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Arable farmers need machinery – a livestock farmer needs a good dog

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 12, 2013

Farmer Jed Watson with Jake, all set for the English National Sheep Dog Trials at Castle Hill next week Picture: Richard Austin

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Dartmoor farmer Jed Watson is one of England's most successful sheepdog trialists.

Now he is preparing to fight for top honours with his dogs Mirk (aged seven) and Jake (aged five) at the English National Sheep Dog Trials at Castle Hill near South Molton on July 19-21.

"They call us the stick-and-dog farmers because this is really how we go about our business," said Jed, who farms at Postbridge, near Princetown. "Arable farmers need tractors and machinery, but a livestock farmer needs a good dog."

Jed trains his dogs in a small paddock and only takes his older dogs out to work on his 500-acre farm. It takes about two-and-a-half years to train a working dog and, having started over 40 years ago as a young boy, he has plenty of experience.

"I don't take young dogs onto the moors. They don't have enough depth to cope with the sheep. The last thing you want is a young dog going wrong when leading a flock off the hill. They can't cope with the terrain and sheep know every nook and cranny," he explained.

Jed was born and bred on the moors. "Winters are long and severe and the summers are very short, though September is a lovely month," he added.

For Jed and his dogs the day starts early as he puts in training before starting working with the livestock.

He added: "The standard in competition is so high these days. With dogs we can only bring out the intelligence they already have and hope they can hold their form week in, week out."

Jed's remarkable dogs are able to think for themselves. Once, at a big charity trial his dog was fetching sheep from a field in the bottom of a deep valley.

"I didn't realise two had split off from the bunch but the dog picked them up again and put them with the other three," he said. "All I saw was the five sheep come over the brow of the hill like they should."

Jed is joining the country's top 150 handlers who are getting ready to decide who will become the National Champion and go on to captain a team of 15 in the International Trials held in September. In addition to the sheepdog competitions there will be a country fair with a programme of traditional entertainment, local food, handicrafts and the venue's gardens.

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