One of our Border collies, Ross, moving three natural colored ewes into the barn for shearing. It’s desirable to group sheep of “like” color for shearing – even if they have been grazing in separate groups. Here, the black ewe lamb in the rear doesn’t know the two adult ewes in the front. She wants nothing more than to dash back to where she last saw her lamb buddies. The dog has positioned himself exactly where he needs to be so as to prevent the lamb in the rear from exiting, stage right, all while keeping pressure on the whole group to move forward at a moderate pace.

Where would a sheep farm be without Border collies? Our Border collies are an indispensable part of our operation. They afford a low-stress means of handling stock. Sure, anyone can entice a balky ewe into a holding pen in the barn with a bucket of grain for her annual vaccinations; she’s not so reluctant that a tasty snack couldn’t change her mind. This technique doesn’t work to lure our grassfed lambs, who wouldn’t know what grain was. Nor would it work to convince a sheep to do something that it definitely does not want to do, such as moving a ram out of his group of ewes at the end of breeding season, holding sheep off feeders while feed is being set out, or loading sheep up into a trailer. This is where a trained dog is worth its weight in gold.

Our Border collies are all working-bred, bred for working ability alone, and not to any sort of “appearance” standard. As a result, no two of them looks like any of the others. They are not registered with the American Kennel Club, which values appearance above all else. Instead, they are registered with the American Border Collie Association. (For more information on the longstanding dispute between the AKC and the ABCA, please read the captivating book by the late Donald McCaig, “The Dog Wars“, a “must read” for all those interested in the culture of dogs in the United States, as well as for anyone who owns or who wishes to own a Border collie). They are highly trained; we compete (or have competed, in the case of the retired dogs) in USBCHA-style trials.

Spain, the most senior of our Border collies; passed away in 2022. Before her retirement, Spain and I competed at the “Open” (top) level in USBCHA trials. Spain previously belonged to, and was trained by, Bob Washer and Emily Falk. Spain and Emily competed together in the 2013 National Sheepdog Finals, open to the top 150 dog/handler pairs in North America. Although Spain is now retired from trialing, she is always happy to lend a paw if needed around the farm.
Duncan, another member of our team, passed away in 2021. Although Duncan’s parents were both top Open trial dogs, Duncan’s chief ambition has always been to be the perfect gentleman. Retired from active farm duty, Duncan is still more than willing to pitch in as “portable fence”.
Ross is currently my #1 chore dog. (Here he shows his usefulness in convincing chickens to go into their coop). I had hoped to move Ross to the Open level in 2020 in sheepdog trials, but Covid laid our best-laid plans astray.
Ross celebrating his “15 minutes of fame”, when he was awarded overall Ranch champion (East Coast style: outrun, lift, fetch, three legs of a drive, pen) at the Montpelier Sheepdog Trial in October 2019. Ross was one of the very few dogs that weekend to achieve a pen; his score in Ranch would have put him on the leaderboard in Open. This was his first trial back after a one-year hiatus owing to the need to recover from a dual iliopsoas strains.
Duff is the middle member of our current team. He placed in a pro-novice trial at Tommy Wilson’s in fall 2019; Covid derailed my plans to try to get him qualified for the 2020 National Nursery Finals.

Ellie, the newest member of our team. Born in March 2023, Ellie is just beginning her training as a sheepdog (at 9 months of age), where she is showing promise. Ellie’s parents both trial at the Open level in USBCHA trials; we look forward to using her as a chore and (with luck) trial dog.