Robin Dean heads the field at opening Skipton working sheep dog sale

Michael Gallagher takes to the Skipton trial field with his father's 2,900gns dog Jim.
Michael Gallagher takes to the Skipton trial field with his father's 2,900gns dog Jim.
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Red Rose sheep farmer and leading triallist Robin Dean ran away with top price honours at Skipton Auction Mart’s opening working sheep dog sale of 2016 when selling his 15-month-old black and white dog, Gunnerwell Alfie, for 3,600 guineas (£3,780) on Friday, February 12.

Mr Dean, of Hall Trees Farm, Chipping, showed what it was all about when putting Alfie through his paces on the trial field with a polished display by the well-bred son of fellow Lancashire breeder, Littledale, near Lancaster-based Ricky Hutchinson’s Wenndale Roy, twice a winner of both the English and International Brace Championship, out of Fern, bred by Shap’s John Harrison.

Robin Dean with his top price 3,600gns Skipton dog Gunnerwell Alfie.

Robin Dean with his top price 3,600gns Skipton dog Gunnerwell Alfie.

Alfie, bought as an eight-week-old pup, had worked well for 12 months on Mr Dean’s 600-strong flock of New Zealand Romneys – he started breeding them last year in preference to his previous Texel and Mule flocks – and had also performed well in nursery trials, twice finishing runner-up in Pennine Inter-club events.

Having been trialling successfully for some 30 years, on four occasions representing the England team and twice winning the Doubles Championship, Mr Dean also twice qualified for the Supreme Championship with Roy, Alfie’s great grandfather.

He will be judging at this year’s English Nationals at Castle Howard in August and saw his Skipton frontrunner – Mr Dean described the selling price as “realistic” - join a sheep farmer from Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, who requested anonymity. Alfie will be put to work on the buyer’s flock of 1,800 ewes.

Next best on price at 3,300gns was Nell, a two-year-old tri-coloured bitch from well-known Irish breeder and top triallist James McGee, the 2011 World Sheep Dog Trials champion, who runs Glencregg Sheepdogs in Creggan, Ballybofey, County Donegal. By Mr McGee’s own Seth, also known as Sid, out of J Bradley’s Glencregg Meg, this highly promising work and trial prospect found a new home in Cumbria.

Michael McAlister with his 2,900gns Skipton dog Sam.

Michael McAlister with his 2,900gns Skipton dog Sam.

A further three dogs each sold well at 2,900gns (£3,045). First up was an April, 2014-born tri-coloured dog, Jim, from County Antrim’s Aidan Gallagher, of Armoy, a grandson of his own Bill and by another of his dogs, also named Jim, a litter mate to Welsh breeder Gwyn Jones’ renowned Roy, out of Denwyn Lynn.

Run by his well-known triallist son Michael, who headed the prices at Skipton’s previous autumn 2015 fixture with a 5,600gns (£5,880) sale, Jim found a new home in Scotland with Barlure Farmers, of New Luce, Newton Stewart in Wigtownshire, Dumfries and Galloway, and will be put to work on their 700-strong Scottish Blackface flock.

The next 2,900gns performer was a May, 2013-born black and white bitch, Derwen Jess, from North Wales breeder Cyril Roberts, of Llanwddyn in Powys. By David Evans’ Caleb, out of G Jones’ Huthwaite Mist, Jess sold to Shap’s John Harrison, buying for his brother Mike, of Sleddale Hall, Shap, and to be used as work dog on his Swaledale sheep flock.

Late in the day, another Co Antrim handler, Glenariffe’s Michael McAlister, also hit 2,900gns with his May, 2014, black and white dog, Sam, by Glen, bred in Holmrook, Cumbria, by Arthur Temple, out of AP Procter’s Malta Mist.

Jean Howe with her top price 920gns Skipton pup Celyn Gwen.

Jean Howe with her top price 920gns Skipton pup Celyn Gwen.

Mr McAlister is a former jump jockey who rode a good number of winners before ending his riding career last year with Cumbrian trainer Maurice Barnes and returning to his homeland to concentrate on training working dogs. He had worked for 12 months with Sam, who joined regular Skipton buyer Joe McRobert, of Cheviot Sheepdogs at Fingland, near Biggar, in Lanarkshire.

