Fast approaching its 50th anniversary, Headford Co-Operative Mart continues to go from strength to strength, embracing change and innovation, moving with the times and consistently delivering outstanding online and ringside cattle and sheep sales every Saturday morning. We touched base with mart manager Joyce Whelan to discuss the successful incorporation of unprecedented change into the livestock mart model.
Another challenging, busy and prosperous year at Headford Livestock Mart & Property Sales came to a successful finale on Saturday, December 17th when this long-established and well-appointed co-operative mart – which has been selling sheep and cattle since September 1st, 1974 – staged its Christmas Cracker sale against all odds with freezing conditions. In spite of the weather, Headford Mart welcomed buyers from near and far to join with the local farmers to celebrate the end of another successful year.
One of the stand-out traits of Headford Co-Operative Mart is that it has always been farmer-focused, with every effort made to make sure that buyers and sellers alike enjoy a harmonious, enjoyable and user-friendly experience on sales day, whether they opt to attend the mart in person or avail of the online sales option, which has proven extremely popular since it was rolled out in a major way during the height of the pandemic.
Matt manager Joyce Whelan agrees that the mart model has changed beyond recognition over the past three years: “It certainly has, although, as I’m only going into my second year at the mart, while all marts have gone through a massive rebirth, it has always been this way for me!”
A farmer-owned co-operative facilitating sales and purchases of livestock and property in the West of Ireland, Headford Livestock Mart & Property Sales has thrived since adapting, fine-tuning and streamlining the hybrid online / ringside sales model, which is now a feature of practically every mart in Ireland.
“It would have been all ringside up until Covid,” Joyce confirms. Due to social distancing and public health restrictions, marts had to move their auctions online exclusively during the worst days of the Covid-19 emergency and a lot of their business remains online today. “It makes sense for the part-time farmer who can still go to their kid’s rugby match or training on a Saturday morning,” says Joyce. “Farmers can still participate in the sales without attending in person and they can collect whatever they’ve bought on their way home on Saturday evening.
“Obviously, it generates more work for us from a bookkeeping point of view and to make sure we uphold transparency but it is a very successful model and it’s working extremely well for everybody.”
Over the past twelve months, we have invested in a series of technological and facility upgrades at Headford Co-Op Mart, including new cameras, signage, entrances and enhanced Health & Safety standards throughout the complex.
“We’re always thinking about ways we can improve the mart for the stakeholders experience, to give best value for money, as well as complete transparency and fairness,” Joyce continues. “We’ve accomplished a lot over the past year and we have a lot more to do.
“Between full-time and part-time workers, we have a team of 30 and the co-operative is led by a committee of 15. There’s a fantastic community ethos in Headford and in the west of Ireland in general – a great meitheal. Although the committee are all voluntary members, they all offer professional help in any way they can. One member is from an accountancy background, for example, and another has building experience and they all make an invaluable contribution using their specific skills.
“This expertise was instrumental in raising our cattle pens, which I’m convinced will not only protect the livestock better but will also save lives in years to come. That is an unbelievable legacy for this committee.”
It’s vital of course that the technology is in place to enable ringside and online bidders to interact seamlessly with one another in real time. Headford Co-Op Mart has invested in significant improvements to make this possible. “We installed a special TV screen over the cattle ring and every bid goes up on the screen so everybody ringside is aware that there has been an online or floor bid,” Joyce reveals.
“We had put in online cameras three years ago, but we really didn’t like the delays we were experiencing with the feed and sometimes the sound. So we liaised with experts in IT and in LSL [who build software and online systems for marts and auction houses] and invested in new high-definition cameras and a new sound system. The cameras are giving a great live feed and that new system has really stood to Headford Mart.”
Sales at Headford Co-Op Mart are brisk and have increased leading to an earlier starting time of the cattle sale (for bullocks, heifers, sucklers, cows, weanlings, bulls and weanling heifers) to 10am on Saturdays (coinciding with the start of the sheep sale – store, factory and butcher lambs).
“Since we changed the time of the auctions and the run-out of the stock, with cow sales moved to first thing in the morning, cow buyers have increased as have the number of stock on offer. We wouldn’t have traditionally had high cow numbers in Headford as there are other marts in the region, but we have nice numbers now and the change of time means that buyers can either attend in person or online.
“We are a single-ring mart and we have planning permission for a second ring but we are not yet at the stage where we will be proceeding with that.”
For the three months of September – November, Headford Co-Op Mart hosts weaning sales on Friday nights and these too have proven extremely popular, with weanlings coming in from as far afield as Clare.
All in all, these are positive, progressive times at Headford Livestock Mart and the feedback from farmers on the ground – both buyers and sellers alike – is decidedly upbeat. “I have to say the feedback I’m getting from farmers has been wonderful,” Joyce concludes.
“We serve a large catchment area, with sellers from Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Clare, with buyers from all over the country and the North. The Headford community and its shareholders in the mart are exceptional, forward-thinking and energetic people, who are very supportive of every development in the community and always asking what can they do to improve things further. This has been continued over the last 50 years and we look forward to the next phase.
“Special mention must go to our amazing staff who have been central to the success of the last 12 months. Their commitment each week to the co-op, their local community, its traditions and values as well as adhering to highest standards of health and safety, regulation and transparency enabled us to grow. Their continued support and drive inspires us all.
“We wish all our staff, customers, shareholders, neighbours, local businesses and especially our families all the best for 2023.”
Headford Co-Op Mart Ltd.,
Tel: 093 35572
Email: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 11 No 2, March/April 2023