Northumberland shepherdess’s 14,000gns world record price coup at Skipton sheep dog sale

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna
Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna

A new world record price for a working sheep dog bitch at an official sale of 14,000gns, or £14,700, was the standout highlight at the opening fixture of 2019 at Skipton Auction Mart in North Yorkshire on Friday, February 22, 2018.

It fell to Northumberland shepherdess and media star, 33-year-old Emma Gray, and her two-year-old tri-coloured bitch Brenna.

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna, joined by the dog's sire, Llangwm Cap and his owner Aled Owen

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna, joined by the dog's sire, Llangwm Cap and his owner Aled Owen

Emma, who farms on the remote National Trust-owned Fallowlees Farm at Harwood Forest, Morpeth, only narrowly failed to match the all-time world record high price of 14,100 guineas, or £14,805, also established at Skipton in May, 2016, by Northern Ireland’s Padraig Doherty, of Ardagh Sheepdogs in Co Donegal.

This was for a male dog. Emma and Brenna smashed Skipton’s previous top price for a bitch of 9,500gns, itself thought to be a world record price for a female dog, established in 2017 by top Irish triallist Michael Gallagher, of Armoy in Co Antrim.

Brenna, already a multiple nursery trials winner with open points to her credit, has impeccable breeding credentials. She is a daughter of legendary Welsh trialist Aled Owen’s Welsh National and International Supreme Champion, Llangwm Cap. Mr Owen, also a double World Sheep Dog Trials champion, travelled up purposely from Penyfed in Denbighshire to see Cap’s offspring put in a sparkling performance on the Skipton trials field.

Brenna, whose dam is Aeron Flos, bred by Mr Owen’s nephew Arwel Jones in nearby Llangwm, had attracted tremendous pre-sale interest, both from at home and overseas. On sale day, bidding opened at 3,000gns, with several telephone bidders from the United States fiercely competing in the hope of claiming the top-notch bitch.

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna

She is bound for America, when the new world record price for a female dog was paid by Dr Pamela Helton, who farms in Maryland and has a flock of some 60 head of Swedish Gotland sheep. She also runs dogs in United States Border Collie Handlers Association (USBCHA) trials in the eastern and mid-western US.

“I already have many plans for Brenna. She is slated to be my farm and primary trial dog and I am strongly considering importing her in whelp (pregnant) to the US. A potential sire is under consideration,” said Dr Helton, who is Artistic Director and President of the Third Millennium Ensemble in Frederick, Maryland, which offers cutting-edge performances of chamber music and is also an advocate for up-and-coming composers.

Emma, who operates under the Graylees prefix, was selling a fully broken dog for the first time at Skipton, the UK’s leading sheep dog sale venue. She was achieving by far her highest-ever price for one of her dogs with Brenna, who, as a condition of sale, was allowed to compete two days later in the English Nursery Final at Hutton in the Forest in Cumbria. Although Brenna put in a good run she didn’t finish in the top ten, though Emma did become English Nursery Champion with another of her dogs, Telf Joff.

After her record price Skipton success, Emma, who has a 400-strong flock of North of England Mule sheep, also running a commercial suckler cattle herd comprising Whitebred Shorthorn Blue-Greys and Galloways, said: “I am over the moon, absolutely delighted.”

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna, joined by husband Ewan Irvine

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna, joined by husband Ewan Irvine

Emma has already made her mark in the sheep dog trialing world. She began working with dogs at the age of 13 and later became the first woman to win the Northumberland Sheepdog Trials League in the contest’s four-decade history.

She was also English Nursery Champion and Reserve National Champion with another dog, Tweeddale Jamie, a son of Littledale-based Ricky Hutchinson’s celebrated International Reserve Supreme Champion, Sweep, with whom Emma also represented the English team that won gold in the International Sheep Dog Society’s (ISDS) 2017 World Sheep Dog Trials in the Netherlands.

