Thursday 20 October 2016

Dog and duck display team boosts farmer's fortunes

Published 03/08/2015 | 15:57

Sam, a border collie sheepdog, herds a flock of Indian runner ducks
Sam, a border collie sheepdog, herds a flock of Indian runner ducks

It may sound quackers, but a Welshman's inventive idea to use his sheepdogs to herd ducks rather than sheep has helped keep farming alive in his family.

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Meirion Owen is flying high thanks to his Quack Pack display team - featuring border collies and farmyard birds.

The 53-year-old's intelligent and agile dogs can get a flock of Indian runner ducks to go through all kinds of obstacles.

And the unusual site of seeing dogs herd poultry has proved popular with festival crowds, corporate firms and even people planning their weddings.

Mr Owen, whose late father Ifor was a sheep farmer before him, now gets more than 130 bookings a year.

He said: "My father and grandfather were both good with sheepdogs and I just followed the family tradition. We used them on the farm as well as taking part in competitions.

"The idea behind the Quack Pack came when I was asked to put on a display to promote sheepdogs and we decided to use a small bantam hen and six ducklings rather than sheep.

"The dogs love working any kind of livestock. Most people think they only herd sheep, but they've always played a role in helping return the poultry to a locked pen each night - so the fox can't get at them.

"So as well as being a bit different, using birds for a display rather than sheep was easier in terms of transport.

"I was surprised at how well it took off."

Two decades on and Mr Owen and his Quack Pack have performed at the biggest agricultural festivals in the UK including last month's Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells, put on shows at Blenheim Palace and Earl's Court, as well as made an appearance on The One Show.

"I didn't expect it to be such the success that it has been," said the father-of-one, who lives in Rhos Yr Hafod, Carmarthenshire, with wife Glenda.

"I used to do it on weekends and a few days holiday. Six years ago I left my job in the agricultural supply industry and haven't looked back since.

"I probably now do around 35,000 miles a year.

"I've taken bookings for weddings as well as corporate events for team building exercises.

"Is it hard to do? Well it takes about two years to train a sheepdog - and every dog is totally different.

"I'd say there's only one in 25 sheepdogs who are able to do these kind of displays. I've known a dog which has come from a line of world champions, who all wanted to do was to roll around in sheep poo."

Mr Owen, who has nine dogs and 90 ducks, has his dogs at his beckoned call thanks to a special whistle - which is used to make four different sounds.

"The commands I use get the dogs to move clockwise, anti-clockwise, stop and walk forward," he added.

"To keep things in control you really have to think like a dog - three or four steps ahead.

"The reaction from audiences is fantastic and it's also great to get out there and educate people about sheepdogs and help keep the tradition alive.

"I'm very lucky because farming is not what it used to be.

"This farm wouldn't sustain a living on it's own and like most farmers I've had to diversify."

Press Association

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