My first, and to be fair last, sheepdog cost £10 as a pup and after a few weeks that will never come again of trying to train it I was happy to pass it on to a new owner for nothing.
It wasn’t the pup’s fault , I simply failed as a trainer. I am only grateful that I had the sense to follow American grouch WC Fields’s maxim of “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No point being a damn fool about it.” It was worth £10 to learn that lesson. The episode also gave me lasting admiration for those who can train sheepdogs and get them to respond to shouts of “Come bye’, “Get away out” and “Lie down.” Especially lie down.
Because of that admiration I don’t find it surprising that top quality trained dogs make remarkably high prices. At a recent sheepdog sale in Wales, the top two sold for 5200 and 5100 guineas respectively (£5460 and £5355 although why they’re still sold in guineas is anyone’s guess.) At another sale at Skipton the top price was 3200 guineas (£3360.) No doubt the breeding and ancestry of such top dogs will be packed with lore and mystique and many of the top prices will be paid with an eye to future sales of pups. But that commercial sheep farmers are prepared to pay several thousand pounds for a working dog indicates how important they remain to good sheep management in these days of bigger and bigger flocks, fewer and fewer shepherds and quad bikes.
No surprise either that a sheepdog trial was one of many features at the National Sheep Association Scottish Region’s Scotsheep at John and Iain Macfarlane’s Quixwood farm.
As auctioneer David Leggat, chairman of the organising committee, notes in an introduction to the event’s programme: “NSA Scotsheep couldn’t have come along at a better time to help sheep farmers catch up with all the latest political, practical, technical and market developments, and plan ahead for a profitable future under what will be a very different (EU) support system than we have seen in the past.”
Practical aids to sheep farming and the chance to see a top quality sheep farm and flock at close quarters will be the main attractions. But seminars on how common agricultural policy (CAP) subsidy changes might affect sheep farmers from next year and options for increasing lamb consumption could be standing room only. Not least because the Scottish Region of the NSA disagree with NFU Scotland about how the CAP changes that are at the limited discretion of the Scottish government might be applied.
More than 11 million shoppers never buy lamb at all while more than four million never buy beef. But nearly all shoppers at some time buy chicken, including an increasing amount of frozen chicken. There is no use being good at producing top quality crops or livestock if no one wants to buy them.