Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming editor, in conversation with Erin McNaught in this week’s women in ag segment. The 19-year-old provides an insight into life at Pandy Farm and discusses her passion for training and trialling sheepdogs,
“I am nineteen, and I live on my family farm in a very rural town called Bala in North Wales.
Our farm called Pandy is nestled between four mountain clefts, and our land overlooks Bala Lake.
Our farm is called Pandy. It is in the shadow of the Garth Goch, where the first-ever sheepdog trial took place in 1873.
I am now the fourth generation of both sides of my family to be farming and also to be training sheepdogs. You can definitely say it is in the blood.
From a very young age, I was out on the farm! My mum would take me out in the pram and leave it in the middle of the field while she trained her dogs.
She said it was the only way she could get me to settle! It did not come as much of a surprise that my first word was ‘meeh meeeh’ (a sheep’s noise)!
I have a lot of personal early farming memories, with me being my grandad’s shadow on the farm.
We had and still do have a lot of fun together, but he has also been my mentor with his in-depth knowledge of the farming world.
At the moment, I play a leading role in running my family farm (which is a beef and sheep enterprise) with my grandad’s guidance.
This year, I will be gaining more land and therefore increasing stock numbers which I very much look forward to doing after my grandad cut down on numbers in previous years due to ill-health.
Also, I work on a dairy farm to widen my knowledge even further and to gain more experience.
Farming, milking cows and training sheepdogs
I have now completed my A-levels, but I am looking forward to taking a gap year before I decide on university.
I am spending time building up the family farm business, milking cows at work and training sheepdogs.
Three days per week, I am working, so up I am up at 4:30 am to milk. I come home for breakfast and dinner and to feed calves/sheep at home, take dogs for a walk and take fat lambs to market.
I finish at 5 pm, and then I am straight home to train dogs and do more jobs on the farm. Then, I usually do big jobs, such as gathering/sorting sheep, ect, on my days off.
We have 12 sheepdogs, with everyone out working or being trained every day.
We breed sheepdogs under the ‘Pandy’ prefix. This prefix was established in 1930 by my late great grandfather, Maurice Mcnaught.
It takes a lot of patience and time to find a ‘good dog’. Although the dog’s breeding is important and serves as the foundation, training and upbringing are equally as important in making a good dog.
I watched my mum and grandad train and compete from a very young age. I have been brought up surrounded by dogs. Also, I always nicked my mum’s dog and took them to the sheep without her knowing.
I bring one dog to the training field at a time. It takes three years to train dogs up to competing standards.
My great grandad always said a year under each leg, meaning that it takes four years for a dog to reach its prime.
Milestones include winning the 2018 British Young Handler Champion silverware with my bitch, Quories Moxy, and in 2019, a One Man and his Dog winner (BBC1) with my dog, Sam.
We do not sell a lot of dogs as we only breed and train for our own needs. However, dogs from our breeding line have gone on to work sheep abroad in places like Belgium, California, and Germany.
After running my mum’s dogs for years, at the age of 14, I finally got my own bitch, called Quories Moxy.
We bought Moxy from Ireland, and within a week of bringing her home, we won our first trial.
We just clicked and are the best of friends. Since then, I have been running other dogs. My two main dogs currently are Theo and Sam.
My mum and I share the work of training the young dogs, and we train every dog we compete with.
We never buy in dogs except for Moxy, who we bought from Ireland. All our dogs have gone on to win open trials and compete at the Welsh National.
I start training sheepdogs when they are ten months. The first step in the training programme is to teach a dog to circle the sheep and to keep the same amount of distance from the sheep all around the circle.
By doing so, it is important to say the commands out loud- come-bye (to the left), away (to the right) and stand to stop.
Afterwards, move on to teach the whistles. Once the dog has learnt the basic commands, you can move on to more advanced training.
The main advice I would give would be to spend as much time with your dog and to make sure that the dog has experienced new environments from a young age.
It is much easier to train a dog that is confident and well socialised. By building up a partnership with the dog, you will soon find that the dog will want to work well for you and this, to me, is the secret to many of my successes.
Learn by watching other people. It is very hard to teach yourself, so I would recommend going to a trainer to teach the correct way to benefit you and your dog.
Highs and lows
The partnership I have with my dogs is the most enjoyable aspect – we are a team! Farming can be lonely at times but having a dog by your side makes it much easier.
The challenge is to find the right dog. Not every dog suits each handler, so important to always be training young dogs up in the hope that you will find the one.
As well as competing, I am also the secretary of the Bala Sheepdog trial and sale. As a family, we feel that it is important to keep the tradition of sheepdog trialling strong in the area.
To be a successful sheepdog trainer, you must have a lot of patience as it is a very long process.
Also, you need what we call ‘sheep sense’, which comes naturally to most. It means that you can predict the sheep’s movements and therefore be able to move dogs at the right moment.
My plans include keeping the family farm running and continuing to train and compete with dogs.
Hopefully, we will increase stock numbers and continue to improve the land. I feel strongly about regenerative systems, so hopefully will be able to pursue with my plans for the farm to be more environmentally friendly.
Regarding my ambitions with trialling my sheepdogs, my ultimate goal would be to win the international sheepdog trials.
The industry’s future
Farming can be very tough and heartbreaking at times, but when I am gathering the hills with the dogs or selling quality stock at the market or bringing new life into the world, I am in my glory. Moments like that I live for.
The farming industry can be so unpredictable. However, I am hopeful that the future is looking bright if we continue to educate people on food production and the importance of agriculture in our everyday lives.
I am a determined person, so I would never let someone stop me from doing what I love!
When my mum started trialling, she was the only woman competing and had a very hard time with some other competitors being judgemental and awkward.
Mum was the first woman to qualify for the Welsh national team. Her commitment and determination very much inspire me.
Things have changed dramatically. I think social media has given women a platform in ag, and this has helped women receive the recognition they deserve.
So, it is important to educate and showcase that the farming world is open to anyone. All you need is a strong work ethic, and there will be no boundaries,” Erin McNaught concluded.
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