The sheepdog breeders in Wales who sell pups all over the world for as much as £27,000

Life on the Welsh hills where sheep roam free and farmers eke out a living on the upland slopes wouldn’t be complete without the humble sheepdog. To watch man and dog working the hills is a privilege – an extraordinary, unspoken bond in action, a special relationship between man, dog and sheep.

But don’t be fooled by the seemingly simple and bucolic scene – some of those dogs are commanding megabucks and in the last few years, specially-bred and trained dogs Welsh sheepdogs have been breaking records. In February 2021, a border collie called Kim from Ceredigion sold for a world record £27,000.

Twelve-month-old Kim, who was trained by Dewi Jenkins of Talybont, near Aberystwyth, was sold at an online auction by Farmers Marts of Dolgellau. Mr Jenkins said Kim had been bought by a farmer from Staffordshire. The sale beat the previous record set by border collie Henna, from Brecon, which sold for £20,000.

Kim the sheepdog in action

“When we began training, she was so clever I only had to show her how to do something once and by the second time, she knew what I wanted,” said Mr Jenkins at the time about his dog. “For any farmer anywhere, she would do the job for them. It’s incredible.”

The 29-year-old farmer grew up with border collies helping his family manage sheep and cattle. He found his passion for training dogs and now teaches them commands in English so they can help other farmers all over the world. Mr Jenkins has sold dogs to owners in the UK, France, Belgium, Norway and the USA.

Read more:Full list of Welsh beaches where dogs are now banned for five months

In Pembrokeshire, 26-year-old sheep farmer and dog handler Llion Harries farms the foothills of the Preseli mountains. Never far from his side is his faithful dog, eight-year-old Preseli Fly. He’d never sell her, he smiles, but he does breed from her and sell her pups. In the old sheds in the farmyard, there are 16 more dogs and four pups left from Fly’s latest litter. He breeds the pups to sell and they end up all over the UK and sometimes as far afield as Europe and America. One dog recently went to Texas, he said.

He started training sheepdogs when he was just 11 and started competing in trials at 14. He’s a man of few words but admits: “I could work a dog.”

Lion with Preseli Fly

With the Preseli mountains literally on his doorstep – the range which gives all his dogs their prefix – not a day goes by where he’s not out there training them. The average price for a working dog is about £2,000. Lion is well-known and his dogs are well-trained and he gets anywhere between £3,000 and £7,400 for his dogs. His top priced dog went to a big sheep farm in Northumberland and was bought through an auction.

The appeal of working the hills is something you’re born with: “It’s nice and quiet up there,” said Llion. “You feel like you’re on another planet. It’s just you and your dog, and you feel close to nature.”

Lion also farms 500 sheep in the foothills of the Preselis

Welsh sheepdogs are on an upward trajectory he said. Wales has a world-reputation for breeding the best. “Where there’s sheep there’s dogs,” he said. “During Covid, the price of pups have been mad but they’ve settled down a bit now. They’re the very best. If you get a very good one, they don’t come up for sale very often.”

To watch him and Fly at work feels like an intrusion into something special – his dog barely takes his eye off the sheep while his ears are always half-cocked for the next command, which is typically given by Llion’s whistle because it carries further than his voice. Two short blasts signals left while a long descending one signals right. A higher pitch tells Fly to slow down and a shouted command of “Look back” tells her to check for sheep behind. She never misses a beat.

“They work how I want them to work,” Llion said about his dogs. “And they have to have the desire to work. I notice the way they are with the sheep, they have to be kind to the sheep but also be the boss of the sheep.”

Lion trains each one of his dogs at least once a day if he can

One of Fly’s litter of pups

Back in the yard, the pups are let out to play. They skit off in all directions, fascinated by the dandelions and the leaves blowing in the breeze. They don’t know it yet, but they’re destined for great things. They have a lot to live up to – Llion and Fly were part of the Welsh team and Llion won the One Man and His Dog young handler competition 11 years ago.

Sheepdog trials have a long history in Wales – the first ever recorded sheepdog trial in the UK was Mr. RJ Lloyd-Price’s event at Garth Coch, about a mile from Bala in October, 1873. Although the majority of competitors were Welsh, the trial was won by Scotsman James (Jimmy) Thomson with his dog, Tweed. Jimmy had moved to Wales as a tenant on Mr. Lloyd-Price’s estate in 1872..

These days, national trials are held every summer in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, at which handlers guide their dogs through a series of challenging tasks, competing for the honor to represent their country at the Internationals, when the coveted Supreme Championship individual title is up for grabs. Lion and Fly were fifth at the Welsh nationals in 2019 – their “biggest achievement” to date.

In addition to the Nationals and Internationals, the prestigious World Sheepdog Trials take place every three years, hosting competitors from all over the globe. Lion had qualified for that too in 2019, but the Covid pandemic put paid to that, he said sadly.

fly the dog

fly in action

But trials are more than just about competing – it’s a chance for breeders to watch other dogs in action and for prospective buyers to keep tabs on who to go to for the best quality dogs. For Llion it’s a bit of both: “I like trying to improve and seeing the dogs going well,” he said. “And seeing other dogs coming through.”

He added: “People think it’s just a dog, but it’s about watching the sheep – reading the sheep is a massive thing. I work with sheep and I shear sheep so I get a chance to work sheep on the farm. I can read sheep . I’ve been around sheep all my life.”

Better dogs cost more but better dogs make the job of gathering in sheep much quicker and they minimize labor cost. It’s an investment that can pay off, Llion explained, which is why people come looking for Welsh sheepdogs from all over the world. His Texas buyer was actually a cattle farmer, but the principles for working cows are the same as sheep. “She had a good work ethic and plenty of drive in her,” he said about that particular dog. “He farmed thousands of acres and needed a dog that could work all day. She was a good listener too.”

Lion breeds sheepdogs which go to homes all over the UK and even the US

lion with his dogs

His pups will go through the same training as all his dogs have done: “I’ll start with socializing them, calling them by their name and taking them around the place,” he explained. “I’ll teach them basic commands to come towards me and then I’ll introduce sheep at 12 weeks so they can see them and build their interest up.” He’ll start training them proper after around eight months.

“Some are more natural than others,” he admitted. The four running around his feet have a tall order if they are to beat records though.

An unusual lilac colored sheepdog puppy – called Pentir Lassie – was sold by breeder Glynne Jones, from Bangor for £7,600 at just nine-weeks-old. The unbroken puppy – which means it hasn’t worked with sheep yet – was sold in Skipton, North Yorkshire in May 2021 and smashed the previous record of £6,100 for an 11-week-old black and white sheepdog, Bet, from well- known Powys breeder David Evans.

But for Llion it’s less about the money and more about that unique relationship with his animals. For him, no amount of money in the world would persuade him to part with Preseli Fly.

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