Burnley's Shaun Richards and his prize sheepdogs
PUBLISHED: 13:04 25 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:21 26 February 2013
Burnley's Shaun Richards stunned the farming world when his sheepdog was auctioned<br/>for a record price. His next one might be even better, he tells Roger Borrell
While other children brought bugs in matchboxes and model cars to school for class projects, the teachers usually had a pretty good idea what would appear in the playground with Shaun Richards. His sheepdog.
He was just 12 when he was given his first puppy for luck by a farmer who had sold the family a few sheep. It was probably the most luck Id ever had, laughs Shaun.
I started training and breeding from that first dog and when I was 14 dad told me I had too many so I took some to a sale at Cliviger. Dad wouldnt take me and the dogs in his new Land Rover so I had to walk the five miles.
Mind you, he was there to pick me up because he knew it was a cash transaction! I got 350 for the bitch and 200 each for the dogs. That was a lot of money for a 14- year-old and that was really the start of it all. In fact, it was the beginning of a journey that led to Shaun making headlines in the farming world last October when he sold his 18-month-old bitch, MarchupMidge, at Skipton Auction Mart for 8,000
guineas making her the worlds most expensive sheepdog.
Shaun has lived in Watson Laithe Farm at Hapton, near Burnley, since his boyhood. Today, he shares the remote 17th century home with his wife, Jackie, and their children Abbie and Bradley.
Shauns dad always a had a liking for this solid looking farmhouse and its 20 acres by Hambleton Hill. It is thought to have been built from the remains of ruined Hapton Tower and the house has a stone staircase
Oliver Cromwell was reputed to have used during the Civil War.
I only ever wanted to be a shepherd with a Land Rover and a sheepdog, says Shaun, sipping a brew in the cosy farmhouse parlour. I left school at 16 and worked away as a shepherd in Cumbria and in Carnforth. I was earning 18 a week and had my board and lodgings to pay so money was tight.
I was working my dog in a field one day when a passing farmer offered me 500 for him. The chap I was working for said no dog, no job but I knew I could quickly train another. It wasnt a problem.
When he took over at Watson Laithe, Shaun, now in his 40s, realised that
breeding and training world class sheepdogs could become the major part of the business and, with Jackies help, it has now overtaken the farming
Shaun spent a lot of time observing the skills of top trainers such as Lancashires champion sheepdog triallist Jim Cropper, but its clear he also has an innate feel for for dogs that has been developed since
There are few dogs I cant train but out of every ten puppies, only four will make the top flight, he says. Those that dont quite have what it takes go as pets or I sell them to other people who want to train a dog for trialling, which is very popular.
Its a mark of Shauns ability that he went to a sale in Scotland where an unwanted dog had been tied to the back of a Land Rover. The driver needed to leave so he tied the dog to a fence.
In the end, someone suggested Shaun should take it home. He trained it and a month or so later he sold it for 1,500. I like a challenge, he chuckles.
People dont just buy a dog from Shaun, they buy the knowledge and skill that he has instilled in the animal.
People ask how I train them, if I give them treats or theres some kind of secret. I havent really put my finger on it, to be honest. The thing with these dogs is to get them in the fields working with the sheep. Thats what they want to do.
They must be taught obedience. I start with the dog on a long cord of about 60 feet and as we go through the training exercises, I change the length of it until the dog doesnt need the lead at all. If you can stop a dog and recall it, you are well on the way to training it.
There might not be much sentiment in dog breeding but Watson Laithe is certainly no puppy farm and Shaun admits to being a little sad when he sells one. And he bridles at cruel treatment of sheepdogs. I went to one farm where I bought all 12 dogs because they were being kept in such appalling conditions.
His favourites are what he calls tough dogs. They are the ones who will chase a mile across the hills to find lost ewes and stand up to a tup which doesnt want them taken away.
Marchup Midge was his second record-breaker and he thinks he might have an even more successful dog, a black and white wonder called Flint. Hes one of those dogs that you have to be thinking three steps ahead of or youll find yourself ten steps behind.
That could mean a repeat of the scenes last October when the bids were coming thick and fast for Marchup Midge. Im usually at the back urging the bidders to spend more but this time I was lost for words. he admits. I knew it was a good un but it didnt think it would go for 8,000 guineas.
Did we celebrate, Jackie? I think we might have stopped for fish and chips on the way home
Bone of contention
Just why these industrioud dogs are called Border Collies is a bone of contention.
One source says the origin of the word Collie lies in the word coal with colley or coly referring to the colour black.
Another writer says collie is a Gaelic word with the meaning useful while there is another
school of thought that links the word collie to the German Kuli. Kuli is pronounced the
same way as the English coollie which means worker. They are certainly hard workers.