Jamie has since fathered a six-strong litter of pups to Brenna – three dogs and three bitches – five of which have been sold privately, with one bitch retained on the farm, which Emma will train and hopefully later trial.

She first took over the 150-acre Fallowlees Farm aged just 23, becoming the UK’s youngest solo shepherdess in the process. Emma hit the headlines in 2012 when she penned a memoir of her solitary life on a farm in the middle of nowhere with no neighbours for miles around, called ‘One Girl and Her Dog,’ in which she chronicled how difficult it was to find a husband.

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna, joined by husband Ewan Irvine

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna, joined by husband Ewan Irvine

Dubbed Britain’s loneliest shepherdess, the story had a happy ending when Emma, who hails from Hawick in the Scottish Borders, found true love and last September in Kelso tied the knot with local fireman Ewan Irvine.

It was a story that grabbed the nation’s heartstrings. As well as making the national press, Emma has since featured on national television in the BBC’s Countryfile, ITV’s Flockstars, Robson Green’s Tales from Northumberland series and the Alan Titchmarsh Show.

Breaking news is that the story has an even happier ending, as the couple are expecting their first child, a baby boy, two months after the Skipton sale.

And with both a baby and lambing time just around the corner, fireman Ewan, who is himself already competing with success at open level on the trials field, will be having a few weeks off to take sole charge of lambing as Emma takes things easier on the farm, which remains fallow no longer!

Coincidentally, Aeron Floss, the dam of the new world record price bitch, was sold some six years ago at Bala in Wales by her then owner, Ceredigion’s Dewi Jenkins for 1,700gns, and the well-known handler and trialist, who is currently producing some of the most sought-after working dogs in Britain, was in top form again at Skipton when selling two superbly bred bitches for a combined 15,200gns, or almost £16,000.

Claiming the day’s second top call at 8,000gns was his 14-month-old black and white bitch, Bet, by the well-bred trial dog Glan y Gors Tadgh, from Irishman Ian Carroll, who is now based in Holyhead, North Wales. Out of fellow North Wales sheep farmer and dog trainer Sion Jones’s Nell, the highly promising hill and nursery bitch joined a Scottish buyer who requested anonymity, though he did reveal that Bet will be utilised both as a work and trial dog, and later hopefully for breeding.

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna, joined by the dog's sire, Llangwm Cap and his owner Aled Owen

Emma Gray with her 14,000gns world record price sheep dog bitch Brenna, joined by the dog's sire, Llangwm Cap and his owner Aled Owen

The North Yorkshire venue is a happy hunting ground for Mr Jenkins, who farms Welsh Mountain ewes and Welsh Black cattle at Tynygraig Farm, Tal-y-bont, Aberystwyth. Twelve months earlier he had achieved his highest ever sale price of 8,100gns with another first-rate bitch and at the 2019 opener he was also on the mark with a further 7,200gns sale, the third highest price of the day.

It fell to another 14-month-old bitch, Cass, a classy all-rounder home-bred by Mr Jenkins’ own Moss, the first Border Collie he ever owned ten years ago and with whom he won the Young Handlers International Trial in 2015, also finishing fifth in the Welsh National two years later. Out of fellow North Wales breeder John Price’s Tess, Cass found a new home in Ireland, though the buyer again asked for his name to be withheld.

Late in the day, another solid price of 7,000gns was achieved by Wharfedale’s Mark Shields, of Plum Tree Farm, Timble, near Otley, with his April, 2017, black and white dog, Lad, by County Antrim breeder Brendan McAllister’s highly regarded Spot, out of Clencregg Jess, herself a product of Co Donegal-based James McGee’s 2014 International Supreme Champion, Silver.

Mark, who regularly shows prize-winning Lleyn sheep at Skipton, bought Lad out of Skipton’s unbroken pen in 2017 and he, too, found a new home in Ireland with a well-known sheep dog trialist, who also asked not to be named.

