12 May 2000

Cattle herders no dingo

By Jeremy Hunt

YOU could be mistaken for thinking youd spotted a dingo crossing the yard at Commonside Farm near Macclesfield in Cheshire so its no surprise when owner Jill Armstrong informs you that the dogs name has antipodean connections. Shes called Oz.

But theres a more tangible reason why this compact and very sturdy looking canine bears more than a vague similarity to Australias native wild dog.

Oz is an Australian cattle dog. A recognised breed that is still rare in the UK but one that has proved its worth beyond doubt as a herding dog on the vast cattle stations down under.

Jill first encountered the breed when she spotted one sitting in a car with its owner at a horse trials. "I just fell in love with the way it looked. Its head bowled me over – those pricked ears, the expression and the eyes just captivated me and I knew I had to have one."

The American owners had brought the dog with them when they came to settle in the UK. With their help Jill eventually tracked down a litter in Dorset and managed to buy the remaining pup that the breeder had been planning to keep.

"Although we run suckler cows on both our farms we didnt have a collie. The idea was to have Oz as both a pet and a working dog although I knew Id need some help with the training."

Oz is now a year old and is described as having a blue coat -there is also a red variety. Her short but thick double coat is speckled with black producing an overall merle colouration. Her broad dingo-like head has symmetrical black markings and there are pale red flashes on her cheeks and legs to complete this breeds striking appearance.

The Australian cattle dog is about half the size of a working collie but dont be misled by looks. This is no pint-sized worker. Active, strong and as hard as nails, this is a breed with the heart of a lion. But despite its reputation for endurance and its fearless temperament when herding cattle, it is a real charmer with people.

The breeds head tells you everything. Prick-eared, exceptionally broad-skulled and with an intelligent and knowing look, these dogs can be lolling at your feet one minute and then, at the push of a button, can turn into the bravest and sharpest of workers.

"They used to be called Queensland Heelers," says Jill as Oz jumps up on to the feed trough to eye-ball a bunch of sucklers. "Some people say they need to be bigger but their shape and size makes them ideal for nipping at the heels of cattle and then quickly getting out of the way of any flying hooves."

Jill finds them less "fizzy" than a collie although shes glad she took advice about coping with the breeds tendency to be strong-willed. "You have to tell them who is the boss from the outset; they can be very determined."

As Oz wanders about the yard in the breeds characteristic loping stride – "somewhere between a walk and a trot" – she gives the impression of being more mature than she actually is.

"Even at this age she is very steady and laid back in the way she goes about things; theres no dashing around and barking at everyone that comes into the yard. Shes far less frenetic than a collie."

Jill, who runs one of the familys two farms and also breeds sports horses, says Oz really showed her true colours in a difficult situation last winter.

"Last December I had to drive three cows and calves back to the farm over some of our hardest hill ground in a snowstorm.

I was on horseback and was managing to keep one cow and calf moving forward but it was difficult to keep the whole group together.

"Oz really showed what she could do and kept behind the other two cows and their calves. It was a very impressive performance. A real cattle dog at work."

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Oz, is a wizard with cattle and is proving her worth to owner Jill Armstrong at Commonside Farm.

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Julie regularly treats farmers wife Sally Flintoff, who has found that reflexology sessions have helped alleviate tinnitus.

tion and advice. There is a wide range of treatments and therapies available from allergy testing to Alexander Technique, homeopathy to healing, counselling to McTimoney chiropractic, kinesiology, shiatsu, hypnotherapy, magnotherapy – the list goes on. All the therapists are registered and insured and adhere to a code of ethics

The centre (01751-430 335) also runs a regular programme of talks and workshops and always has a knowledgeable receptionist on duty to explain treatments and offer advice.

"We can do so much more for people just by us being together in one building," says Julie. "We have lots of information here so people can make informed choices and take responsibility for their health themselves. Self help points are a big part of it – diet, exercise, drinking more water – we take a whole body approach."

Clients range from a child of 10 who is hyperactive, through teenagers needing relaxation and breathing techniques to help them with exams, to octogenarians. "We are really amazed at the number of people who come for treatment. We started the centre on a shoestring – now we have to make sure we have room to expand."