Covid-19 might have meant an early retirement and no shout for Stortford Lodge saleyards manager Bruce Campbell, but he has no regrets.

"It's been a great job and I have loved it."

After 22 years Campbell retired two weeks early when the lockdown began in late March.

He was a familiar sight in the black rugby shorts he wears almost year-round, organising cattle into pens and accommodating the extra animals that invariably turned up each week.

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Scrambling up and down the yard rails with the energy of someone half his age, he managed to avert chaos at the twice-weekly sales and extra ewe, weaner cattle and cow fairs.


A love of animals "and repairing broken gates" was what drew him to the job and kept him in it for 22 years.

Campbell began work at Stortford as assistant manager in 1998, taking over as manager in 2005.

Before that he worked as a builder and the skills he took from that job are apparent in the new timber all over the yards. They have stood in the same spot for about 115 years and could be one of the oldest constructions in Hastings.

Maintenance and repairs is never-ending. A 400kg cattle beast can inflict huge damage on wooden gates and Campbell said he could get a new gate in place from pile of timber to final hanging in two hours.

"Once I repaired six cattle gates between the Monday and Wednesday sales."

The old wooden rails and gates in the sheep yards break easily and must be fixed before the next sale.

Many of the sheep pens have an extra top rail because as sheep have got bigger they have become inclined to jump from pen to pen.

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Campbell said the biggest change in his time had been the installation of the cattle weighbridge in 1998. Until then the stock agents would estimate an average weight for each pen. Now the weights are accurate to the last 500g.

"Technology has changed everything. There are now no disputes about cattle weights."

The appearance of more Friesian bulls and dairy breeds generally is another change. Sheep breeds have come and gone though the traditional breeds remain important.

However, the numbers of stock have declined over the years as farmland goes into grapes, orchards or housing.

When Campbell began at Stortford there were 50,000 sheep a year sold. That has fallen to around 42,000 last year. Cattle numbers have fallen in the same proportions.

And he has seen some personalities come and go. "It's great to listen to the stories of the older agents."

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His worst day was in October 2006 when agent Peter Hunter was killed by an enraged bull which lifted a 100kg gate off its hinges and attacked him.

"I had to stay calm and deal with it," said Campbell. The sale went ahead later in a hushed rostrum.

The gates in the cattle yards have since been modified to prevent similar incidents.

Campbell said he would miss the camaraderie and the constant banter, but would not miss the computer work, or long days in the summer heat or pouring rain.

He believes the future of the yards is secure.

"The auction system tells farmers what the market is doing. It's an opportunity for them to compare their stock with what is on offer that day."

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His retirement started early with the lockdown, and having to stay at home, but he said there was plenty to do on his own small block. He still plans a long holiday with wife Viv.

"One of the neighbours wants a new pole shed built."

And there's still that shout with his former colleagues, stock agents and truck drivers at Stortford Lodge.

Mark McKelvie took over as manager when the yards reopened in mid-May.