Kelpies keep on top of sheep in the yard

Virginia Chilcott directs Sam in the yard



Kelpies keep on top of the sheep in the yard



 Mike Moores

MEANDER FARMER, Virginia Chilcott was a competitor in this year’s Australian Yard Dog and Kelpie Field Trial Championships, held recently in Tasmania.

Virginia has been involved in Yard Dog competitions and Field Trials since she attended an ‘encouragement day’ at a shearing shed 6 years ago.

From a farming background, Virginia had worked with dogs all her life, but found learning the many rules a challenge and says there were many handler errors in the beginning. “But then one day, it just all clicks, it’s a beautiful feeling.”

Virginia says her experience was all the better because she started with a really good dog. “Everyone has a different opinion of what makes a good stock dog… Ben is a lovely stock dog; the way that he handles sheep is that they accept him really quickly.”

Ben is now almost retired and Virginia works with her 4 other kelpies.

Dogs used for the competitions are working dogs. Virginia explains, “All of the dogs are farm dogs; to I just pluck them from out of the farm environment, then take them into a competition environment; that’s what most people do.

Most people have got farms, or they work on farms, or are stock contractors.

They pluck those dogs on a Saturday morning, give them a dust off and put them into the competition arena and ask them to do their best.”

At what age a dog begins training depends on the dog. They learn things like how to sit when around 8 weeks old and start learning to work with stock around 12 months old. “You’ve got to be careful of their bone development, also their mental development; if you push them when they are too young, they get frazzled and they just reject you”, shares Virginia.

“Before a competition I work them every day maybe for 15 to 20 minutes just doing something I know they are not brilliant at.”

Competitions are divided into classes, depending on the experience and number of wins a dog has had.

According to Virginia the principles of Field Trialling can come in handy on the farm. “I used to do all driving, but now I don’t, I’m the leader… it’s a huge improvement because all of a sudden, the stock will learn that your ute is the safe point and they only get hassled if they are misbehaving out the back and the dogs will bring them back the main mob.”

This innovation gives Virginia more time in her day; now she can stand at the gate making phone calls or emailing while her dogs bring the sheep to her.

“The competitions are a bit of fun, but they are also to set the standard of what good genetics are available for the sorts of tasks you may have on your farm, and what you want to achieve with those lines of dogs”, says Virginia.

Field Trials are a combination of the three sheep trials and a yard dog competition and serve as a demonstration of an allround dog and encourage people to breed the sort of dog that is an all rounder.

A farmer can expect to pay between four and six thousand dollars for a fully trained dog with prices reaching twelve thousand dollars for top performers.

This will give you, Virginia says, “A dog that could work sheep in the paddock and in the yard, basically you can let it off the chain and it knows what to do, it knows its craft.”

People interested in getting involved can contact the association via their Facebook page by typing in ‘Tasmanian Yard Dog Association’.