World Sheepdog Trails: Preparation under way for 2023 NI event

By Elaine Mitchell
BBC News NI

  • Published
Image source, Bo Davidson
Image caption,
Shannon Conn, secretary of the North of Ireland Sheepdog Society, wants to encourage people into trialling

The secrets of sheepdog training have been handed down through sheep farming families for generations.

But with the World Sheepdog Trials to take place in Northern Ireland in 2023 some trainers are sharing their skills.

"We need to bring new people into it. It's a sport older people do and there's not a lot of the younger generation," said Shannon Conn.

Shannon, secretary of the North of Ireland Sheepdog Society, wants to encourage more people into trialling.

Media caption,

Younger people urged to take up sheepdog training

That is why she and her father, Loughlin Conn, hosted a training session at their farm outside Limavady.

"I'm probably one of the youngest and I'm 20 years old. So it's nice to bring new people into the sport and help them understand it a bit better and let them see what is expected in a trial."

Image source, Bo Davidson
Image caption,
Shannon competes in sheepdog trials as a handler to her four-year-old Border Collie Chip

Shannon competes in sheepdog trials as a handler to her four year old Border Collie Chip.

Together they have won several national titles, but not every pup has what it takes to be a champion

"It's like people actually, everyone has different learning abilities," said Shannon.

"You get some dogs that are just going to make a work dog. They're able to gather the sheep and bring them to your feet.

"But for a trial dog they need to be obedient, they need to listen to everything. It's hard to get a trial dog to be honest - to take it to the next step."

'Irreplaceable'

On farms, everything from milking to mowing can be done by a machine, but a sheepdog is irreplaceable.

"Their main job is to bring in sheep for you, if you need to bring in sheep to dose them or do their feet, anything like that, a quad bike isn't going to do it.

"You need a dog to bring them up. A dog is a must for a sheep farmer. They may not be to a trial standard, but they are there gathering the sheep in. They are really important."

Sheepdogs with good breeding and training can sell for huge sums of money.

The record is more than £27,000 paid for Kim a Border Collie from Wales.

The average price for a well-trained dog is between £2,000 and £4,000, to a farmer they're worth every penny

Image source, Bo Davidson
Image caption,
James McCloskey keeps 500 sheep on his Donegal farm

James McCloskey keeps 500 sheep on his farm in County Donegal, he says he couldn't do the job without the skill of a sheepdog or two.

"A sheepdog means a lot, I can go to the mountain and send the dog 1,000 yards and he can take commands at that distance which is pretty good.

"They do make plenty of money this weather, but a good farm dog means a lot and is worth anything."

The organisers of the training hope that Northern Ireland hosting the next World Sheepdog Trials will bring sheepdog trialling to a new audience.

'Spectacular event'

James Magee is the vice president of the Ireland Sheepdog Society.

A world champion handler, he says the World Trials in County Down will be a "spectacular event".

"I think people will be amazed," he said.

"It looks good on television, but to be actually there and see it in person it's just unbelievable what a handler and a good dog can do."

Image source, Bo Davidson
Image caption,
James Magee says trialling requires "a lot of hard work and dedication"

He added: "Like all sports there's a lot of hard work and dedication that goes on behind the scenes., it takes a lot of time devoted to it.

"From you start with a pup until you can get to that level, but you don't see it as work when you do it. I really enjoy what I do I'm passionate about sheepdog trialling."

The World Sheep Dog Trials will take place at the Gill Hall Estate in Dromore, County Down, on the 23 September 2023.

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