Northern Ireland schoolgirl Shannon Conn, 16, top dog at Skipton with 6,800gns Rosie

GCSE exams prevented a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Northern Ireland attending the annual spring sale of working sheep dogs at Skipton Auction Mart – and seeing her charge become top dog on price at 6,800gns (£7,140). (Friday, May 18th).

Shannon Conn, a pupil at Limavady High School in Co Londonderry, left her two-year-old red and white bitch, Rosie, in the capable hands of her father, Loughlin, a Limavady sheep and cattle farmer, who put in a sparkling display with the talented youngster on the trials field at the North Yorkshire venue.

Loughlin Conn with his 16-year-old daughter Shannon's top price 6,800gns Skipton dog Rosie

Loughlin Conn with his 16-year-old daughter Shannon's top price 6,800gns Skipton dog Rosie

Shannon has had the well-bred Rosie for 12 months and while she has trained the dog herself, dad Loughlin, who breeds Aberdeen-Angus cattle and Suffolk-cross sheep, also knows Rosie well, having been placed with her at several nursery trials.

However, Shannon is no stranger to the trials field, having competed in the televised One Man and His Dog as a 13-year-old in 2015, winning through to the junior handler final, and in the same year becoming the Irish Junior champion and qualifying for the International Junior Final in Scotland.

She said she was “over the moon” with her top price coup and planned to invest part of her windfall in buying some well-bred sheep dog pups, working on them and bringing them back to sell at Skipton, which is now widely regarded as the UK’s leading sheep dog sales venue.

In fact, Shannon has set her heart on further cementing her already growing presence and impact in the working sheep dog world. After her GCSEs, she will go on to take A Levels – “then hopefully just dogs,” she commented.

David Meek with his two litter sisters that both sold in the unbroken pup pen for 1,200gns

David Meek with his two litter sisters that both sold in the unbroken pup pen for 1,200gns

The fully Irish-bred Rosie is by Malta Glen, bred by Carlaine Thom, of Malta Border Collies, based in Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and now in the hands of South Wales handler, Lyn Howells, who farms near Port Talbot – he bought Glen at Skipton two years ago for 4,000gns. Rosie’s dam is Bessie, from Southern Ireland’s C Chamberlayne. Skipton’s top price dog fell to a Scottish buyer who requested no publicity.

Another highlight was a new centre record price of 6,700gns (£7,035) for a dog under a year old, which fell to Red Rose handler Tony Birkett, of Hall Croft Barn, Carnforth, with his 11-month-old black and white bitch, Ruby.

She, too, arrived with first-rate breeding credentials, being by Littledale-based Ricky Hutchinson’s celebrated International Reserve Supreme Champion Sweep, who has bred multiple trial winners across the globe, out of Mr Birkett’s own red and white bitch, Jess. Ruby, the second top price dog, returned to Lancashire with another buyer who requested anonymity.

Earlier in the day, Mr Birkett, who has built up a solid reputation as a dog breaker and trainer – he regularly figures among the leading prices at Skipton – was again bang on the mark when taking third top call of 6,000gns (£6,300) with Jaff, a black and white dog with exactly the same parents as Ruby, though a year older and from an earlier littler.

Dewi Jenkins with his 5,100gns dog, Nel, joined by buyer John Atkinson

Dewi Jenkins with his 5,100gns dog, Nel, joined by buyer John Atkinson

The two-year-old, already placed 12 times, including three firsts in local nurseries, found a new home north of the border when claimed by Craig Davidson, who farms Scottish Blackface sheep in Dunoon. Argyll. He will use Jaff as both a work and trials dog.

Welshman Dewi Jenkins, who took 8,100gns top price honours at Skipton’s previous working dog sale in February, returned to claim 5,100gns with another well-bred 14-month-old black and tan bitch, Nel, by his own Moss, who finished fifth in the 2017 Welsh National, out of Fern, from fellow Welsh breeder Aeron Edwards, of Aberystwyth.

