11 September 1998

Skilled flockmaster at four-years-old…

THE slight figure in flat cap, waistcoat and white shirt took up his position in the field on the Yorks moors and sent his border collie Nell to fetch the distant Swaledales. Crook in one hand and whistle in the other, he controlled the dog with well-timed blasts and shouted instructions.

Philip Mellin, a four-year-old shepherd, is farmings infant prodigy. The ginger-haired youngster with freckles and cheeky grin, proves that farmers are born not bred. Instead of sucking a dummy at 18 months, Philip was blowing the flat whistle hung round his mothers neck. No mean achievement, even for an adult.

By the age of two he was working ducks and geese with a dog, helping with lambing and mucking out. His parents, Albert and Carol, are convinced if they could find the right collie he would give a good account of himself as a triallist.

"In two or three years he will be competing and the amazing thing is we havent pushed him. He loves the life so much hes done it himself. Hes taken to it like a duck to water," said Albert.

The couple are tenants of the 69ha (170 acre) Moorlodge Farm set among the heather and bilberry hills at Oakworth, near Keighley. Running sheep is in the blood in these parts. Its wind-blasted Wuthering Heights country but the Brontes scribbling away in the parsonage in nearby Haworth never portrayed a youngster as unusual as Philip in their books.

He may still take his milky tea from a feeder cup but at a sheepdog trial at Baxendale earlier this year Philip astounded the crowd with his skill. He persuaded the judge to let him take part and while they were busy with the results he was allowed to have a go.

Putting on his flat cap and picking up his stick with his name carved on it, he strode onto the field whistling up his collie like a veteran from One Man and his Dog. Before you could say "come by" he had got the sheep penned.

Albert has been running dogs for 20 years and Carol took it up when they met. They have both won a wall full of awards. In 1996 Carol became the first woman to take top prize at the main regional winter event, the Pennine Association Inter-Club Championships.

&#42 Border collie

They have 15 dogs, including Rex, a young red border collie which Philip sometimes works, and Nell who will obey him but not his father.

Albert and Carol have put together a dog and ducks demonstration thats proving popular with families at agricultural shows. Young Philip is now a vital part of the team. If the quacking procession wont come out of the pen he crawls in and gets them.

In his countrymans attire hes a big hit at Skipon Auction Mart where the farm sells its lambs. He knows how to show them off and which gate to send them through when they have been sold.

"His curiosity is amazing. Hes into everything," said Albert. "It isnt mischievousness, he just wants to know how to do things. He stands and watches until hes confident then, the minute you turn your back, hes having a go. You dont have to dog him to do anything. Hell even fetch the coal in without being asked, hes so willing."

Philip has always preferred watching dog trials to cartoons and childrens programmes on television, apart from a brief fascination with The Teletubbies. He gets up early and dresses himself, helps make the fire and then joins his parents in the cow shed. The work done, its back to the kitchen for a bacon and egg breakfast.

On the farm he rounds up strays, gives a hand with the dry stone walling (putting the little ones in the middle) and can pluck a hen and clean a pheasant.

This month he starts school. Albert and Carol are keen for him to get a good education and possibly go to agricultural college.

Though he is still increasing his vocabulary and learning how to pronounce his words, Philip is in no doubt what he wants to be when he grows up: "A farmer and a champion."

Tom Montgomery