02 May 2022
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The last twenty years has seen considerable change within the livestock industry and someone who has experienced this first hand, is Michael Stewart who has been an Auctioneer with Harrison & Hetherington for the last twenty years. After building the foundations of his career with James Craig in Ayr, Michael started with Harrison & Hetherington at Lockerbie Mart in 2002.
“I started work with Harrison & Hetherington just as Foot and Mouth was coming to an end, so I am fully aware that challenges in the industry are nothing new. I am based at Lockerbie and Carlisle and live in Moffat and I am always in close touch with the local farmers. Over the years, I have built strong relationships.
What I enjoy most about my job is travelling around the country meeting people daily. Many I have known since my early days working with Harrison & Hetherington and I have made some great friendships too, not just business acquaintances. I am on the road for about four days a week and at Lockerbie on Mart days, every Monday morning for the Sheep Collection Sales and fortnightly on Tuesdays for the store cattle. This variety really helps me keep my finger on the pulse of what is going on in the industry.
Today there are far fewer farms in the area, as many of the smaller farms have been amalgamated into bigger ones to gain economies of scale and I think this will only increase in the future. After Foot and Mouth, we saw a return to normal stocking levels, but over the years these too have dropped and I fear this trend will also continue.
The area that I cover is very wide – most of the south of Scotland and the Borders. I am responsible for store cattle, in the main, farm to farm sales and I also help at the market on sale days. Seeing up to 2,500 sheep being sold, our sheep collections, have become extremely popular and attract customers from the length and breadth of the country.
There have been several highlights over the years, one being when our annual Lockerbie Fair Spring sale, about 14 years ago, saw 1450 cattle go under the hammer. This sale is always and important date in the calendar, that year it was exceptional.
However, for me, it really has been a privilege to have seen the growth in popularity of our Cheviot Tup sales. Lockerbie is renowned for the Cheviot breed, and these sales have seen significant increases. When I first started, we would see around 40 North Cheviot tups coming up for sale, now we are regularly getting 800 or more passing through the ring over two days. This year we had a double highlight, both for the mart and for me personally, with the South Country Cheviots breaking a world record with a tup from T Elliot of Hindhope selling to Becks & Crossdykes for £28,000.
Currently livestock farmers are experiencing enormous challenges with Brexit, new payment schemes, the massive increase in fuel, feed and fertilizer prices and now the unknown impact of the war in the Ukraine. This along with late lambing snows and blizzards is one of the most difficult times I have known for farmers since Foot and Mouth.
However, despite these issues I remain optimistic for the future. We are now reaching much wider audiences thanks to the internet and I am looking forward to building on the success we have had so far, and to support the next generation of farmers and our team at Harrison & Hetherington. Although stock numbers are dropping, which is a concern, the UK still has one of the best records of animal welfare and quality and I am sure that where there is a will there is a way to overcome the current issues. We have a great team here at Lockerbie and Carlisle, I really enjoy working with the younger members who are a tremendous bunch, they are our industry’s future and I like to support them where I can.
Two years after moving to Lockerbie Michael married Beverley and they have two daughters, Jess and Caitlin aged twelve and fifteen, so it is perhaps too early to tell if they too will become auctioneers.!”
Commenting on Michael’s career over the last twenty years Scott Donaldson, Managing Director of Harrison & Hetherington said “It is people like Michael who make our company what it is. His hands on experience built over the years is invaluable, both to our business and our customers. It is wonderful to watch his career develop and to see him become an intrinsic part of the business. I would like to thank him for all his hard work and service and look forward to his next twenty years with Harrison & Hetherington!”