Border collies herd sheep
with an eye on the prize

Competitive herding trials were held at the Caora Farm in Millerton last weekend, drawing 112 dogs and 68 handlers.

Patrick L. Sullivan

Border collies herd sheep with an eye on the prize

MILLERTON — Border collies chased sheep about the hillside at Caora Farm in Millerton on Friday, June 28, in competitive herding trials.

The 112 dogs and 68 handlers came from at least eight states and provinces, with Quebec and Ohio the farthest-flung. Judge Neil McVicar is from Scotland.

Caora Farm co-owner Kathleen Weathers greeted a reporter as he pulled in, and provided some quick intelligence.

The event was sponsored by the farm and the Dutchess Land Conservancy (DLC), the contestants were mostly from the North East Border Collie Association and the United States Border Collie Handlers Association, and they’ve been doing it at the farm for about 10 years.

The other owner, Michele Ferraro, steered the reporter to John Campbell of Virginia, who sat in the shade of a tent waiting for his turn with the dog Sadie.

A handler gave a command, and a dog streaked up a long hill where three sheep waited placidly.

The dog then ran around the sheep, causing them to go this way, then that. The dog stayed mostly in the sheep’s peripheral vision, some distance from the animals.

Campbell explained that the competition comes out of “practical farming.” Asked why the dogs don’t get closer and nip at the sheep, he said that biting or anything like it is definitely not on the agenda.

“In the days before antibiotics, a bitten sheep was probably a dead sheep.”

The trials were run over three days because of the sheer number of entries. The Open Trial course is from dogs aged 4-8 and runs for nine and a half minutes.

Ferraro said the course is the same wherever trials are held. The topography is of course different from site to site.

Rose Redick of Albany, watched the trials on Friday, June 28, with Trixie, a retired border collie.Mia Barnes

Each dog starts out with 100 points and for every mistake made the dog loses points. Dogs that are in the top 20% of their class receive points for the National Finals, which are held in Virginia in October.

Erin Schultz and Ayla Hill of Sharon watched the trials during their lunch break. The two have their own border collie at home, but have never thought of training their dog to compete. Schultz described the trials as a “fun, unique event for the community” and “ amore old school activity that is becoming more popular.”

Teri Rhodes from Hackettstown, New Jersey, said she has been coming to this event since 2016. She and her husband own a working commercial sheep farm called Wayside Farm. They have about 1200 sheep and 14 border collies: two of which are retired, six actively competing at the Open Level, two in the Nursery class, and four puppies.

Rhodes said she starts training her puppies formally at around 10 to 12 months old but emphasized that “it is all dependent on the dog, and every dog is different.”

Rose Redick from Albany was watching the events Friday with Trixie, a retired border collie.Trixie, who is now nine years old, competed for a few years before having to retire. Asked how long Trixie was able to compete, Redick guessed between two and three years.

She said it would have been longer but “COVID really got in the way.”

Redick was enthusiastic about the Caora Farm trials. “This is a good field with good sheep. It’s a difficult course but it’s fun.”

Campbell and Sadie ended up winning the big prize of the event, the Libby McClintock Award for Most Promising Nursery Pair.

McClintock was the previous owner of the farm and worked with the DLC to preserve the land.

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