Emma – the record breaking shepherdess – The Scottish Farmer

Posted: June 7, 2020 at 8:43 pm

Few people have the ability, dedication or patience to train a dog to trial standard let alone to sell at public auction, so imagine the elation when Emma Gray sold her first bitch for a record breaking 14,000gns with her second at a world beating, 18,000gns.

But then the Northumberland shepherdess from Fallowlees, Morpeth, is no ordinary dog handler. As the first woman to win the Northumberland Nursery League in 2014 and the English Nursery championship in 2016, Emma has also competed on the world stage both in The Netherlands and in Scotland when the event was staged at Fearn Farm, Tain.

And next month, the young mother who was once dubbed the UKs loneliest shepherd, her husband, Ewan Irvine and son, Len, will be starring in the latest series of This Farming Life.

No stranger to the TV screen, Emma has previously shown her dog handling talents when Countryfile and Robson Green visited Fallowlees. She has also travelled down to London to be on the Alan Titchmarsh show.

Out with this new found screen fame, it is nevertheless Emmas dogs that come first after Ewan and Len of course!

When you live on a farm, youre told from an early age that everything has to earn its keep, so naturally, when I said I wanted a dog, it had to get a Collie, said Emma, who was brought up on her parents Richard and Helen Gray Muirfield farm just outside Hawick.

That was at the tender age of 13. Bitten by the dog training bug, she attended the only shepherding and dog handling course in the UK, four years later at Kirkleyhall College in Northumberland.

It is unbelievable what you can train dogs to do and while every dog is different, you do need to have sheep to train them which is why I went into sheep farming, added Emma who at her first competitive trial, at 21 years of age, came second with the home-bred unregistered bitch, Fly at the Hawick Farm Nursery event.

After college, she did contract shepherding to include three lambings a year, to prove herself and two years later in 2011, took on the lease of the National Trusts remote and extremely exposed, 100-acre Fallowlees upland unit, just outside Morpeth in Northumberland.

She left home, with just four dogs and a suitcase to move into her new abode which in those days was completely bereft of any power or phone reception.

Some 200 draft Blackface ewes were bought at Lanark for crossing to Bluefaced Leicester tups to breed home-bred Scotch Mules which are now put to Texel and Aberfield rams.

Since then, Emma has also taken on a share farming contract on the neighbouring unit at Healy Mill Farm and now farms 400 Texel cross Scotch Mules across both farms, with the flock tupped to Texel and Aberfield rams. Emma and Ewan have also invested in 25 Bluegrey and Whitebred Shorthorn cows.

It is nevertheless the dogs that take priority but then that is no surprise when you see what can be achieved training pups into top class trial dogs. Emmas first big victory as the first female to win the Northumberland Nursery league, in 2014 came with Roy, a dog purchased as a four-month-old puppy from Paul Bristow.

I saw him as a pup and just liked what he did at that age. He was really bold and had a lot of power and turned out a really good work dog. He qualified for the team at the English National as well as for the world sheepdog trials in Tain.

Two years later in 2016, Tweeddale Jamie a dog bought as an eight-week-old pup from Scottish breeder, Dean Aitken, also won the English Nursery final and went on to qualify for the English National where he finished reserve overall at 18months of age. He too qualified for the world trials which were staged in The Netherlands that year and came in third on his qualifying field.

Notably, his son, Telf Joff, scored a hat-trick for Emma, when he too won the Northumberland Nursery League and the English Nursery final when his co-pilot was eight months pregnant at the time!

That was in 2019, a year which not only saw Emma give birth to baby Len, but also produce a new record price for a Border Collie bitch sold at public auction when Brenna, which always stood second to Joff at trials, sold for 14,000gns at Craven Auction Marts Skipton sheepdog sale to America.

A daughter of Aled Owens Welsh National and International supreme champion, Llangwm Cap, Brenna was knocked down to Dr Pamela Helton who farms 60 Swedish Gotland sheep in Maryland, and also runs dogs in eastern and mid-western US trials.

If that wasnt enough to be going on with, the family returned to Skipton earlier this year to sell Megan for the world record price of 18,000gns, again to the US. Another backed by the best of genetics, Megan is by the twice International champion, Roy from Welsh breeder, Ross Games and out of Co Durham-based Lynne Morelands Maggie which is a little sister to Ricky Hutchinsons International supreme winner, Jock.

Megan was bought as an eight-month-old pup from Lynne Moreland and sold over the phone to Wagyu cattle farmer and businessman, Brian Stamps, Tuttle, Grady County, central Oklahoma.

Social media has been really good for advertising working Border Collie dogs on line, and it has been great to see them sell for their true value at auction when you think a Cockapoo pup will sell at 3000 as an eight-week-old pup compared to 300 for a Collie at the same age, said Emma.

As a result, Emma and Ewan, a fireman to trade who is now equally enthusiastic about dog training and trialling, have sold dogs as far afield as the Faroe Islands, Canada, America, Germany, France, Sweden and even as far as North Korea.

But in contrast to many who tend to concentrate on breeding the best, Emma prefers to buy pups from the best bloodlines, although she does also breed them.

I always like to buy dogs as pups and train them up. I like them to have a good free-range puppyhood when they learn something new every day. Pups learn nothing in a kennel.

It doesnt matter where you get a puppy from but it has good to have a good puppyhood and if you buy a well bred one, youll increase your chances of getting a good working dog, said Emma.

Once they get to that nuisance stage at about eight to nine months of age and are looking to kep or chase sheep, they are put in kennels and brought out two or three times a day for schooling and to get them onto their sides. Initially, they get to run round and round a big pen of sheep in the middle of a field and once they have mastered that, the pen is removed and they are encouraged to kep and bring the sheep to Emma.

Dont correct them too much when theyre young, and dont sicken them. Ten minutes two twice a day and then work it up to 20-30minutes when theyre working well. Its arithmetic on a treadmill for them

The best working dogs have plenty power and a good heart with the majority bred from leading trial dogs. Most dogs can be good farm dogs, but a sheepdog trial is the true test of a dog. Working four sheep round a course is a lot more difficult than working a flock of sheep, she said.

Not all dogs get to trial standard either, and while all good handlers have pot lickers, Emma maintains there is always a dog for the right person as not everyone wants a trial dog. With 20 plus dogs on the go at any one time, she always has something to suit people looking to buy a dog privately too.

All dogs are capable of learning but they do have a short life, so you are better to get them working to full potential at two years of age than at four. We like to have ours broken by 18months of age and then get them doing trial work working on farm as much as possible after that, concluded Emma.

ON THE spot

Best investment? : 'My big red Honda bike, most reliable machine ever!!'

Best advice?: 'So many 'Buy the best you can afford; Dont let a shepherdess drive a tractor and Dont work harder, think smarter.'

Biggest achievement?: 'Securing the tenancy of Fallowlees that's how it all started.'

Best working dog you have seen?: 'Ricky Hutchinsons Sweep.'

What you miss most in 2020 as a result of the pandemic?: 'The Royal Highland Show.'

Where do you want to be in 2030?: 'A ring fenced farm where the nearest supermarket isnt an hour away!'

Originally posted here:
Emma - the record breaking shepherdess - The Scottish Farmer

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