Rhayader market has been at its town centre site for over 100 years and is still well supported. Laura Bowyer reports.
Sat in true sheep country in scenic mid Wales and only a short journey from the Royal Welsh Showground, is Rhayader market.
Still at its town centre site, the market regularly pulls in 800-1,500 lambs each week from a loyal supply base, with numbers reaching 3,500 in autumn.
With a weekly Tuesday sheep sale day, store cattle are sold five times a year on a Wednesday in an area which does not always lend itself to running cattle.
Although there is no shortage of lambs in the immediate vicinity, stock is drawn from as far west as Cardigan, north to Montgomeryshire, south to Breconshire and from the Welsh border regions.
At the heart of the operation is Chris Davies, a local man, principal auctioneer and self-proclaimed part-time farmer, assisted by Robert Meadmore and Irving Parry. Mr Davies, who joined Brightwells fresh out of university in 2001, also sells cull ewes at Builth Wells market along with other work across the firm.
This year saw re-investment into the business from the market site’s landlord, the Rhayader Smithfield Trust, in the form of new sheep pens with the capacity to pen 3,000 prime lambs. The market attracts 5,000-6,000 cull ewes each year, but Mr Davies says Builth market is better known for this type of sheep.
Chris Davies, principal auctioneer at Rhayader market.
The cattle pens were replaced five years ago and can stand 350 animals. October store cattle sales see the most entries, reaching the market’s capacity.
Mr Davies says: “The trust is a very good landlord – it is a not-for-profit organisation and has heavily reinvested in the site in recent years. These days, it is often only new markets which see this sort of money come their way, but we are lucky to have the continued support. Being a very rural area, there is also good support from the people in the town.”
The trust is made up of 13 local trustees including two farmer representatives and chaired by John Humphreys, with Sian Davies as secretary. It owns other property in the town, including the old market hall.
The market has been at its site for more than 100 years. The ground was given to the town as a field in the will of its previous owner, taking the market off the streets, so the trust was set-up to manage the market.
The trust still fully supports the market operating at its centre of town site, and hopes it will continue there for many more years to come. It is considered as an important asset to the town, its residents and businesses and is available for community events.
The market’s support continues with its vendors.
Mr Davies says: “We have 10 to 15 vendors who will each sell 1,000 lambs annually through this market. We have good, regular support and sell anything from 20-50kg.
“However, throughput of light lambs was down at the tail-end of 2016 on the previous year, as this market had decreased due to the state of economies in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece.
“Also Government environmental schemes have incentivised farmers to reduce the grazing of the hills, so numbers may be down a bit due to this too.”
Like many other markets in this area of the country, lambs are sold from the planks, while the ring is utilised during store cattle sales, and in autumn with breeding sheep. The market sees four main regular buyers, although Mr Davies says
there can be up to seven at the pen-side.
Rhayader market does not officially host any breed society sales, but Mr Davies says it is the only place you can buy an Epynt Hardy Speckled Face tup, a breed local to that area of mid Wales. It stages a ram sale in mid-October of 550 tups, which Mr Davies claims is the largest sale of hill-bred tups in Wales and includes Welsh Mountains; improved Welsh Mountains; Talybont-type Welsh Mountains; Tregaron-type Welsh Mountains; Beulah Speckled Faces; Brecknock Hill Cheviots and Epynt Hardy Speckled Faces.
One of the biggest dates on the calendar for Rhayader is October’s second breeding ewe sale which sees 6,500 ewes and ewe lambs of mainly Welsh and Hardy Speckled Faces and attracts buyers from across Wales, the Welsh border counties and Devon and Cornwall.
Unusually, the site is not home to a café, a popular feature of many other markets, but Mr Davies says attendees can help themselves to free tea and coffee in the office. There are, however, a number of cafés, pubs and chip shops in the town which benefit from the trade and visitors the market brings.
Mr Davies says: “I think people like coming to Rhayader because it is a friendly market and we do a good job for them, but then many of our vendors bring very saleable lambs.”
But the future of live sales hangs in the balance at present, says Mr Davies.
He says: “The market is under pressures from deadweight sales and also there is generally a lot of competition in the area from other markets and outlets.
“In the wider picture, Brexit is going to be huge. If there are any trade tariffs put in place for exports it will be the nail in the coffin for the live trade as then we will rely on the domestic market, who do not want livestock markets. It will be tough.”
As a wider business, Brightwells runs regular plant and machinery sales at Madley, near Hereford, and weekly car and 4x4 sales at its main site at Leominster, as well as classic car sales.
Mr Davies says: “As a business we have to add strings to our bow; you cannot rely on livestock sales. Foot-and-mouth taught us that.”