Just a week earlier, Mr Jenkins, who farms Welsh Mountain ewes and Welsh Black cattle at Tynygraig Farm, Tal-y-bont, Aberystwyth, set a new centre record price of 9,200gns at Bala with a half brother to his Skipton dog, which also sold well when finding a new home with John Atkinson, who runs White Rose Sheep Dogs at Escrick, between Selby and York.

It was the highest price ever paid for a sheep dog by Mr Atkinson, who has been training dogs for over 40 years and has sold them all over the world. He works as a shepherd on the Escrick Park Estate, home to the largest Hebridean sheep flock in the country. Nel will be put to work on the 900-strong flock and also used as a trials dog by Mr Atkinson, who is himself a well-respected triallist.

Tony Birkett with his 6,000gns Skipton dog Jaff.

Tony Birkett with his 6,000gns Skipton dog Jaff.

Back with the Irish, J D McAllister, of Cargan in Co Antrim, netted 4,600gns with his August, 2016, tri-coloured bitch, Ruby, a solid work dog with trials potential. She found a new home in Nidderdale with Middlesmoor sheep farmer David Verity.

Setting the early pace at 4,500gns was another young dog, the 14-month-old black and white Mac, trialled on behalf of his Northern Ireland owner Harry Molloy, of Gleneely, Co Donegal, who was unable to attend, by fellow Irishman Patsy Lynch. By the top trials dog Seth, from County Donegal’s James McGee, out of Mr Lynch’s own Bute, Mac joined a buyer from Lancashire.

A further 14-month-old black and white bitch, Meg, from Roger Jewitt, of Naburn, York, who was also unable to be present – well-known handler John Bell, of Howden, Selby, stepped in - did well at 4,200gns. By noted Welsh triallist Aled Owen’s Supreme International champion, Llangwm Cap, out of J Richardson’s Calderdale Bess, Meg, already a nursery trials runner-up, joined the Ribble Valley’s Gordon Haynes in Mitton.

Another regular Skipton vendor from Ireland, former jump jockey Michael McAlister, of Glenariffe in Co Antrim, rode high with the brace of dogs that together netted 7,600gns

First up was his August, 2015, tri-coloured bitch, Fly, a solid farm dog with nursery placings and an intermediate trials success under her belt. By J Hamilton’s Jim, out of SMA Price’s Annie, Fly sold for 3,600gns to Scotland’s Ben Edmondson, of Eskdale Muir in Dumfries and Galloway.

Mr McAlister was on another winner late in the day when doing better at 4,000gns with a younger 14-month-old black and white dog, Sango Jimmy, by W Cook’s Jimmy, out of Scottish breeder Jock Sutherland’s Udale Deni. This one caught the eye of regular Scottish buyer Joe McRobert, who runs Cheviot Sheepdogs at Fingland, near Biggar in Lanarkshire.

Jaff from Tony Birkett selling for 5,800gns.

Jaff from Tony Birkett selling for 5,800gns.

Another Welshman, Gary Davies, of Pen y Bryn, Colwyn Bay, made 3,700gns with his August, 2015, black and white bitch, Bronallt Lucy, by David Howell’s Nip, out of M Edwards’ Joyce Country Nan. She found a new home in South Yorkshire with Sheffield’s Ian Marsden.

Mid-Wales handler Dan Rees, of Tregaron, Ceredigion, was another returning vendor who did well at 3,500gns with his January, 2016, black and white dog, Cal, fully home-bred by fellow Welshman Henry Hughes, by his Glen, out of Lass.

Mr Rees sold another dog with the same breeding for 3,000gns at Skipton’s previous sale in February, with his latest entry topping that price and returning to Wales with regular buyer and celebrated triallist, Kevin Evans, of Modrydd, Brecon in Powys.

Mr Evans also went to 3,600gns to claim a January, 2016, black and white dog, Ben, from another Irishman, Brian Quigley, of Culmore, Co Londonderry. By James McGee’s Glencregg Silver, out of the home-bred Cindy, Ben arrived with strong trialling credentials, following up a nursery win last winter with a fifth place in the North of Ireland final.

