs to sell and only one buyer. Jared Faulder, a local man, would be representing several different meat processors.

“Don’t worry Adam- Lad” he said with a chuckle, whilst placing a steadying hand on my shoulder. “Just bid away with me and when I stop, you put one more bid in, then knock them down to me”.

The first pen of lambs came in, and Jared stopped at £28. Here was my first problem. The lambs would have made £30 at Penrith. Tentatively I raised the bid to £28.20.

Jared motioned at me to bring the hammer down, but I remembered Norman’s words. There was nothing for it. I continued taking bids off the wall, finally knocking the lambs down to Jared at £30. He glared at me but wrote the price down on his card.

The same thing happened with the second lot. Jared’s temper was visibly rising. “What are you doing”? he hissed at me. By the time I knocked down the third lot down to him, he picked his wad of buyers cards out of his jacket pocket and threw on them on the floor. “I’m supposed to buy the sheep not you”!

Somehow, we made it through the sale, and I kept my head down as Jared walked into the auction office. “Come here young man” he instructed. “Oh no” I thought “Now I’m for it”.

“See that”? He asked. On a buyer’s card was a price per kg. “That was supposed to be my price today. “Now what does my bill say”? Sheepishly I replied “They’re 5p per kg more”.

“That’s right” he said breaking into a big smile “So, between us we haven’t done so bad have we”? Then he added “We’ve got to keep Lazonby on the map”. From that day forward we became pals. Jared rarely missed any Lazonby sale. “I’m not a dealer” he would say, “but, I am an agent for many”.

Last Wednesday I helped out at Penrith prime sheep sale. Prices were unheralded, such is the current demand and shortage of supply.

Many pens were making over £140 and some over £160. This demand is unlikely to disappear, but are these prices sustainable? That is the big question.

It should be a wake- up call. Never has there been a greater need to embrace food production and conservation equally.

In future, farmers will need to do both in greater measure. I think an opportunity awaits.

I’m glad we didn’t have these prices in 1989. I’d have had to put another tenner on every pen when Jared stopped bidding!

n “I have spent 30 years working as a Land Agent and Auctioneer throughout Cumbria and beyond. I still enjoy auctioneering on a freelance basis, mostly at Penrith Mart, where I first started my career many years ago.

I Joined the Farmer Network in 2015 initially working three days per week but now working four days per week. I am involved in all facets of the Network working closely with the Board of Directors and the Management Council’s to ensure that the Network is delivering what members want and need. A priority in my role has been to raise awareness of the Farmer Network and increase membership. In doing so we have been able improve income streams and project funding.

The Farmer Network is a sustainable business model and well placed to continue providing a range of services and support for farmers, their families and their businesses going forward.