Sheepdog breeders selling talented puppies worldwide for up to £27,000
Watching man and dog work in the hills is a privilege – an extraordinary, unspoken bond in action, a special relationship between man, dog and sheep. And on the Welsh hills where sheep roam free and farmers make a living against the rugged Welsh landscape, it’s a way of life.
Some of these dogs command megabucks and in recent years Welsh Sheepdogs have been breaking records. In February 2021, a specially bred and trained border collie called Kim from Ceredigion sold for a world record £27,000.
Kim, 12 months, who was trained by Dewi Jenkins of Talybont, near Aberystwyth, was sold at an online auction by Farmers Marts of Dolgellau. Mr. Jenkins said Wales online it was bought by a farmer in Staffordshire. The sale broke the previous record set by border collie Henna, from Brecon, which sold for £20,000.
“When we started training she was so smart that I only had to show her how to do something once and the second time she knew what I wanted,” Mr Jenkins told the time about his dog. “For any farmer anywhere, she would do the job for them. It’s amazing.”
The 29-year-old farmer grew up with border collies helping his family on the farm. He found his passion in training dogs and now teaches them commands in English so they can help other farmers around the world. The dogs he has trained have been sold to owners in the UK, France, Belgium, Norway and the USA.
In Pembrokeshire, 26-year-old sheep farmer and dog handler Llion Harries farms the foothills of the Preseli Mountains. Never far from him is his faithful dog, eight-year-old Preseli Fly. He would never sell her, he smiles, but he breeds from her and sells his puppies.
In the old farm sheds, there remain 16 dogs and four puppies from Fly’s last litter. He breeds the puppies for sale and they are found all over the UK and sometimes as far away as Europe and America.
He began training sheepdogs when he was just 11 years old and began competing at age 14. He said: “I could work a dog.”
With the Preseli Mountains literally on his doorstep – the range that gives all his dogs their prefix – not a day goes by that he doesn’t train them. The average price for a working dog is around £2,000.
Llion is well known and his dogs are well behaved and he earns between £3,000 and £7,400 for his dogs. Her most expensive dog went to a large Northumberland sheep farm and was bought at an auction. “It’s nice and quiet up there,” Llion said. “You feel like you’re on another planet. It’s just you and your dog, and you feel close to nature.
“During Covid the price of puppies has been crazy but they’ve calmed down a bit now. They’re the best. If you get a really good one they don’t come up for sale very often.”
“They work the way I want them to work,” Llion said of his dogs. “And they must want to work. I notice the way they are with the sheep, they must be nice to the sheep but also be the boss of the sheep.”
Back in the yard, the puppies are left to play. They spin in all directions, fascinated by the dandelions and the leaves blowing in the breeze. They have a lot to do – Llion and Fly were part of the Welsh team and Llion won the One Man and His Dog young handler competition 11 years ago.
Sheepdog trials have a long history in Wales – the first ever recorded sheepdog trial in the UK was Mr RJ Lloyd-Price’s event at Garth Coch, about a mile from Bala in October 1873. Although the majority of the contestants were Welsh, the trial was won by Scotsman James (Jimmy) Thomson with his dog, Tweed. Jimmy had moved to Wales as a tenant on the estate of Mr Lloyd-Price in 1872.
These days, national trials are held every summer in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where handlers guide their dogs through a series of difficult tasks, competing for honor. to represent their country at Internationals, when the coveted individual Supreme Championship title is up for grabs. Llion and Fly finished fifth at the Welsh National Championships in 2019 – their “greatest achievement” to date.
In addition to national and international championships, the prestigious World Sheepdog Trials are held every three years, welcoming competitors from around the world. Llion had also qualified for it in 2019 but the Covid pandemic put an end to that, he said sadly.
He added: “People think it’s just a dog, but it’s about watching sheep – reading sheep is a huge thing. I work with sheep and I shear sheep, so I I’m lucky enough to work sheep on the farm. I can read sheep. I’ve been around sheep all my life.”
Better dogs cost more, but better dogs round up sheep much faster and minimize labor costs. It’s an investment that can pay off, Llion explained, which is why people come looking for Welsh Sheepdogs from all over the world. His Texas buyer was actually a cattle rancher, but the working principles of cows are the same as those of sheep.
His puppies will undergo the same training as all his dogs: “I will start by socializing them, calling them by name and taking them everywhere,” he explained. “I’ll teach them the basic commands to come to me and then introduce them to sheep at 12 weeks so they can see them and develop their interest.” He will start training them after about eight months.
“Some are more natural than others,” he admitted. The four running around his feet have a tough challenge if they want to break records.
An unusual lilac-coloured sheepdog – called Pentir Lassie – was sold by breeder Glynne Jones, from Bangor for £7,600 at just nine weeks old. The unbroken pup – meaning he has yet to work with sheep – was sold to Skipton, North Yorkshire in May 2021 and broke the previous record of £6,100 for a black and white sheepdog from 11 weeks old, Bet, from well- known Powys breeder David Evans.
But for Llion, it’s less about money and more about this unique relationship with his animals. For him, no amount of money in the world would persuade him to part ways with Preseli Fly.