A third acquisition for Mr Evans at 2,950gns was Derwen Nell, a 16-month-old black and white bitch from regular vendor Emrys Jones, of Sarn-Faen Farm, Tal y Bont, Gwynedd. Nell’s sire was Mr Evans’ own Jim.

Scotland’s Dean Aitken, who breeds Texel and Beltex-cross, and Scottish Blackface sheep in Lockerbie, achieved 3,000gns with Tweeddale Woody, a two-year-old black and white dog by P Turnbull’s Glen, out of Mr Aitken’s own Tami. This fell to another Welsh buyer, D Rees, from Brecon.

Top price in the unbroken pen was 1,400gns for a six-month-old black and white dog, Ben, from WH Huddlestone, of Carnforth. By Pen-y-Borough Jeff, from North Craven’s Shaun Richards, out of Mr Huddlestone’s own Tanhill Meg, the promising youngster returned to very near her place of origin when claimed by John Handley, of Westhouse.

David Meek, who runs Wyverne Border Collies in Maesteg, near Bridgend in Mid-Glamorgan, hit 1,200gns twice in the pup pen with two eight-month-old tri-coloured bitches from the same litter. Both were by Kevin Evans’ Kemi Ross, now with Ross Watson, out of fellow Welsh breeder Alwyn Jones’ Lyn, who is herself a well-bred daughter of James McCloskey’s Sweep, the 2016 International Sheepdog Trials supreme champion.

First up for Mr Meek, who was selling dogs for the first time at Skipton, though he is a past buyer, was Jinty, followed by her litter sister, Lyn. Mr Meek, who has represented the Welsh National trialling team several times over the years, also works as a sales agent for an animal minerals firm, though he is soon to retire, with plans to return to trialling full swing.

As well as the higher priced dogs, there were, as usual, plenty of other young up-and-coming and older proven dogs for both work or trial to suit all tastes and pockets. Once again, many dogs sold between 2,000 and 3,000gns as follows:

2,900gns – Glen, October, 2016, black and white dog from Shaun Richards, of Pen-y-Borough Sheep Dogs, Eldroth, who also made 2,200gns with Tom, a September, 2014, black and white dog.

2,900gns – Coba, September, 2014, black and white dog from Michael Kelly, of Draperstown, Co Londonderry.

2,800gns – Malta Tess, February, 2017, black and white bitch from Ross Games, of Talgarth, Powys.

2.800gns – Tanhill Nidge, November, 2015, black and white dog from Alec Baines, of Kirkby Stephen.

2,600gns – Shabden Ricky, August, 2015, black and white dog from Mark Banham, of Chipstead, Surrey,

2,600gns – Floss, ten-month-old black and white bitch from John Bell, of Frosterley, Bishop Auckland.

2,400gns – Jess, June, 2016, black and white bitch from Non Pyrs, of Betws-y-Coed, Conwy.

2.200gns – Wainstalls Meg, February, 2017, black and white bitch from John Bell, of Howden, Selby.

2,200gns – Sam, January, 2014, black and white dog from Leighton Bancroft, of Barnoldswick.

2,100gns – Kemi Moss, November, 2015, tri-coloured dog from Ben Griffiths, of Knighton, Powys.

2,000gns – Clyde, 13-month-old tri-coloured dog from Dick Roper, of Gloucester.

Craven Cattle Marts’ general manager Jeremy Eaton noted that trade was “solid, if unexceptional, with a few highlights, though a few useful older dogs ready to go straight to work looked buyable”.

A total of 94 dogs were forward, among them 57 field-run dogs.

Top prices and averages: 22 registered dogs from 500gns to 6,000gns (av £2,678), 21 registered bitches from 1,000gns to 6,800gns (av £3,040), 1 broken registered bitch 700gns, 43 registered broken dogs and bitches averaged £2,029, 12 registered unbroken dogs from 150gns to 1,400gns (£622), 15 registered unbroken bitches from 280gns to 1,200gns (av £579), 1 unregistered unbroken bitch 180gns.

The spring sale was sponsored by Farmers Guardian. Future seasonal working sheep dog sales at Skipton are on Fridays, July 6th and October 12th.