The night mart: ‘It’s cheaper than the pub’
Welcome to Gort mart in Co Galway, a world of coded language, hand signals and few women, where the bidding is ferocious and no seller wants to go first
“The other dealers probably wouldn’t bid against him, but there’s nothing to stop farmers bidding,” Diviney says.
Like all auctions, the speed of the bidding and the through-movement of the lots is ferocious. The mart is particularly busy at this time of year, as some farmers want to get rid of stock before winter. “It costs as much to maintain one cow for a year as you’d get from selling the calf the following year,” O’Donohue says. “And you’re guaranteed to be paid at a mart,” Lahiff says.
Everywhere are prominent signs that read: “No credit.”
There are about 20 pens where the stock is held before being brought into the ring. The contents of each pen are then auctioned, in numbers one through to 20. As nobody ever wants to go first and be the template for the pricing of the remaining stock, lots are drawn to decide who gets which number pen.
“The draw system is to make it fair for everybody,” says Lahiff.
They all say that the marts are far more regulated and orderly than in the past. For instance, information about provenance is much clearer. A computerised board displays various details about the animal being sold: its lot number, weight, age, name of owner, and what tests it has had.
At all times, there are animals in the holding pen, waiting to come into the ring, one or two in the ring, and sold animals in a second holding pen. Some bids are completed in less than a minute – so quickly that I’m often not sure which animal has just been sold and which is now on offer.
A Hereford heifer goes for €1,180. “That’s a reasonably good price, but farmers are never satisfied,” he says.
A three-year-old Friesian bullock weighing 780kg sells for €1,450. “If he was a Charlois of the same age, he’d make about €2,000,” says O’Donohue.
Most of the stock, as far as I can make out, fetches €800-€1,200 an animal. The sale of the €1,450 bullock attracted unusual attention, and a lot of bidding.
After two hours at the mart, I comment again on the lack of women present. The three farmers look around them.
“There’s a woman,” O’Donohue says with something like relief, indicating the sole other female in the place (not counting those working behind the counter in the on-site cafeteria), who has just walked in. “She has her calculator out doing her sums.”
He says he thinks she might be figuring out what she can afford to buy at the mart. I go over to look more closely. She is not holding a calculator. She is scrolling through Facebook on her smartphone. Which means, that as far as I can see, every buyer at Gort mart on that evening has been male.