7 August 1998

Lurcher can a be best pal

The lurcher is a sporting dog that has suffered from its

association with poachers and gipsies but in the right

hands it can be the farmers friend, for it is a pest controller

par excellence. Tessa Gates reports

RECENT mild winters have encouraged rabbits to breed as only rabbits can and fields and even motorway verges all over the country are a-hop with them day and night.

They have become so numerous that a gassing programme is underway on the South Downs, yet an effective method of control is banned on the downs and unwelcome on many farms.

"The lurcher is the best pest control there is," says Tony Head. "And far more selective than gassing." Mr Head was extolling the virtues of the lurcher at the CLA Game Fair where the breed had been welcomed for the first time and the National Lurcher and Racing Club was holding a lurcher obedience championship open to all owners.

&#42 New respectability

The appearance of the NLRC at the Game Fair is indicative of the new respectability lurchers are gaining and, as the clubs membership list shows, owners come from all walks of life.

"Even Princess Anne has one," says Mr Head, adding that they make smashing pets because most have a good temperament. "But like all dogs they need to be trained, for these dogs have the speed not to just chase your neighbours cat, but to catch it."

Lurchers have been bred since the eighteenth century and todays dogs owe much to greyhounds, whippets, Salukis, deerhounds, collies and Bedlington terriers. "People get obsessed with the crosses but forget that the best cross can be a lurcher x lurcher," says Mark Aldhous, chairman of the club which claims to be the largest lurcher club in the world.

&#42 Good qualities

A good working dog needs speed, sense and stamina and there is no shortage of these qualities in the lurcher. For the obedience championship at the CLA Game Fair, the dogs had to jump, retrieve and stop, complete a blind stay and leave, with the handler out of sight for one minute, despite a lure passing between dog and handler, and complete a mock ferreting test and hidden dummy retrieve.

John Tredgett, a factory manager and part-time pest controller, from Horsham, West Sussex, knows the versatility of the breed. He gives obedience demonstrations and also attends a local shoot. "When I first turned up with my lurchers I was frowned upon but my dogs can flush, point and retrieve and by the end of the day people were ready to clap them," says John, who was at the show with two collie x lurchers, mother and son. Both small in stature, they were beautifully marked, almost spotted, dark grey and black.

&#42 Rabbits and foxes

"I control rabbits and foxes on two poultry farms and an Arabian stud and the dogs work without interfering with stock. On one farm where there are 25,000 free range birds, the foxes were coming in like packs of hyenas – the farmer said he had never seen anything like it. One bitch caught 17 foxes over four nights – she was so tired we had to rest her up for a couple of months," says John.

&#42 Responsible work

There are many other NLRC members who work responsibly on farms. "Our members are always looking for farmers that want some pest control. Our club secretary can put them in touch with reliable members in their area, all of whom have dogs that are stock broken. Once farmers see the dogs work they will be convinced that there is no fear of the dogs upsetting stock," says Mr Aldhous.

For more information, contact the National Lurcher and Racing Club contact secretary L Vaughan (01773-835291).

National Lurcher and Racing Club chairman Mark Aldhous with Gos and Sam who were among the first lurchers at a CLA Game Show.