A good sheepdog can do the work of three men

Masterful: It is a pleasure to watch a Border Collie herd sheep
Masterful: It is a pleasure to watch a Border Collie herd sheep
John Large

John Large

The Irish National Sheepdog trials are taking place this week in Johnstown Co Kilkenny, just a few miles from where we live.

A good portion of my time will be spent helping out at the event and admiring the ability of the dogs as they are guided through a series of commands to complete a variety of tasks that reflects their everyday work with a group of sheep.

The handler's aim is to gain a place on the national team to represent Ireland at the international trials.

If you have ever had the pleasure of watching a Border Collie herd sheep, you know you are watching a master at work; note his intense stare as he approaches the sheep, his almost instinctive response to the handler's command and the skillful manner with which he manoeuvres the sheep exactly where the handler wants them to go.

With more than 150 dogs competing over the course of the three days from August 13-15, it should be an enjoyable and exciting event.

The Border Collie was bred originally on the Scottish border.

It is a medium-sized dog of less than 20kg with super energy, stamina and hardiness developed over years of working in the hills and valleys they originated from.

It was specifically breed for intelligence and obedience. Many of the best Border Collies today can be traced back to a dog known as Old Hemp, born way back in 1893.

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I have always had a good sheepdog on my farm and cannot understand how anyone can handle sheep without a dog.

Just trying to get them into the pen would be nearly impossible, nevermind trying to drive a group of dry ewes through a good field of after grass back to a bare paddock.

The dog I have now is definitely not up to the standard we will see this week in Johnstown, but her energy for work and her intelligence once she was familiar with the farm has been more than satisfying.

What keeps them going is work as they are typically energetic and require daily exercise.

On a sheep farm this is not a problem with plenty of work gathering and moving sheep on a regular basis.


When I am dosing lambs she will keep the race full without me ever having to get into the pen.

When I'm feeding meal to the ewes and lambs in the spring she will hop on to the quad bike and sit until we arrive at the field. She will hop off at the gate to keep back the hungry ewes as I enter with the snacker.

I don't even have to close the gate until they are fed and I'm leaving the field.

She is good to travel in the jeep and only stands up ready to go when we arrive at the out-farm. If she's not let out before I open the gate she will be sitting in my seat waiting to be released.

There is nothing more satisfying than standing at the gate knowing the dog will bring the sheep to you rather than having to chase them with a quad bike or a couple of uninterested children that get tired very quickly.

Just you and your dog both working together to make the job easier.

Your dog also becomes your friend and, with Border Collies so loyal, they respond possitively to plenty of praise and affection during a hard day's work.

Since I know I would never have the patience to train a dog myself I purchase my dogs ready for work.

So how much is she/he worth?

Well, €200 per year for eight to 10 years is around what I am willing to pay for a well trained dog.

Remember a good dog can do the work of three men.

So if you would like to see the best dogs in Ireland, this week's trials from Thursday to Saturday on the farm of Ken Whiteford in Tullyvolty, Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, are the place to be.

The action starts each day at 8am and will run on into the evening.

There will also be other family activities on the site such as bouncing castles, a water-dumping shed, dog agility demonstrations and, of course, good food.

John Large is a sheep farmer based in Co Tipperary

 jlarge@ independent.ie

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