Sale Now On!
As part of her series on successful breeding, Jack Smellie looks at making the best use of private sales to part with your precious young stock
Selling young stock privately,
After all the hard work of choosing breeding stock, nurturing them through the autumn tups and the spring births, the stage that quite a few smallholders dread is reached — that of selling precious youngsters.
Selling ‘live’ stock and selling it privately is a method used almost exclusively by a large number of the smaller smallholders with just a handful of animals. This method is favoured for two reasons: first and foremost is a strong desire on the part of the seller to know exactly who they are selling to. Secondly, it potentially puts the seller in complete control to both set the price and decide whether or not to actually go ahead with the sale.
So why do some smallholders (us included) often dread selling stock on? Some of it is due to our arrogance, for want of a better word, but also to our deep care and love for our stock, because we invariably think that no one else can possibly look after our animals as well as we do. This applies whether they are top quality rare breeds or our own perfectly formed cross-breeds from solid and reliable parent stock that we have had for years. Many smallholders also dread selling stock because, if life was different — if we all had more money, time and land — many of us would probably want to keep much of what we breed anyway.
The way we sell our stock and the emotional journey that this involves is inextricably linked to the reasons we breed in the first place, as well as the success we have had. If, for example, we look at rare breeds, the main reason for breeding is to help preserve the animals concerned, but, in doing so, to breed perfect examples that can then be bred from in turn. If we sell on any of these perfect examples we are going to want to find very special homes for them, where our good work will be continued and the pride we felt at producing such top quality stock will be appreciated.
The same is true for all registered/ pure stock. Breeders can spend years developing particular looks and traits and lines and it can be bitterly disappointing if, in selling such stock on, they are not looked after properly or are bred in such a way as to undermine the original breeding programmes.
After the deal is done
But how much can original breeders control what happens to their stock once it leaves the farm and, crucially, do they have any right to do so?
The answer to the first is ‘not a lot’ and to the second, well… it is debatable.
James Waite from Lincolnshire had an interesting experience one year when he sold some Leicestershire Longwool ewe lambs to someone who then accidentally allowed the ram in. The resulting lambs
were smaller than they should have been and the ewe lambs themselves, in lambing at a mere one year old, had stunted growth. The Leicestershire Longwool Society was not massively forgiving about this even though it had been totally out of James’ hands. James now only ever sells shearling ewes: a responsible move by a responsible breeder.
Smallholders, however, don’t always sell on stock as potential breeding animals. Some may get sold to be raised for meat, or kept as pets, or as lawn mowers and ground clearers. Some animals are sold on for very specific jobs associated with their breed: alpacas as poultry guards, horses to work the land, etc. Do we care as much about a new owner if an animal is going to be eaten in a few months as opposed to living a long and happy life breeding or working? The answer is: we hope so.
It is important to be able to clarify why we have bred stock in the first place and why we are then selling them, because if this isn’t clear then we may well not be able to make the best decisions about who we are selling to. There is no doubt that a great many smallholders breed because they love breeding. We, for example, utterly adore goats and goat kids, finding them the most engaging animals we have and, while we keep four goats in order to both milk them and eat their meat, we don’t necessarily have to breed from all of them every year. A goat can stay in milk for years after kidding if managed appropriately and we certainly don’t need to put goat meat in the freezer every season either, but we still breed every year because we love the experience. Of course, this does mean that we have kids to sell each summer and we would be irresponsible if we didn’t try to find the best homes for them. Many smallholders breed because unless they can make money from their core stock they can’t keep them: they breed in order to keep breeding. Having already established that some breeders breed in order to keep the breed numbers stable or improve them, we all know that the best way to keep rare breeds going is to sell them to people who want to eat them.
Settling on a price tag
On the assumption that breeders want to find the best possible homes for their young stock — no matter what their intended purpose — how is it possible to ensure that great owners are found and what can be done to ensure that the whole process of selling goes as smoothly as possible?
Initially a breeder needs to decide two things: firstly to have a clear objective for the purpose of the stock they are selling. Are they being sold for meat, or breeding, or as a pet, etc? Secondly, the seller must have a price in mind and that also means price range. What are you going to set as your initial price and what are you prepared to drop to? Remember that you can go down, but you can’t go up.
Pricing stock is incredibly difficult, especially in a smallholder’s first year. Research and seeing what the market is saying are key here, but any smallholder also needs to take into account:
Your expenditure to date; The original cost of the breeding stock; What you actually need and/or want to make so that the whole exercise has been worthwhile.
The more you breed and sell, the more confident you will become, but as a beginner you can find help, including from breed societies who will assist in valuing animals either remotely or via a visit. Many counties have smallholding associations that can put you in touch with other breeders to do the same. You can also trawl though the numerous Facebook groups, livestock selling websites, etc, and make astute comparisons — or even ask the question direct of your fellow Facebookers. You do, however, have a responsibility to fellow breeders not to set your price tag too far above or below the average. If you overprice your stock without a good reason, it could be assumed that there is something wrong with any stock that is selling for less. If you underprice, perhaps because you want a quick sale, you are then devaluing the work of other breeders.
