WARRAGUL's weekly calf market was thrown into chaos on Monday when saleyard owner Warren Turner took the unprecedented step of refusing access to livestock agents.
Agents, given three days' notice of the decision, were forced to set up makeshift loading facilities at the showgrounds to receive and transfer stock. Police were called in to ensure agents did not set foot on saleyard property.
Despite extensive advertising by Mr Turner over the weekend that the sale would be held as normal an estimated 400 calves were trucked to nearby Pakenham and sold, and about 200 were sold over the scales direct for slaughter.
Only three calves were offered to Mr Turner, but he said he believed the offer was not genuine, and intended to heckle. The auction was cancelled.
Angry agents and vendors, who condemned the lockout, warned if it continued they would take all their business elsewhere and called for a inquiry into the shire's sale of the yards to Mr Turner's Livestock Marketing Australia in 1999.
But Mr Turner on Tuesday defended the decision claiming agents were locked out only after they flagged their intention to boycott future sales by opening talks with the Baw Baw Shire Council over the possibility of alternative calf sales at the disused Trafalgar saleyards.
He said agents would continue to be welcome at fat cattle, chopper and dairy sales provided they did not set up competing sales.
He would bring in an agent-auctioneer from outside the area to operate the Monday calf sale while they persisted with plans for the Trafalgar yards or would be happy to use any agent prepared to break away from the group.
Kevin Young, Alex Scott and Staff, said it was a sad day for the auction system and the people of Warragul.
"It is very, very silly," he said. "We are all working for the same aim. I have been working for 44 years and I have never been involved in anything like this in my lifetime. It is utterly disgusting."
Mr Young said the calf-selling pens had been removed from Warragul saleyards as part of renovations. Agents had had complaints from vendors and buyers about the calf presentation and had been considering selling calves elsewhere until new facilities were built.
But he said they had fully intended to conduct Monday's sale at Warragul as usual.
Dairy and beef farmer Ron Athlone, who has been selling at Warragul for 25 years and estimates he puts 200 to 300 calves, choppers, vealers and bullocks through the yards a year, said if he could not sell his calves through the agent of his choice, he would not be taking any cattle there.
"It is just money grabbing," he said. "He wants to collect the five per cent without doing any of the work. He isn't coming out helping to mark, or sort out which are ready to be sold and give us an estimate of the value."
Mr Miller said he would prefer to sell calves at Warragul because it was central to the dairy industry, but proper new selling facilities were needed and they would have to be separate from those used for adult cattle to comply with quality assurance requirements and on cement, not sawdust, to prevent spread of disease.
"My honest opinion is there should be a full inquiry into the shire's sale to him and what's gone on," he said.
This week's debacle marks the culmination of an on running unrest over the privatisation of the yards.
Mr Turner, who also runs a new and used car business and finance brokerage, said he did not want to take over the agents' role, but was determined to maintain a calf sale at the yards for clients.