Many millions of dollars worth of livestock change hands at saleyards each year but a research report has shown the benefits are far greater than just being a price barometer.
This week the Australian Livestock Markets Association released the findings of its Social Value of Saleyards study - believed to be the first of its kind in Australia - into the positive benefits that saleyards provide as a hub for rural communities and place to catch up with mates.
More than 250 people from five states were interviewed or completed online surveys with 76 per cent of respondents stating the saleyards were an integral place for information sharing and 78pc saying they had a feeling of belonging to their saleyard community.
The figures from three South East saleyards involved- Naracoorte, Mount Gambier and Millicent- were even higher with 92pc saying the facilities provided an integral place for information sharing and 88pc feeling a sense of belonging.
ALMA executive officer Kate McGilvray said previous studies had all focused on economics but this report confirmed that sale days were a critical meeting place for those that live often isolated lives and had even been where a few met their partners.
"Saleyards are a hub where like-minded people can come together and feel safe to talk about a whole range of issues not just where livestock are bought or sold," she said.
"We now have a resource that government organisations and key stakeholders can use in their decision making which highlights the flow-on social benefits to communities and potential costs to health which need to also be considered
Ms McGilvray said COVID-19 really highlighted the social value of yards with 57pc of respondents saying they felt more isolated during the period when vendors and members of the public were shut out.
"COVID was really difficult for everyone, there was an increase in loneliness,there was a lot of frustration and anger but it was what needed to be done to keep the livestock chain going," she said.
Ms McGilvray hopes ALMA can attract funding to delve further into some of the findings including more face to face visits at saleyards and encouraging more service providers to utilise the yards to connect with communities.
"People providing government or support services know the saleyards are a useful place they can come and have education days and provide information from agriculture education to health support," she said.
"The report shows many of the ways saleyards can be used from financial counselling to sites for learner driver training.
"There is even a hairdresser who visits one of the Victorian yards."
Ms McGilvray said it also highlighted the importance of those designing or upgrading yards ensuring they create spaces where people can naturally connect and and have conversations.
Mount Gambier saleyard manager David Wallis says the survey results reflect what he has seen at the yards with a strong sense of community especially centred around the canteen area.
He has fond childhood memories of heading along to the market but in his two years as manager he says he has been surprised by how accepting the community has been of a newcomer, even being brought a feed of fish by one saleyard regular.
"We have a few guys who come out here every week and are really enjoying being back after COVID," he said.
"If they aren't going to be here one week they will tell someone or someone will enquire after them."
Mr Wallis says sale days provide an environment where people can "come and have a chat" and share a meal without feeling judged.
"Calving, lambing and football are big topics of conversation, politics we try and stay away from," he said.
"They also like to ask about the progress of our roof and soft floor project which we are just waiting for federal funding for- it makes them feel connected."
There are plenty of cockies who won't say anything to anyone but at the yards they are amongst their mates and open up.- JOHN CHAY, John Chay & Co Livestock
He says the yards - owned by the District Council of Grant - also bring out camaraderie among the agents, especially impressed by the way they worked together when there was a store sale of nearly 5000 cattle.
"They really take ownership of the yards, one of the agents got some portable panels and that night they all came and helped to divide the bigger pens up, it was great to see," he said.
A decline in cattle numbers put the Millicent saleyards at risk of closure but many agents and producers have successfully fought to keep it open until at least March 2023.
Independent agent John Chay says the report "sums up perfectly" the often overlooked social benefits, describing it as a "rural Men's Shed".
"There are plenty of cockies who won't say anything to anyone but at the yards they are amongst their mates and open up," he said.
"Quite often I will get off the rail and ask a client what they thought of their cattle prices and they have missed it because they were talking to old mate."
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