Spreading the word
Another consideration is where to advertise. In a recent survey on the Celebrating Smallholding UK Facebook page, Facebook and other social media came out on top, with the next choice local advertising, with auctions and markets getting less than 10% of the votes. Ironically, Facebook has now banned the sale of animals on its platform, but not all animal sales posts get rejected and when they do people simply revert to using a discussion post as opposed to a sales post. It may sound a bit hit and miss, but selling livestock via Facebook is still eminently possible. The potential audience that can
be reached remains huge and it is easy to create posts, edit them and delete them.
The downside is that you are potentially dealing with a whole host of strangers, some of whom may mess you around and/ or be disingenuous about their intentions. In theory, the wheat should be sorted from the chaff when potential buyers come to view, but first check out anyone who wants to visit your smallholding by viewing their social media profile and searching for them in other groups/pages. Also try engaging them in Messenger conversations by asking them questions.
Preloved and Sell My Livestock are two other popular choices for selling stock and some people have their own websites, which, if kept up to date, can be a source of great additional information for a potential new owner to check you out.
One of the best ways of selling remains word of mouth, although this does take time to establish. Breeders with good reputations will often have waiting lists and, in an ideal world, this is what to aim for.
Mandy Colbourne, who comes from Carmarthenshire, believes that her reputation is down to breeding top quality registered, rare breed stock and having the paperwork to support it. Having a waiting list also legitimises your breeding programme, knowing that you have people who want your stock, not just that breed. Although it wasn’t a deliberate ploy, we offered free farm walks last summer through our local smallholding association and then secured several sales from some of the people who came. It was a lovely way of selling because, in belonging to the same smallholders’ club, there was immediate common ground and the farm walk itself provided a chance for both sides to get to know each other in real life.
Honesty is the best policy
To attract the best kind of buyer, a breeder needs to make themselves the best kind of seller. Their adverts should be totally honest and give as much information as possible. Photos should show the stock in clean, tidy and environmentally-rich surroundings. Price details should be clear. Offering elements such as post-sales advice and having the animal back if it doesn’t work out will show how serious the vendor is about that animal’s welfare.
Make it clear that a full health history of the stock — vaccinations, worming, etc — will also be provided, as well as details of the animal’s breeding. With any registered animal this will be backed up with supporting paperwork, but if it is unregistered clear information about the immediate parentage should be revealed at the very least.
Some sellers will inspect potential new homes before they finally agree to any sale of their stock. The next best thing is to speak on the phone and/or ask for photos or even — as done by Tana Sheridan from Devon for a recent sheep sale to Stokeon-Tent — offer to deliver the animals concerned. That way you retain control — including changing your mind — right up to the last minute.
Keeping in touch after the event is important too. I always ask for (and usually receive) pictures of the animals settled in at their new home.
Debbi Green from Pembrokeshire delighted in a recent email she received from someone who had bought a ram from her. The message read that he was now “a true member of the family and enjoying a massage twice a day”. And both Avril Wooster in Devon and Ellie Haston in Ireland point out that many of their customers are now their friends; they get to see updates on Facebook and see pictures of the offspring they have then bred.
If you are selling to first-time owners you should give as much information as you can about how to look after the animals, including asking about (or inspecting) their set ups. Hopefully, you can demonstrate on your own smallholding the kind of environment the animals need: good fencing, housing, space, etc. You may also want to check that they have a good vet and understand the rules about holding numbers and movement licenses.
Most people get a feeling pretty quickly about the people who want to buy their stock. The key here is to never be afraid to say no. As Sherran Parry-Williams from West Wales says: “It would [we hope] be unusual for someone to pay a decent price for a breeding animal and not look after it. I think the smallholder dedication to small flocks, health and wellbeing adds value to the animals and the products. We like to buy from breeders and producers who have this philosophy.”
But what can you do if you can’t sell the animals you have? Should you keep the stock a little longer, or even through the winter and try again the following year? Strictly speaking yes, because the alternative is to lower the price, devalue the animal and/or sell to someone who is less than desirable. In practice, if it means that you take twice as much stock though the winter, that may not be a suitable outcome.
When it works, seeing your stock go off to a new home in the peak of health and with people you trust is an incredibly rewarding experience. Even better is keeping in touch and seeing the animals flourish.
To attract the best kind of buyer, a breeder needs to make themselves the best kind of seller. Their adverts should be totally honest and give as much information as possible
Helping to perpetuate rare breeds can be hugely satisfying. These are West of England geese
Most smallholders are proud of the stock they breed
Another successful birth: a keeper or one to sell?
Investing time, money and love into breeding stock always pays