Designed to do the job
Every pure breed of working farm dog has its own unique
qualities but is there anything to be gained from cross-
breeding to create your own designer-bred dog?
Jeremy Hunt finds out
THE best of both worlds – according to many farmers thats the benefit of cross-breeding to produce a working dog ideally suited to the specific needs of the farm.
Mrs Pay Grant and her son Joe can have 4000 sheep to manage on steep downland grazings over the winter at Church Farm, Alvediston, Salisbury. With up to 300 lambs to draw each week and managing ewes away on winter keep calls for a team of powerful but biddable dogs.
Mrs Grant has worked with sheep all her life and was one of the first in the UK to use Huntaways in the early 1970s. Thirteen years ago one of the farms Border Collie bitches was mated to a Huntaway.
* Exceptionally good
"It produced some exceptionally good dogs. We kept two and still have one old girl but their working ability encouraged us to breed another Huntaway x Border Collie litter this year," said Mrs Grant.
Two pups have been retained – the dog resembles the Huntaway in his brown coat markings and conformation while the bitch is black and smaller but very quick.
There are still two pure-bred Huntaways on the farm but Mrs Grant says the cross-breds have distinct qualities.
"They are easier to train than a pure-bred Huntaway. They are more biddable and steadier but still have all the drive and power and are definitely tougher than a pure Border Collie.
"If I am driving a lot of sheep up the A30 I know I can leave a cross-bred Huntaway in a gateway ahead of me and it will stay there. That would not suit the independent nature of a pure Huntaway."
Mrs Grant says she does get frustrated by the way some Border Collies work. "We have great mobs of sheep to work with. If we had to rely solely on Border Collies we could be there all day whereas the Huntaway-cross will drive and work with great determination and stamina.
"Border Collies have a habit of gathering for you and then suddenly squatting when the sheep arrive at a gateway; when you ask them to do more they all too often run in and take-hold.
"A cross-bred Huntaway is not as noisy as a pure-bred when its working and they are superior rounding-up dogs and easier to train.
"Pure Huntaways dont have much finesse about the way they work but the cross-breds do show some of the style of the Border Collie," says Mrs Grant.
West country dairy farmer Tim Patchett admits he is not an expert in working dogs: "But I know what I need from a dog to fit the type of work we have on the farm."
The farms 70 dairy cows have to be driven along roads during the summer. Its a job thats been carefully done for many years by a Border Collie dog for which the family has the greatest respect.
"We have a lot of road work and I manage the stock alone so I need a dog that lets cattle move at the pace they want to go. I dont want a psychopath," says Mr Patchett.
A Kelpie bitch, bought three years ago to assist the Border Collie, was mated to him and a dog pup, now four months old, has been retained.
"We hope hell combine the qualities of these two steady workers. The Kelpie bitch is great with people and the family. I do not want a compulsive working dog that finishes one job and then starts looking for another. I want intelligence and strength without an obsessive nature for work and thats what we hope to achieve in the cross-bred pup."
Hill flockmasters are well known for cross-breeding. Lancashire sheepdog trainer Cath Laxton from Waddington, near Clitheroe says she has been asked to break all sorts of cross-bred collies.
"The Beardie-cross is popular but they can be very self-willed. You have to keep on top of them but they are gutsy dogs. They will give some mouth but they are not the most stylish of workers," she says.
* Lake District
In the Lake District fells around Patterdale well known sheepdog man Anthony Barker has come across a variety of cross-breds. "The Beardie-cross is a grand fell dog with plenty of power and hell bark too. Its what you need when youve big numbers of sheep to shift."
Mr Barkers daughter Diane, a contract shepherdess, has a Huntaway x Border Collie. The black smooth-coated bitch named Lizzie has proved very easy to train. "Shes got a bit of bark in her and, as they say – when a dog is barking its not biting."
Two sheepdogs from Scotland and 15 from Wales qualified for the final of the Gilpa Welsh Open Championship at Aberystwyth – and the winner came from England. The three judges placed Dick Ropers nine-year-old Cap seven points ahead of Aled Owens Rob in the double fetch final. Mr Roper, from Northleach, Glos (right) received a cheque for £150 and the Gilpa Crook of Honour. Runner up Aled Owen (left) comes from Corwen. E W Edwards from Ruthin took third and fourth places with Joe and Jap respectively. G L Jones from Llanarmon DC and Sweep were fifth and D I Morgan and Nico from Aberystwyth were sixth.
Contract shepherdess Diana Barker has found the crossbred
Lizzie very easy