Man’s best friend: ‘You can’t sit down and talk to your quad at night’

Jess, an extraordinary Border Collie aged just 10 years young, was a top-class performer at last week’s National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Co. Offaly.

The Dublin-native, and her owner, farmer Donie Anderson, thrilled crowds during a series of demonstrations at the sheep dog arena where she successfully herded a gaggle of geese into a horsebox.

In between shows, the well-known pooch – whose remarkable talents have been celebrated in many national headlines in recent years – found the time to pop into the AgriLand live-broadcast studio on site.

Joined by owner, Donie – who farms about 60 Wicklow Cheviots and Lleyn ewes on the Dublin mountains in the Glenasmole Valley near Bohernabreena in Tallaght – he vividly described Jess’ charming personality.

“She’s a great working dog and she’s great with people; she loves bit of attention and she loves working as well.

“She rounds up geese and hens and ducks and she brings them in at night to keep them away from the fox,” he said.

Donie, who has had the Border Collie breed in his family for the last 60 years, said the main aim of showcasing Jess’ ability at the ‘Ploughing’ is keep the flames of the country’s strong dog-herding tradition alive for future generations.

“We’re just here to show what we do at home through the demonstrations because I think so many people don’t actually get to see a dog working.

“I have geese and sheep here for the ‘Ploughing’. She has performed very well; she did a great job bringing the geese and getting them in the pen and minding them, while I’m working another dog.

She is so kind and she knows what to do. If I say to her at home to get the turkeys she’ll bring the turkeys away from the hen.

Donie says he always knew Jess was special.

“I bred her myself and bred her mother and I just knew she was good. She was a late starter, she didn’t start until she was nearly two and a half, or three, but she was just that kind – and when I started bringing in sheep, I noticed that she was good with them.

“I just worked on with it and worked with the geese and ducks, so she is able to do everything really. Anything I ask her to do she does it, she never really refuses to do anything,” smiled Donie.

“Some people ask me to go to shows to demonstrate to people what I do every day and just to show what rural life is about.

“It’s one of the oldest things ever to work with a dog. When you are herding stock you have to have a good dog.

Some people say they don’t use the dog anymore because they have a quad; but you can’t sit down and talk to your quad at night.

Intelligent companion

Jess goes everywhere with Donie. He says she is a “very intelligent” companion.

“Some people say they have a great dog for sheep; but he might be too rough for hens. I’m just lucky that she is able to do everything.

She’s very kind with the hens – she’s actually a little too kind with the sheep because some of the sheep get to know that she is kind and they will face up to her.

“Border Collies are so intelligent that they would nearly do anything you’d ask them to do. She’s just good, she’s the best,” he said.

Bond

In line with the ageing profile of farmers, Donie highlighted how the demographic of farmers taking part in sheep dog trials is also diminishing nationwide – particularly in the Munster and Leinster regions.

“I suppose it’s because people are so busy and I suppose, as regards the show end, people are further removed from farming than they were a generation ago so they don’t actually see what is going on on farms.

I just love seeing people looking at what we are doing because they see the bond. There is a bond between myself and the dog – she does what I ask her to do and I never feel she is going to let me down.

“Border Collies do the work because they want to do it. We are breeding them through the generations to have that work instinct in them and they are so clever. They are probably one of the brainiest dogs,” Donie concluded.

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