Nancy Barker’s Agassiz home seems a little small for herding sheep. But that’s exactly what her four dogs love to do — and what she’s planning to showcase at the Agassiz Fall Fair this year.
“It’s a sport that takes years and years to master,” Barker said, sitting on her back porch as her border collies Gwen (7), Cap (4), Chip (1.5) and Australian shepherd Billie Dawn (13) lounged around her.
“I’m still very much a novice at the sport.”
The sport comes from a long tradition of farmers and dogs working together to move herds of cattle, sheep and other stock through pasture.
Barker began her foray into herding when she got Billie Dawn 12 years ago. Then, she was living on acreage in Ryder Lake and began working with Billie Dawn to move sheep around her property. Over the years, she’s travelled around the world to compete with her dogs in stock dog competitions.
In 2014, Barker took Gwen — her first border collie — to Scotland for three weeks to watch the World Sheepdog Championships with a friend who was competing.
“We took the dogs and flew them over, and we worked sheep in the hills for three weeks,” Barker remembered. “It was amazing. It’s really a beautiful sport to watch, the dogs and the sheep.”
Barker is hoping to bring some of that beauty, as well as the importance of using dogs to move stock, to the Agassiz Fall Fair in her two stock dog demonstrations, taking place at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“I’d like for people to recognize how beneficial it is to have a working dog to move your stock in a humane, calm manner,” she said.
“Hopefully it will be calm,” she added. “The baseball diamond is a little small for us.”
Barker will be bringing her three border collies — Billie Dawn is retired from herding now — as well as her sheep from their home in Yarrow, to showcase how different dogs work with the herd.
“Gwen is an incredibly intense dog,” Barker explained. “She has the ability to move pretty much anything. She has the ability to read her stock really well.”
Part of that, Barker said, is because of the intensity in Gwen’s gaze, making her what’s known as a “strong-eyed dog.”
Sometimes, that strong eye can build tension in the herd, something that Barker has to help defuse as she is working with Gwen.
Cap, on the other hand, is a looser-eyed dog.
“He doesn’t get as connected into his stock,” she said. “So he moves off a little bit more freely, and the stock like that.
“But when it comes to an ewe or a cow that will challenge him, they will respect her more than him.”
Chip, although only a year and a half, has the potential to be the best of both dogs: one who has a good connection with the stock without building up tension in his herd.
Of course, it will be a long time before that’s realized. It takes many years to train a stock dog, and Chip’s only still a pup.
In the meantime, Barker will be out showcasing her dogs’ talents at the Fall Fair this weekend. Although she worked her Australian shepherds at the Chilliwack Fair once many years ago, this will be the first time she’s bringing her dogs to Agassiz for a display.
“Who knows what could happen,” she said, laughing.
“I’m hoping it will all go well.”