A new world record price for a working sheep dog bitch at an official sale of 14,000gns, or €17,000, was the standout highlight at the opening fixture of 2019 at Skipton Auction Mart in North Yorkshire.
It fell to Northumberland shepherdess and media star, 33-year-old Emma Gray, and her two-year-old tri-coloured bitch Brenna.
Emma, who farms on the remote National Trust-owned Fallowlees Farm at Harwood Forest, Morpeth, only narrowly failed to match the all-time world record high price of 14,100 guineas, or £14,805, also established at Skipton in May, 2016, by Northern Ireland’s Padraig Doherty, of Ardagh Sheepdogs in County Donegal.
This was for a male dog. Emma and Brenna smashed Skipton’s previous top price for a bitch of 9,500gns, itself thought to be a world record price for a female dog, established in 2017 by top Irish triallist Michael Gallagher, of Armoy in County Antrim.
Emma, who operates under the Graylees prefix, was selling a fully broken dog for the first time at Skipton, the UK’s major sheep dog sale venue.
She was achieving by far her highest-ever price for one of her dogs with Brenna, who, as a condition of sale, was allowed to compete two days later in the English Nursery Final at Hutton in the Forest in Cumbria.
Although Brenna put in a good run she didn’t finish in the top ten, though Emma did become English Nursery Champion with another of her dogs, Telf Joff.
After her record price Skipton success, Emma, who has a 400-strong flock of North of England Mule sheep, also running a commercial suckler cattle herd comprising Whitebred Shorthorn Blue-Greys and Galloways, said: “I am over the moon, absolutely delighted.”
Emma has already made her mark in the sheep dog trialing world. She began working with dogs at the age of 13 and later became the first woman to win the Northumberland Sheepdog Trials League in the contest’s four-decade history.
She was also English Nursery Champion and Reserve National Champion with another dog, Tweeddale Jamie, a son of Littledale-based Ricky Hutchinson's celebrated International Reserve Supreme Champion, Sweep, with whom Emma also represented the English team that won gold in the International Sheep Dog Society’s (ISDS) 2017 World Sheep Dog Trials in the Netherlands.
Jamie has since fathered a six-strong litter of pups to Brenna – three dogs and three bitches – five of which have been sold privately, with one bitch retained on the farm, which Emma will train and hopefully later trial.
She first took over the 150-acre Fallowlees Farm aged just 23, becoming the UK’s youngest solo shepherdess in the process. Emma hit the headlines in 2012 when she penned a memoir of her solitary life on a farm in the middle of nowhere with no neighbours for miles around, called ‘One Girl and Her Dog,’ in which she chronicled how difficult it was to find a husband.
Dubbed Britain’s loneliest shepherdess, the story had a happy ending when Emma, who hails from Hawick in the Scottish Borders, found true love and last September in Kelso tied the knot with local fireman Ewan Irvine.
It was a story that grabbed the nation’s heartstrings. As well as making the national press, Emma has since featured on national television in the BBC’s Countryfile, ITV’s Flockstars, Robson Green’s Tales from Northumberland series and the Alan Titchmarsh Show.
Breaking news is that the story has an even happier ending, as the couple are expecting their first child, a baby boy, two months after the Skipton sale.
And with both a baby and lambing time just around the corner, fireman Ewan, who is himself already competing with success at open level on the trials field, will be having a few weeks off to take sole charge of lambing as Emma takes things easier on the farm, which remains fallow no longer!
Record breaker Brenna, already a multiple nursery trials winner with open points to her credit, has impeccable breeding credentials. She is a daughter of legendary Welsh trialist Aled Owen’s Welsh National and International Supreme Champion, Llangwm Cap. Mr Owen, also a double World Sheep Dog Trials champion, travelled up purposely from Penyfed in Denbighshire to see Cap’s offspring put in a sparkling performance on the Skipton trials field.
Brenna, whose dam is Aeron Flos, bred by Mr Owen’s nephew Arwel Jones in nearby Llangwm, had attracted tremendous pre-sale interest, both from at home and overseas. On sale day, bidding opened at 3,000gns, with several telephone bidders from the United States fiercely competing in the hope of claiming the top-notch bitch.
She is bound for America, when the new world record price for a female dog was paid by Dr Pamela Helton, who farms in Maryland and has a flock of some 60 head of Swedish Gotland sheep. She also runs dogs in United States Border Collie Handlers Association (USBCHA) trials in the eastern and mid-western US.
“I already have many plans for Brenna. She is slated to be my farm and primary trial dog and I am strongly considering importing her in whelp (pregnant) to the US. A potential sire is under consideration,” said Dr Helton, who is Artistic Director and President of the Third Millennium Ensemble in Frederick, Maryland, which offers cutting-edge performances of chamber music and is also an advocate for up-and-coming composers.