A livestock dealer is a very useful contact for a smallholder to have. In fact, many dealers are smallholders or small-scale farmers themselves, who’ve diversified into the buying and selling side of things in order to make ends meet. Their regular attendance at all of the local markets means that they’re always up to date with regards to prices and trends, and are well positioned to give you good advice. If you’re new to the area then commissioning a livestock dealer to source animals on your behalf may save you a certain amount of embarrassment. A dealer is also helpful in situations where animals are being sold in batches larger than you require, as he’s bound to be able to find one or two other people to share the penful with you, or, failing that, he may buy the whole lot himself, sell you the few that you want, and then re-sell the rest (although you must be prepared to pay him a slightly higher price per head than what he paid for them, as he’s the one who’s taking the risk).
It has been said that in order to make a living a dealer must either buy too cheaply or sell too dear, but in reality what he does is to make a very small margin on lots and lots of transactions. Therefore he’s unlikely to overcharge you. A livestock dealer may also act as a haulier, which takes care of another potential problem facing the beginner – how to transport your new purchases back to your holding.
I regularly engage the services of a dealer for the procurement of calves, for which I pay him £10 per head over the price he paid for them at market or from a farm. Given that he may have driven many miles to source them, and that he delivers the calves to my holding or to a nearby collection centre, I reckon that this represents pretty good value for money, although I do give him a fairly tight budget to work to.
The major downsides to using a livestock dealer are that biosecurity guidelines may not be very closely adhered to, and that animals may have passed through several sets of hands in rapid succession before they end up with you, both of which could potentially compromise health and welfare.
Visiting the vendor’s holding enables you to assess health and welfare standards.