Next best on price at 5,000gns was a two-year-old black and white bitch, Jet, from another Irishman, Jake Hamilton, of Glenarm in Co Antrim. Again by Brendan McAllister’s Spot, out of R O’Donan’s Gyp, Jet, who qualified for this year’s North of Ireland Nursery Final, returned there when falling to an undisclosed buyer who will use his acquisition solely as a work bitch.

Catching the eye with a 3,900gns sale was Ian Sutherland, from Strathnaver in Sutherland, not far from the north coast of Scotland, with his two-year-old black dog, Jaybeez Ben, another highly promising son of Ricky Hutchinson’s Sweep. Placed in several nurseries, Ben joined Kevin Leatherhead, from East Haddon in Northamptonshire, Earlier in the day, Mr Sutherland also made 3,000gns with another three-and-half-year-old black and white dog, Jimmy, which returned north of the border with R Brown, of Crieff.

Co Antrim’s Michael McAlister, of Glenariffe, is another Irish vendor who regularly achieves solid prices at Skipton. The former jump jockey made 3,800gns with his black and white dog, Sam, rising two-years-old, who found a new home near North Yorkshire coast with N C Cutter, of Great Ayton.

Mr McAlister returned later in the day to achieve 2,600gns with another promising young 12-month-old black and white dog, Roy, which travelled much further afield when joining R Campbell on the Isle of Harris, the largest in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

Co Durham’s Jean Howes, of Redgate Lodge, Wolsingham, in Weardale, was next best at 3,700gns with her tri-coloured and mottled bitch, Pandy Dotti, a July, 2017, daughter of Netherlands-based former World Sheep Dog Trials champion Serge van der Sweep’s Gary, a dog which stood third for the same handler in the 2017 World Trials. Out of MJ McNaught’s Ben and already place in nurseries, Dotti joined Hexham’s David Robinson, who used to be a Skipton regular before moving north.

Local breeder Carol Mellin, of Moor Lodge Farm, Oakworth, claimed 3,600gns with her three-year-old black and white dog, Moor Lodge Scott, a litter brother to Moor Lodge Ben, who acts as Carol’s take-off dog on the Skipton trials field. The home-bred son of Moor Lodge Mirk, who has been placed in nurseries, moved across the border with S G and L M Whalley of Chorley.

Solid trade at the annual winter sale, staged in bathing sunshine, saw an early field-run dog sell well at 3,500gns. The tri-coloured Wisp, a three-year-old nursery trial winner, came from up-and coming Northern Ireland teenager Shannon Conn, who last May at Skipton claimed top price of 6,800gns with a two-year-old bitch trialed by her father Loughlin, a Limavady sheep and cattle farmer.

Shannon, a former Irish Junior Trials champion and International Junior Final qualifier, who as a 13-year-old in 2015 competed in the televised ‘One Man and His Dog’, again left her dog, who is by the home-bred Bill and already a nursery trials winner, in dad’s capable hands. He was claimed by O’Brayne, from Derbyshire’s Hope Valley.

Mr Conn was himself in action with a four-figure sale for the very first lot in the unbroken pen via his eight-month-old black and white bitch, Rhydale Jenny, by Welsh trialist Kevin Evans’ World Sheep Dog Trials runner-up Derwen Doug, out of S G Lewis’s Rockface Floss. The youngster found a new home in Scotland with Perthshire’s J G Fotheringham.

Back on the trials field, Derbyshire’s Ian Hulme, of Buxton, saw his well-schooled July, 2016, black and white bitch, Tess, fully home-bred by GRN Saxon’s Cammen Rip, out of his Jill, command 3,200gns when falling to regular buyer Kevin Evans.

Derek Scrimgeour, who runs Killiebrae Sheepdogs at Raise Lodge, Wigton, on the edge of the Lake District, made 3,100gns with his June, 2016, black and white dog, Fellside Roy, a solid trials prospect who has already bred two very promising litters. Roy was claimed by the Lightfoot family in Penrith,

Also making 3,100gns was a June, 2017, black and white dog, Spot, from another Irish vendor, Colm Doherty, of Tirbracken Sheep Dogs in Londonderry. A son of twice Irish National Champion James McLaughlin’s Dan, out of MF Doherty’s Tess, who is herself by International Champion, Silver, Spot, already a nursery trials winner, sold to K Donald, from Dalrymple in Ayrshire.

