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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘The dogs I have can work from 900 yards away from me’ – 17-year-old

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Peter Casey (17), in this week’s sheep farming focus. We discuss his farming roots, Dereen Sheepdogs, training sheepdogs and success to date. 

“I live in Dereens, Caragh, Naas, Co. Kildare. The farm is a mixed enterprise of beef and sheep. We have 220 Suffolk-Charollais cross ewes and 45 replacement ewe lambs.

There are also 35 Charolais-Limousin suckler cows running with a Charolais bull and 60 weanlings

I have one more year left in school, and then I will go on to study agriculture in college.

Interest in sheepdogs

I started to have an interest in sheepdogs when I saw my father get in the ewes with his new dog one evening.

Before this, we had no dog, so we would have to get in sheep ourselves, and I noticed we lost a lot of time and energy before we would even get to handle the sheep. Therefore, the dog made life easier for us.

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So not long after, I bought my first dog (Luna) off Brian White. Luna has a brilliant pedigree, with her sire being an International Supreme runner-up.

She was a pup, and I trained her myself from scratch. It took me a long time to train her as it was my first-ever dog to train, but I got to train her up to trial standard eventually.

It was a lengthy process, and it did not happen overnight. I went to my first sheepdog trial in 2018 in Wexford. I was delighted that I came fifth, and I have been going ever since.

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I intentionally bought a sheepdog just for getting the sheep around the farm, but I enjoyed trialling a lot. Even though it was tough, I said I would give it a go.

After a lot of training, I was finally getting somewhere on the trial field. In 2020, I won the Leinster Nursery Farmers’ Class and the Irish Farmers’ Class with my original dog, Luna.

There are sheepdog trials nearly every weekend throughout the year all around the country.

Trialling can be great when everything goes to plan, but it does not always work out, and you just have to get on with it and be ready for the next trial.

The nursery season happens every year throughout the winter months. The nursery trials are for young dogs that are under three years of age.

It is a starting point for young dogs to introduce them to the trial field. I hope to have a couple of dogs ready for this in November.

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Dereen Sheepdogs

Having such a passion for training sheepdogs, I decided to start my own enterprise, breeding and training sheepdogs under the Dereen Sheepdogs name.

Any pups that I breed all have the prefix, Dereen before their name so that I can be recognised globally.

I bought four new kennels off KM Engineering with thermal cabins fitted inside. They are my latest purchase and an investment for the future.

I also have a training area and a round pen set up to train young upcoming dogs in my kennels.

I have 5 dogs in the kennels at the moment, and I would train 7-8 a year.

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I do a lot of research before breeding. I would research the genetics and pedigree of the dog and look for traits in the bloodline such as power, balance, stamina and that the relations are successful on the trial field.

I never breed from a dog that does not meet my high standards because I want to produce excellent dogs for the trial field and farm work.

Training sheepdogs

It really depends on the dog, but it can take anywhere from a year to train a dog, and I would still be making adjustments with my dogs, even the experienced ones.

I would socialise pups when they are young and take them with me around the farm and house just to get them used to people and the day-to-day activities on the farm.

I then put basic obedience commands, and finally, I would introduce them to sheep only for a few minutes to keep them keen.

I would say do not put too much pressure on a young dog and don’t expect it all to happen overnight. It takes time and patience.

I would recommend the book H Glyn Jones, A Way Of Life. Someone told me to get it, and it helped me.


I sell dogs throughout the year at auctions such as Blessington Mart and Dolgellau Wales, online and privately.

A sheepdog is a valuable asset on the farm. The dogs I have can work from 900 yards away from me.

Every morning I clean out the kennels and bring the dogs for a quick walk and do whatever work that I need to do on the farm.

Then, I am off to school for the day, and when I am back home, I start training the dogs. It is sort of a routine for me now.

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Future of farming 

The future of farming is uncertain for sure but however, with the population rising in numbers, there should hopefully be a steady demand for our products.

I think if we can reduce the amount of fertiliser we buy in and use alternatives such as slurry and FYM, the farmer is left with more profit, and the soil gains valuable nutrients.

It is a win-win situation, and the soil structure is also improved.”

To share your story, email Dereen Sheepdogs – [email protected]

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