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Farm moves with the times for spring bull sale

This year, the eleventh annual spring auction sale of Hereford bulls posed a difficulty for Scottish breeders Ervie Hereford, as the national Covid-19 lockdown meant it was impractical to expect many bull customers to attend on sale day. The Douglas family decided this was the year for a livestreamed auction.

(left to right): Kristina, Olivia, Ellen and Rosie Douglas.

Since their first on-farm sale of Hereford bulls in 2010, John and Alexandra Douglas and their family have welcomed new and repeat commercial Hereford bull customers from the length and breadth of the UK to their farm each February, for their Ervie Herefords Annual Spring Bull Sale.

Each year, the outwintered sale bulls have been presented completely naturally and catalogued with full EBV and in-herd performance data.

The imported Line One Hereford genetics used in the Ervie herd breeding programme since 2005 have brought increased demand for the Ervie bulls from commercial beef farmers, providing high maternal genetics, consistency of type and extra hybrid vigour to their beef herd replacements. Reinforcing sales, the bulls also enjoy a strong demand from a growing number of dairy farmers, valuing them for their good feet, high fertility, docility, calving ease and, to add the “icing on the cake”, good performance and market demand for the resulting Hereford progeny.

A year like no other

This year though, Covid-19 restrictions made it unlikely that many bull customers could attend the eleventh annual spring auction sale. The four Douglas sisters Rosie, Ellen, Olivia and Kristina decided to livestream the auction this year, to allow customers to follow the sale and to add the facility to bid online in real-time.

For the past two years, the four sisters have made a video of each bull, showing him walking naturally to give potential customers a pre-sale view of the bulls from the Ervie website.

Rosie and Olivia had already gained experience with a livestock sales company in the US Midwest during the spring 2020 bull sale season. The four sisters quickly became adept at taking good video footage, editing it for the internet, and they then agreed a working relationship with the US company to host the sale for them on their internet sales portal.

So, with social distancing, one-directional flow, masks, hand sanitisers and other measures introduced, the Ervie Spring Bull Sale on 11th February did go ahead successfully, albeit with a much-reduced number of farmers attending on sale day.

Some potential bull customers previewed the bulls in the outdoor corals in the days leading up to the sale, though many simply studied the videos and the performance information and details given for each bull on the Ervie website, before registering to follow and bid on sale day. They then carefully made their bull selections from the convenience and comfort of their own homes.

An online success story

With Kristina presenting the bulls to the sale ring in correct order and Rosie, Ellen and Olivia dealing with incoming internet bids, the sale ran very smoothly, the family says.

Auctioneer Harry Begg proved himself adept at accepting online bids seamlessly along with ringside bidding. The umpampered rising two-year-old bulls met with good demand and buyers were successful from as far north as Orkney and south to Somerset. Prices ranged from £5,000–1,800 with an average of £2,680 for the 30 Ervie Hereford and six Airies Angus bulls sold.

Commenting on the sale, herd owner John Douglas said: “I was relieved and delighted with the demand we had, particularly with the difficulties faced by everyone during this Covid-19 lockdown. We had many repeat customers but also plenty of new names added to the sales sheet. Our four daughters did a great job in allowing our prospective bull customers to view the bull videos and do background research on each animal in advance of our sale day. Our customers do pay attention to the information we provide, identifying bulls with the genetics to suit them and they are returning to us on a regular basis.”

The four Douglas sisters now plan to use their skills to market a further 35 Ervie bulls in June and to include online bidding to their established live auction of grass fed, naturally presented Airies Texel shearling rams in September.

As well as playing active roles in the breeding, production, and marketing of the Ervie Herefords and Airies Aberdeen Angus herds, the Airies Texel and South Airies Romney flocks and Airies Appaloosa horse stud, Rosie, Ellen, Olivia, and Kristina are keen to offer their promotional video and internet marketing skills and services to other livestock farmers in the UK.


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