Mid-Wales freelance shepherd John Griffiths was top dog on price with a 9,000gns (£9,450) sale at Skipton Auction Mart’s autumn sale of working sheep dogs. (Friday, Oct 15)

Mr Griffiths, of Garthbrengy, near Brecon in Powys, headed the field by a country mile – more than double the second top call, in fact - with his three-year-old fully broken black and white bitch, Oaktree Dot, christened Ellie.

A solid and talented all-rounder, she is by Tanhill Alex, bred in Cumbria by Alec Baines, a dog that finished third in the 2017 International Supreme Trial in the hands of fellow Welsh handler Nigel Watkins, out of Thornbury Meg, whose own sire was Kevin Evans’ ‘old’ Spot, a multiple winner for the Welsh trialling legend.

Ellie was bred in mid-Wales by Glyn Davies, who operates under the Oaktree prefix. “I can only thank the breeder. I get a lot of dogs from him – in fact. I like to call him my bloodstock agent!” said Mr Griffiths, who has been selling working sheep dogs for four decades and maintains a large team at home – he certainly needs one, with several flocks and up to 9,000 Welsh Mountain, Welsh Mules and Texel-x ewes to shepherd.

In fact, having plenty of youngsters at home needing both time and work, Ellie was reluctantly offered for sale by Mr Griffiths after breeding a litter of seven in September, 2020, all said to be showing great promise. But she had been purposely worked and trained for 18 months and specially prepared for the past six months in readiness for a ‘live’ sale at the North Yorkshire venue.

Mr Griffiths commented: “The Skipton sale is a very good shop window. I am great believer in selling dogs this way. It is a brilliant format for potential purchasers who want to see them in the skin, rather than just online.”

Ellie’s buyer, Warwickshire sheep farmer Duncan Hawley, of Henley-in-Arden, was in full agreement. He explained: “I needed a dog that does what it says on the tin. I first saw Ellie in an online video and she really stood out because of the work she had already done. She ticked all the right boxes for me, but I needed to see her in the flesh, see her working on the trials field, to look her in the eye and like her!”

Mr Hawley, who farms in partnership with his parents, Michael and Amanda, and is the Warwickshire Council Delegate for the NFU, says his new acquisition will be used solely as a work dog. He travels up to Skipton every year to purchase up to 150 sheep at the high profile September North of England Mule gimmer lamb sales staged on behalf of NEMSA, which are then run on until the following year and go to the Texel ram as shearlings.

Skipton’s latest live sale attracted a large crowd and was again supplemented by a real-time online viewing and bidding facility for those unable to attend in person. A total of 33 dogs went under the hammer, with total clearance achieved for fully broken entries. Five dogs were successfully sold via the internet, with 14 lots receiving online bids from 50 potential buyers registered and the sale watched throughout by hundreds of people from around the world.

A brace of dogs shared joint second top call of 4,300gns (£4,515). First up was Red Rose handler Colin Birkett, of Carnforth, with his two-year-old black and white bitch, Miss, by Malcolm Cottam’s Irtlands Rex, out of Nip, a top price purchase at a Welsh sale some eight years ago from Northern Ireland’s Pat Byrne, himself a regular vendor at Skipton. Miss fell to Cheshire buyer Edward Simms, of Northwich.

Making the same price was Jim, a rising two-year-old black, white and mottled dog from another regular Welsh vendor, Brynley Williams, of Holywell in Flintshire, which joined Frank Hickson in Jedbergh, who often buys quality dogs at Skipton. Mr Williams also sold a younger 14-month-old black and white bitch, Alice, not quite as far forward as his joint top price dog, for 1,600gns.

Prices for part-broken dogs peaked at 2,400gns (£2,520) for Copperthorns Gem, an eight-month-old black and white bitch sold in the pup pen by Paul Bouch, who farms 1,000 North of England Mules at Kirkoswald in Cumbria’s Lower Eden Valley.

By Liddledale-based Ricky Hutchinson’s Jonah, one of the Brace Champions at this year’s recent International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS) Trials, Gem is out of a solid farm dog, Kim, and a half sister to another talented Copperthorns bitch sold by Mr Bouch at Skipton in July this year for 5,500gns (£5,775). She found a new home in Holmrook, Cumbria, with the Harrison family.

Back with the fully broken dogs, two made 4,000gns (£4,200), the first from another Welsh regular, Emrys Jones, of Tal y Bont in Gwynedd, with his two-year-old black and white dog, Venn Tweed, by Kevin Evans’ Derwen Doug, a European Nursery Champion and dual Welsh and International Brace Champion. Out of JD Mills’ Flax, the dog travelled to Hope in Derbyshire’s High Peaks with Frank Marrison.

Mr Jones also hit 3,500gns (£3,675 with a 15-month-old black and white bitch, Llwyn Sarn Gwen, by Dewi Jenkins’ top-notch stud dog, Jock, which has been responsible for many other high price dogs sold at Skipton by the renowned Welsh handler and triallist. Out of HW Jones’ Llynsarn Eve, Gwen sold locally when joining Anthony and Heather Hewetson in Bank Newton.

Also earning a price tag of 4,000gns (£4,200) was Fly, a two-year-old black and white bitch from long distance Scottish traveller Tommy McPhee, of Reiss, near John O’Groats. With solid breeding going back to Bobby Dalziel’s Spot, Ricky Hutchinson’s Sweep and Murray McTier’s Ben, Fly flew north-east with Guisborough’s Richard Bostock. Mr McPhee made the long journey south well worthwhile when also making 3,000gns with a dog with similar bloodlines, a two-year-old tri-coloured bitch, Bute, this going to Kirklees with R Hetherington, of Birstall,

Four other dogs made 3,000gns and above. The best of the quartet at 3,700gns (£3,885) was Farn, a young black and white bitch which turned one-year-old four days after the sale, from mid-Wales vendor Arran Games, of Talgarth in Powys. By Twm, from Northern Ireland's Alastair Lyttle, of Pettigo, County Donegal, a dog that ran in the Supreme final, Farn sold to an undisclosed buyer.

Next best at 3,600gns (£3,780) was Jill, a rising one-year-old tri-coloured butch from Northern Ireland’s JD McAllister, of Cargan in Co. Antrim. Run on the trials field by Skipton regular Michael McAllister, and said to be almost ready for nursery trials she joined frequent Welsh buyer, Betwys-y-Coed's John Roberts.

Selling at 3,100gns (£3,255) was retired sheep and cattle farmer Robin Bell, again heading down from Hawick in the Scottish Borders, with his 14-month-old black and white dog, Wull, which became a second acquisition by Frank Hickson, while Co. Durham regular Jean Howes made 3,000gns (£3,150) with her 15-month-old black and white bitch, Redgate Maisie, which went down country to Herefordshire with ML Pugh, of Clifford.

Registered broken bitches sold from 1,500-9,000gns, averaging £3,657, registered broken dogs 1,250-4,300gns, averaging £2,828, part-broken bitches to 2,400gns and part-broken dogs to 900gns, average £643. Unbroken pups sold to 350gns.

The sale was again sponsored by WuffitMix, a division of Clitheroe-based Dugdale Nutrition. Working sheep dog sales return to Skipton next February.