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to the "Timeline" page. In the article below, the word
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Beardies: 'For the hill and nothing else'
by Matt Mundell
This article was published in The
Scottish Farmer, December 16, 1972
on page 29. It appeared in a section entitled "Matt's Crack: Dogs with
Permission to reproduce has been granted by
Deputy Editor The Scottish Farmer, 200 Renfield St, Glasgow G2 3PR.
This article remains under copyright. Do not reproduce
without obtaining written permission from this magazine.
IF THE SNOW comes soon — as some folks with "the
sight" say it will — and it reaches to the moss-hags of Duneaton Water,
Tom Muirhead may have to oil the dogs' legs.
It's not that he needs extra pace out of them for
the hill work on the Dumfries - Lanark boundary march, or in the moss on
the below side of the road which splits his 22,000-acre Blackface walk.
But beardies can soon get clagged up in fresh
falling snow, so the clippers at the legs and a drop of oil can solve
You won't see anything but beardies on Tom's hill
at Birkcleugh, near Crawfordjohn, a run carrying 31 score. Bonny ones,
too. One of the brawest sights in the quiet water is the line-up of
shaggy-coated workers — grey Nap, the black and tan Meg, brown Fly,
black and tan Sally and grey, white and tan Gyle — at the back of the
homestead. No wonder some of the locals call it 'beardie line".
They are not only braw. They wouldn't be there
unless they had attributes more valuable than their looks. They are all
everyday collies with a big work programme. "My dogs are just for the
hill and nothing else" says Tom, who has 'herded Birkcleugh for 17
The beardies have shepherded Tom's hefts for about
half that time, since the day that Tom took a fancy to the breed after
seeing work nearby by Skye man Lachie McDonald. From Lachie he got Nan,
now semi-retired at Birkclough; enjoying the comforts of a house-collie,
but still fit enough says Tom for a lambing.
"They're grand hill dogs," he says. "I prefer them
to the other ones any day. They have style and yet they are on their
feet all the time. They have power without opening their mouth. On a big
drove they will be hard to beat. I don't think there is any better than
the Nap dog for folding in the sides of a drove — they don't let the
sheep get too sair spread.
"I think they can go longer than the other ones, at
least the majority of them. They are hardier and won't give in. I've
never seen Nap beaten. I've seen him walking but not beaten. They are
good out-runners. They might not be just as quick at getting out but
they will certainly go out and they are steady and canny to work.
"At lambing time I can drive a single beast with no
bother. You can let them away and once they are round sheep you can
forget them. I've seen me putting Meg away round sheep and then gone on
to another heft, leaving her and knowing she'll bring on the first lot."
Tom, who says he "has no notion at all for trials,"
added: "There is none of this crawling and dourness at lifting although
they will creep if I want them to. They are good shedders too."
Tom usually takes three of the beardies to the hill
in the morning and two at night. At lambing time — he tackles this
himself — it could be two each time with the rest going with him in the
middle of the day.
He has trained them all himself. "Once you get them
to stop and come back you are three quarters of the road with them. Most
of them maybe turn a year old before they get right away so they are a
bit slower to start than the others. I've seen me maybe getting three
quarters of the way breaking one and then it seems to stick there for a
while. You have to wait for them then before they come away again. I
just take them to the hill every day as soon as they are able to get
But before that, Tom thinks it is beneficial having
them run about in the house among the family "until they are too
mischievous and then they go out." Then it's possible they will start
weiring the ducks.
Part of the training usually includes teaching them
to bark, not on the hill so much, but at the buchts. There could be a
time on the hill if sheep were dour that I might put them on the bark.
Sheep would shift quicker to a bark than if the dog was laid on. Usually
when I start them in the buchts I can do it by clapping my hands to
teach them. They could be inclined to do it anyway if they get excited.
If they are in the buchts and they are barking, their mouth is empty —
that's the way I look at it."
The Birkcleugh collies are trained to walk tight at
Tom's feet, for on the lower moss side the Crawfordjohn-Sanquhar road
runs unfenced through his sheep rake. The moss shepherding presents no
problems to the long-coated dogs. "Neither does the heather and it's
just really when the snow is falling that there can be a problem with
the snow clagging. So I sometimes clip a dog's legs and put oil on. But
they are alright once the frost comes on the snow".
"I usually clip them in the Spring anyway. In a
couple of months the coat has grown back again, but they are odd looking
for a while. And sometimes if they get too glaury a brush with a wire
brush solves the problem".
The Nap dog — he's seven years old now and came off
Jim Anderson's Bobby on a Lochhouse, Beattock beardie bitch — has been
known to go down to the Duneaton Water in the summer time to cool down.
The two-year-old Sally is a get of Nap on the five-year-old black and
white Meg bitch which came from a dairyman in the Clarkston area.
The other two workers are the brown three-year-old
Fly, which is off Nap and another Lochhouse bitch, and the one-year-old
Gyle, which came from Mungo Baird, and is fitting in well on the
Several of the many beardie pups which have gone
from Birkcleugh have been destined for dairy work including four which
went recently to the U.S. Some of these were off Gyle and Fly, and the
others from a Nap-Meg mating.
It could be that there are few counties in Britain
which have not got a pup from the Crawfordjohn holding. A big number have
gone to Lewis, Shetland, Jura and areas which would be once strongholds
of the breed.
Some have been taken by trials men, but Tom is not
certain what the intentions are there.