Billy Stott, one of the most respected auctioneers in Scotland, looks back on his career
This month sees a major milestone for a renowned face in livestock trading in the Scottish Borders.
For Billy Stott, Harrison and Hetherington’s auctioneer, has reached his 65th birthday and is looking forward to starting a three-day working week.
Having spent a lifetime at the St Boswells auction mart, we sat down with Billy to find out more about him.
Born in Derby, Billy moved with his family to Selkirk when he was four years old ... but is adamant it is the blue and white team he supports at Murrayfield!
He was just 18 when he started his career in 1972 with John Swan and Sons, immediately after leaving school, taking on the role of office clerk.
Today, 45 years later, he is one of the most respected auctioneers in Scotland.
In those early years, John Swan and Sons had marts in Haddington, Dalkeith and Gorgie andBilly spent two days each week in Gorgie.
Moving on from being a junior clerk, Billy was given the opportunity to look after the prime cattle and sheep.
In the 1970s and 1980s, every farm had sheep and cattle so there were massive livestock sales.
Billy recalled: “We sold prime cattle, prime sheep, calves, pigs, poultry and anything else that anyone wanted us to sell.”
Gradually, he helped build up that side of the business and remembers some huge store sales.
“In those days, Buccleuch Estates would sell 1000 store cattle in one day,” he said.
“We would also often see in the region of 6000 to 8000 half-bred ewe lambs, with consigners as far away as Kirkcudbright.
“This was the era of the Saturday sales and in the region of 15,000 to 20,000 head of lambs would go under the hammer at the store lamb sales.”
He also remembered fondly the commencement of cast cow and cast sheep sales on a Monday, where they would see more than 100 head of cattle during the peak season and up to 1000 cast ewes, and the tremendous prime cattle days in the early 2000s, when they would see more than 400 head of cattle going through the rings.
A personal career highlight was the introduction of the non-registered Suffolk tup sale ring at Kelso.
Billy said: “We started with a very small number of tups and, at its peak, we would see more than 500 tups on Kelso tup sale day.”
There have been low points during his career too.
Billy said the closure of small abattoirs had a huge effect on the market.
“I look back with great sadness at what followed after they disappeared,” he said. “It had a big effect on the entire supply chain.”
And, of course, one of the most challenging times of his career was the foot and mouth outbreak.
Having worked in the Lothians and down into north Northumberland, Billy knew the farms and farmers in the Borders like the back of his hand. He used his strength as a people person to provide support to those who were affected.
Will Hamilton, a director of Harrison and Hetherington who has sold cattle at St Boswells almost every Monday of the year for the last 30 years, said: “Everyone you speak to testifies to Billy’s way of getting on with people.
“He is a real grafter, always there for customers and very straight forward and transparent.
“Integrity is what people, above all, respect Billy for. No-one ever says a bad word about him. He is highly respected, incredibly well thought of and operates with total integrity.
“We are absolutely delighted that, although he is reaching retirement age, he is there to support the next generation.”
As for Billy, he has never regretted his career choice.
“There is always plenty to do and the phone never stops ringing,” he said.
“Auctioneering is a team business and I have had the most enjoyable working life thanks to the people I have worked with – the farmers, processers, buyers, butchers, hauliers and, of course, my colleagues.
“When I started, I was mentored and helped by many people and I see my future career taking on a supporting role.
“I aim to assist and mentor our tremendous young team here – Tom Story, Adam Grieve, Ian Dick and Andrew Hutcheson.”
Billy and his wife Janette still live in Selkirk and were delighted to become grandparents a few weeks ago, when their daughter Jennifer and her husband Andy presented them with their first grandchild, Ava.
Andrew Dickman also reaches a major milestone
Andrew Dickman has also reached his 65th year and retiring age but, like Billy, has reduced his working week to three days.
A renowned shepherd and sheep man, he has been a fieldsperson at St Boswells Auction Mart for 15 years.
Prior to joining John Swan and Sons in 2003, Andrew was a shepherd at Hell House, Hartside and Bowerhouse Farms.
A keen Border Collie breeder and trainer, he is well-known and respected within the sheep industry across the Scottish Borders and lives in Oxton with his wife, Frances.
Andrew was born at home at Long Croft Farm near Lauder and has only moved five miles in his lifetime.
He saw his first lambing at 11 years old and three years later did his first in-bye lambing for Allan Forrest at Howpark.
After that, he tackled hill lambing a the Halls Farm at Dunbar before becoming shepherd at Hartside Farm Oxton for 25 years.
Andrew said: “I was head hunted by John Swan at St Boswells and have been here for 15 years. But I’m just an apprentice compared to Billy!”
A phenomenal sheep dog breeder, he has also judged sheep dogs in South Africa, Colorado and Missouri and was one of the judges at the World Trials in Holland in 2016.
Andrew’s work has been his hobby and he has always worked with sheep and dogs.
And while he’s not fully retiring, he plans to use his spare time to train dogs and look after his own sheep.
Harrison and Hetherington’s head office and main livestock centre is at Borderway Auction Mart, Carlisle, one of the biggest sites across the UK.
Operating a total of nine livestock auction marts, the firm plays a vital role in the farming communities it serves.