THE world record price for a working sheepdog at an official sale was smashed at Skipton Auction Mart when Northumberland shepherdess, 34-year-old Emma Gray, hit 18,000gns (£18,900) with her two-and-a-half-year-old black and white bitch Megan.
Just 12 months earlier at Skipton, Emma, who farms North of England Mule sheep and commercial suckler cattle on the remote National Trust-owned 150 acre Fallowlees Farm at Harwood Forest, Morpeth, had herself established a new world record price of 14,000gns (£14,700) for a sheepdog bitch.
Exactly a year later, she shattered the previous all-time record price for a sheepdog at an official sale of 14,100 guineas (£14,805), set in 2016 also at Skipton, by Padraig Doherty, of Ardagh Sheepdogs in County Donegal.
The July, 2017-born Megan arrived with some of the best bloodlines in the business, being related on both sides to many top-performing trials dogs, International Sheepdog Society’s Supreme and International Champions among them.
She is by two times International Champion Roy, from Welsh breeder Ross Games, of Talgarth in southern Powys, out of County Durham-based Lynne Moreland’s Maggie, who is a litter sister to Littledale handler Ricky Hutchinson’s International Supreme winner Jock.
Jock is himself a son of the same handler’s celebrated Sweep, the English National Champion, International Reserve Supreme Champion and International Brace Champion, who also finished third in the 2014 World Sheep Dog Trials and has bred numerous trials winners around the globe.
Bidding began at 3,000gns and quickly rose to the new world record price when Megan fell to a telephone bidder from Oklahoma in the United States, 44-year-old cattle farmer and businessman Brian D Stamps, of Tuttle in Grady County.
Mr Stamps, who owns an oil and gas company in central Oklahoma, raises 100 per cent full-blood Wagyu cattle on 2,000 acres in his home state, also running a satellite herd in Camperdown, Victoria, Australia, where the elite portion of the genetic operation is housed.
He said: “I have followed the Skipton sale for several years as I used to run Border Collies here stateside. I figured it would be the best place available to secure a dog which would meet our needs. I did not know about Emma, but read posts she made about a FB group and this caught my attention when I had seen a video of the dog working and how she handled cattle.
“I used to trial 20 years ago, but do not have time to with our operations, though Megan is going to run some trials here and then retire on our ranch.”
Breeding from Megan is also on the agenda, including a visit to a proven work and trials dog with connections to twice World Sheep Dog Trials champion and three times International Sheepdog Society Supreme Champion, Welshman Aled Owen.
Mr Stamps explained: “We do have one litter plan this fall with Groesfaen Jock, a son of Aled Owen’s Mac by a daughter of Aled’s Bob, then maybe another one to a real high roller as well in another two to three years. That will be it. We did not buy her to be a puppy factory, but rather a working dog for our ranch.”
On a day of incessant rain, which made conditions on the trials field extremely difficult, notably for handlers, Emma’s performance was the standout highlight. She operates under the Graylees prefix and was selling only her second dog at Skipton.
Clearly surprised, yet over the moon with Megan’s success, she said afterwards: “This is so much better than I have ever done. It’s good that people value sheepdogs these days. They are getting the recognition they deserve.”
In the interim, the duo had another appointment two days after the sale, as they had qualified to run in the English Nursery Final at Northleach in Gloucestershire. Emma was the defending English Nursery champion, having won it last year with another dog, Telf Joff, one of many high profile successes on the trials field. However, this year Emma and Megan finished out of the top placings.
Meanwhile, Welsh handler and Welsh team captain at this year’s World Sheep Dog Trials in North Yorkshire, Ceredigion’s Dewi Jenkins, of Tal-y-bont, Aberystwyth, who continues to produce some of the country’s most sought-after and top-selling working sheepdogs, many sold at Skipton, returned with a single entry in his January 2018, black and white bitch, Littleheath Nan (by JR Gilman’s Bob out of R Heath’s Highcliff Flo).
A granddaughter to County Antrim-based Michael Gallagher’s renowned trials dog Cap, Nan has already successfully reared a litter of seven pups. She sold for 4,400gns to Scottish contract shepherd Allan Gordon, of Kilmalcom in Renfrewshire, and will be used solely as a work dog, primarily on Scottish Blackface sheep.
There was again strong Irish representation among the vendors.
C McLaughlin, from Cloontagh in County Donegal, made 4,300gns with his 21-month-old black and white bitch, Moya, by Moss, from County Roscommon’s Pat Byrne, out of James McLaughlin’s Jess. The granddaughter of the latter’s Ben (Dan), a twice Irish National Champion, and Ricky Hutchinson’s famed Sweep, also travelled north to Dumfries & Galloway with Newtonstewart’s J Mitchell.
With a sale of 4,100gns was Irishman Neil Hirrell, also from Cloontagh, with his 13-month-old black and white bitch, Nan, another product of Pat Byrne’s Moss, out of DP Mullaney’s Queen. The dog found a new home in Wales with Wrexham’s G Davies.
Doing best in the unbroken pen with a 1,600gns top price coup on what was her first appearance at an official working sheepdog sale was 11-year-old schoolgirl Olivia McLaughlin, yet another overseas traveller from Cloontagh in County Donegal with her father Owen.
Olivia – mum has the same name – set the pup pen alight with her nine-month-old black and white dog Jim, who is also by Owen’s brother, James McLaughlin’s twice Irish National Champion, Ben (Dan).
Out of the home-bred Ruby, the exciting young prospect found a new home in Hendre, near Welshpool in mid-Wales with Tom Bebb, who runs a small flock of Welsh sheep. He has recently returned to the trials field after a 30-year break, finishing runner-up in a Powys trial and standing first reserve for the North Wales nursery team. Jim will be used for both work and trial.
Owen McLaughlin was himself in action on the trials field when claiming 3,200gns with his April, 2018, black and white bitch, Pip, yet another product of Pat Byrne’s Moss, out of C McLaughlin’s Jess. The Scottish buyer was A Carnegie, from Perthshire.
Despite some stimulating prices – eight dogs made 4,000gns-plus – the venue again offered plenty of opportunities for potential buyers to choose from a good cross-section of readily affordable dogs – both solid broken entries for work and up-and-coming youngsters to further bring on and run in trials.
Of the 91 field-run broken dogs successfully sold, 15 made up to 1,500gns, another 12 selling at 1,500-2,000gns, 20 at 2,000-3,000gns and a further three at 3,000-4,000gns.
Broken dogs of both sexes sold to an overall average of £2,740 per head. A total of 28 registered dogs sold from 400gns to 6,500gns (av £2,361), with 25 registered bitches selling from 700gns to 18,000gns (av £3,032). Two unregistered bitches also sold at 2,000gns and 2,500gns (av £2,363).
Of the part/unbroken entry, 16 registered dogs sold from 80gns to 1,600gns (av £632) and 14 registered bitches from 300gns to 1,500gns (av £773). A single unregistered dog made 450gns.
n Skipton’s next working sheep dog sale is on Friday, May 15. Catalogue entries close on May 1.