Cobber Stories

An investment for life

26 June 2018

Rosalea Ryan

Dog owners often claim their best friends are worth their weight in gold.

That might be a slight of overstatement, given recent highs in the precious metal’s trading price, but it’s certainly no exaggeration to say that a good working dog is a serious – and much-loved – investment for the average Aussie farm.

When the Casterton Kelpie Association held its annual working dog auction as part of the Australian Kelpie Muster on the Queen’s Birthday weekend, among those listed in the catalogue were two well-bred youngsters with close Cobber Challenge connections.

Casterton is recognised as the traditional home of the Kelpie, an Australian breed descended from Scotch Collies, brought to the new colony of Victoria in the 1800s by Scottish settlers who traditionally used them for herding sheep. The Kelpie is said to have evolved through one particular female, a black-and-tan pup with a medium-length coat born on ‘Warrock’, the property of George Robertson near Casterton, in about 1870. This lovely lassie quickly threw off her Highland heritage to became known as ‘Gleeson’s Kelpie’.

Her grandpups, in turn, were called simply ‘Kelpies’.

Careful line breeding (mating two genetically related dogs with the aim of intensifying desirable traits) led to the stabilisation of the new Kelpie characteristics and, eventually, the recognition of Australia’s Kelpie as an official dog breed. Almost 150 years later the Kelpie is one of the country’s two main working dogs, alongside the Border Collie. With an innate drive to herd livestock, the two are used interchangeably with cattle, sheep and, sometimes, goats.

At Casterton in June, more than 60 individuals from some of Australia’s most prestigious working dog families strutted their stuff in front of potential new masters and mistresses before the bids started flying. The public putting-through-of-paces allowed each dog’s trainer to show off its skills as a potential farmhand.

Sarah Richards, the human half of the Barrabool team that competed in the 2017 Cobber Challenge, and 2016 competitor and fellow Victorian, Damien Clifford, Myamba, Worndoo, were among breeders with young dogs ‘seeking new opportunities’ via the Casterton auction.

At 2.5 years of age, Nerremen John is a son of Sarah’s entry in last year’s Challenge, Futura Mate. While Mate is a bit of a novelty among working dogs in liking to sleep indoors and perform tricks on request, John, on the other hand, is a typical farm-dog-in-the-making, equally at home in stockyards, sheds and open paddocks.

Damien’s dog, Myamba Marvin, is an eight-month-old half-brother to the 2016 Cobber Challenge winner, Myamba Larry.

While neither John nor Marvin drew the top price – a national Kelpie record of $22,200, paid for a two-year-old male from Waterloo – they did command four figures, changing hands for $1500 each.

Perhaps these or other young Kelpies traded at Casterton will go on to make their mark on the Cobber Challenge in years to come.

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