Cattle dogs of Australia on show

Earning his keep: Daniel Watson works his dog Bill in preparation for the Ian Ensby Memorial Dog Trials to be held in March at Tatham.
Earning his keep: Daniel Watson works his dog Bill in preparation for the Ian Ensby Memorial Dog Trials to be held in March at Tatham. Jay Cronan

CATTLE dogs across Australia are working harder than ever, according to Tatham farmer Robert Johnston.

“Farmers are all getting older, most of us are well into our 60s, and we can’t ride as much as we used to,” Mr Johnston said.

“I wouldn’t be able to manage without my dogs.

“They do the work of two men. Mustering would be bloody hard without them,” he said of his 13 dogs who earn their keep looking after 160 beasts.

Every year Mr Johnston hosts the Ian Ensby Memorial Dog Trial on his 400 acre Tatham cattle farm, Shady Acres, where dogs from across Australia show-off the intelligence and physical skill it takes to be a working dog.

As interest in working dogs grows, the dog trial circuit is thriving, Mr Johnston said, with 190 dogs put through their paces at Tatham in 2010 and many more expected in 2011.

While the farmer jokingly described the trial dogs as ‘show ponies’, there’s nothing fluffy about a fit, lean, working dog.

“This is a sport of control,” Mr Johnston said.

Each dog starts with 100 points and has five minutes to collect its beasts and steer them through a tight circuit to make it into a 12 by 12 foot hold and back through the gate again.

The judges at Tatham sit atop a red ute and click on a sheep counter to record the dog’s score, with points deducted for any bad moves.

“Some dogs are naturals at it; others may take two years to train. I’ll give a dog 18 months to prove itself,” Mr Johnston said.

Australian working dogs have a long history dating back well over a century, with Australian kelpies now exported across the world to manage a variety of stock, including reindeer, goats, cattle and sheep – kelpies in Sweden have even gained police dog titles and pulled sleds, according to the Working Kelpie Council website.

The annual Tatham dog trial is held in honour of the late Ian Ensby, who had previously been president of the North Coast Working Cattle Dog Association and inaugural president of the NSW Working Stock Dog Association.

Mr Ensby died in 2009 after a long battle with cancer.

The Ian Ensby Memorial Dog Trial weekend is held on March 19 and 20 at 45 Kings Lane, Tatham, with all funds raised going to the McGrath Foundation charity supporting women with breast cancer.

Saturday is the Maiden/Novice dog trial, Sunday is the Ian Ensby Memorial Open dog trial, the Bush dog trial and finals.

Entry is free to the public, there is a canteen open and camping (no showers) available on grounds.

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