Top call in the unbroken pen of 1,100gns fell to a six-months-old registered red and white bitch from Welsh couple, Alec Bebb and his fiancée, Sadie Lloyd, of Cydros Sheep Dogs in Llwydiarth, Tylwch, Llanidloes, Powys. By Ross Games’ Caefelin Cap, out of Mr Bebb’s own Barcroft Poppy, the classy youngster will go to work on sheep with her new Scottish owner, who requested anonymity.

The couple, who farm Welsh Black suckler cattle and Welsh and Lleyn commercial sheep, successfully sold five home-bred youngsters in Skipton’s pup pen. Next best at 800gns was a four-month-old black and white bitch, Cydros Meg, by another Ross Games sire, Roy, followed at 600gns and 450gns by Flo and Jake, a sister and brother from the same litter, along with 520gns for their seven-month-old bitch, Tina, a daughter of Aled Owen’s Llangwm Cap.

Another four-figure performer in the unbroken pen at 1,050gns was a five-month-old black and white bitch, Beaut, from OS McLaughlin, of Cloontagh in Co Donegal. By J McLaughlin’s Dan, out of the vendor’s own Ruby, the youngster joined an Irish buyer from Ballymena in Co Antrim.

A good number of broken dogs sold at between 2,000 and 3,000gns as follows:

3,000gns – black and white bitch from JD McAllister, Cargan, Co Antrim.

2,800gns – August, 2016, black and white bitch from H Jones, Corwen.

2,700gns – June, 2016, black and bitch from Emrys Jones, Tal y Bont, Gwynedd.

2,600gns - December, 2016, black, white and mottled dog from Craig Kempson, Waterfoot.

2,400gns - December, 2016, black and white dog from Ross Games, Talgarth.

2,400gns – January, 2018, tri-coloured dog from Neil McDevitt, Letterkenny.

2,300gns – June, 2017, tri-coloured bitch from GB Jones, Caernarfon.

2,100gns – October, 2014, black and white dog from L Bowden, Caerphilly.

2,000gns – Three-year-old brown and white dog from David Lyttle, Pettigo.

Once again, despite the heady prices that continue to be seen at Skipton for top-notch broken dogs, notably those with trials potential, there were still plenty of opportunities for buyers with lighter pockets to acquire readily affordable dogs for both work and trial.

The opening winter sale attracted another solid entry of 137 dogs, of which 87 found new homes. Craven Cattle Marts’ general manager and auctioneer Jeremy Eaton commented: “There was a solid trade for dogs and, as anticipated, trade was focussed on well -broken, experienced dogs for farm work in the run up to lambing time, or top-notch dogs ready for the trial field.”

Prices and averages: Broken dogs – 30 registered dogs from 400gns to 3,800gns (av £2,090), 1 unregistered dog 650gns, 22 registered bitches from 450gns to 14,000gns (av £3,223), 3 unregistered bitches from 1,000gns to 1,250gns (av £1,117). Part/unbroken dogs – 15 registered dogs from 250gns to 600gns (£361), 2 unregistered dogs to 300gns, 14 registered bitches from 200gns to 1,100gns (av £665).

Future seasonal working sheep dog sales at Skipton this year will take place on Fridays, May 17, July 5 and October 25.

Dewi Jenkins with his second and third top price Skipton dogs, which together sold for 15,200gns

Dewi Jenkins with his second and third top price Skipton dogs, which together sold for 15,200gns

Alec Bebb and Sadie Lloyd with six-month-old Cydros Ruby, who sold for top price of 1,100gns in Skipton's unbroken pen

Alec Bebb and Sadie Lloyd with six-month-old Cydros Ruby, who sold for top price of 1,100gns in Skipton's unbroken pen