THOUSANDS of Irish cattle are being sold every month on the internet as a younger generation abandon the cattle marts in favour of on-line dealing.
It's a world away from the traditional spit and slap of the hand at the old country fairs where "luck penny" was routinely handed over by the seller to the buyer when the deal was done.
Now, on any given day, more than 50 lots of cattle, including large herds of heifers, bullocks and pedigree breeding stock is up for grabs on DoneDeal.ie.
And the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) admits it is seriously worried about the phenomenon, which could impact on the country's 84 marts.
"It is a threat and we are very concerned about it in the mart sector," said ICOS spokesman Ray Doyle.
Farmers from every county in the country are selling livestock on the internet – lured by the convenience of being able to sell from their own yard and without the transport costs.
Time-poor, part-time farmers who cannot take a day off from the day job, and net- savvy young farmers are among the most enthusiastic sellers of cattle on the web.
Mr Doyle, who has examined the selling of cattle on sites such as DoneDeal, is convinced that a large percentage of those selling are dealers rather than farmers selling their own stock.
"I'm not trying to diminish it. This is a major threat which we are going to have to address.
"There is a younger generation of farmer out there who doesn't have the same respect or 'gra' for the mart that maybe their father or grandfather had. They think the mart is always going to be there."
"However, they still look to their local mart as a reference point on price before they offer stock on DoneDeal," said Mr Doyle.
"They will go into the mart, or send someone else, and use it as the reference point for the price they set on the website," he added.
Last week, hundreds of cattle were on sale on the DoneDeal website.
Lots included 24 Charolais and Limousin bull weanlings at a price of €790 each.
The premium continental breeds were described as 260 to 280 kilogrammes and "U and R" – the highest quality grades which attract the best prices. The cattle, born this year, were "weaned, vaccinated and eating meal."
Other lots included Parthenaise breeding stock sold from Kerry. Originally from France, this breed is still relatively rare in the country but is "doubled muscled" and attracts premium prices.
IFA Deputy President Eddie Downey said that farmers will always utilise different ways to sell stock.
"A look at the small advert section in the Farmers' Journal confirms that fact. They sell on DoneDeal the same way they sell machinery or anything else ," he said.
Mr Downey said convenience was a major issue for farmers who prefer to "sell from the yard" without having to spend an entire day at the mart.
"The only problem I would see for people who trade that way is for them to ensure they get paid," said Mr Downey, who is standing for the presidency of the farming organisation. "That's the key thing and farmers should only trade with people when they can be certain there is a valid cheque at the end of it," he added.
Mr Doyle said it is now up to marts and the co-op movement to convince farmers that it is in their interests to keep the mart sector healthy.
"The mart is the only vehicle to sell cattle, factories or otherwise, where the farmer is guaranteed to get a cheque. Now, if someone goes and sells 30 nice young heifers on DoneDeal, well, they would want to know the fella really well to accept a €30,000 cheque from them, wouldn't they?
"In essence, selling cattle is not like selling a car. When you sell a beef animal, its official passport must go with them. So, effectively, ownership is gone once they leave the yard. So if you sell cattle on DoneDeal it's like selling a car and giving the buyer the logbook before you have cleared the funds," he said.
DoneDeal confirmed to the Sunday Independent that goods and services to the value of over €6.5m were sold through the farming section of the site last year. Livestock accounted for 6,740 ads, including beef and dairy cattle, sheep, pigs and goats.
"Today, we have 27,649 online adverts currently posted in the farming section of the site," DoneDeal chief executive John Warburton told the Sunday Independent.
"It has proved to be a real success and we are rapidly establishing a reputation as the 'Farmers' Google'," Mr Warburton added.