To complete a good day, Mr McAlister also sold a second May, 2014 dog, his black and white bitch, Kate, by E McAuley’s Roy, out of SMA Price’s Kate, for 2,000gns (£2,100) to a Scottish buyer.

Two further dogs sold at 2,700gns (£2,835), the first for a two-year-old black and white bitch, Blue, from John Porter, of Broughton Astley in Leicestershire. A product of Arthur Temple’s Jack and Jill, the dog, already placed in nurseries, caught the eye when it went up the Skipton hill, before joining Richard Lewis, of Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire.

Northumberland shepherd, sheep farmer, dog breaker and triallist Tony Iley, of Long Framlington, Morpeth, also made 2,700gns with his May, 2014, black and white dog, Zike, bred in Lancashire by Jim Cropper by his Nidderdale Nidd, out of Sally. Zike fell to another Newton Stewart buyer, George Patterson, who farms Limousin-cross suckler cattle and North Country Cheviot ewes.

Two other regular top performers at Skipton, John Bell and Shaun Richards, were again in the mix with a brace of ten-month-old black and white dogs from the same litter.

Mr Bell, of Parks Farm, Howden, Selby, made 2,550gns (£2,677.50) with Joe, while Mr Richards, who runs Pen-y-Borough Sheep Dogs in Eldroth, Settle, achieved 2,500gns (£2,625) with Joe’s litter brother Bill. Both were by MC Andrews’ Glen, out of Tess, from Roger Jewitt, of Naburn, York.

Joe fell to another regular Skipton buyer, Northern Ireland’s Seamus Gormley, of Kilcreen Sheep Dog Centre in Claudy, Co Derry, while Bill joined a Scottish buyer.

Irish breeder James McLaughlin of Clonmany in Co Donegal, stepped forward with Anna, a well-bred 22-month-old tri-coloured daughter of his 2013 Irish National champion and 2014 One Man and His Dog victor, Ben. Out of fellow Co Donegal breeder, Padraig Doherty’s Peg, Mr McLaughlin, who last year sold litter mates at Skipton for 3,400gns and 2,800gns, saw Anna fall for 2,300gns (£2,415) to a regular buyer from Wales.

A trio of broken dogs also made 2,200gns (£2,310). They were Bob, an April, 2012, black and white dog from D Galbraith, of Comrie in Perthshire; Sian, a June, 2014, mottled and tan bitch from Aberystwyth’s Dewi Jenkins; and Eve, a March, 2013, tri-coloured bitch from young Irish handler Greg Leslie, of Co Donegal.

Fly, a 26-month-old black and white bitch from Welshman D Rees, of Ystrad Meurig in Ceredigion, made 2,100gns.

Catching the eye at a price-topping 920gns (£966) in the pup pen was a five-month-old black and white bitch, Celyn Gwen, from Jean Howes, of Redgate Lodge, Wolsingham, in Weardale, Co Durham. By Welsh breeder GLL Jones’ Jock, out of his own Kemi Mali, the youngster found a new home locally with Harry Simpson, of Kelbrook, who will put some age on Gwen before putting her to work.

The winter sale attracted an entry of 95 dogs, with 74 finding new homes, a clearance rate of almost 80%. As is usual at the opening fixture, buyers were selective because of looming lambing time, further compounded by delays in Single Farm Payments for the farm trade and the recent poor weather, which has meant that a lot of handlers have been unable to put time in with their charges.

Prices and averages:

Broken section: Registered dogs 270gns to 3,600gns (av £1,910), registered bitches 650gns to 3,300gns (av £1,726), overall average £1,802. Unregistered dogs 850gns to 1,700gns, unregistered bitches 250gns to 350gns (av £299). Part-broken and unbroken dogs: Registered dogs 120gns to 700gns (av £390), registered bitches 100gns to 920gns (av £477) unregistered bitch 400gns, unregistered dog 250gns.

Skipton’s Spring working dog sale is scheduled for Friday, May 13, with catalogue entries closing on April 29.