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Beardies Fill the Bill

by Jeremy Hunt

This article was published in "Farmers Weekly" (Issue Unknown).
Permission to reproduce the image and retype the article has
been granted by David Cousins of Farmers Weekly. Malcolm
Ewart agreed for this article to be presented here; he believes
it was printed around 1986 to 1988. The image that
accompanied this piece is placed below the retyped article.

WORKING dogs are a vital part of any Cumbrian sheep farmer's way of life but at the appropriately named Barkbeth Farm near Bassenthwaite Lake home of the Ewart family there are working dogs with a difference.

While most who work with sheep extol the virtues of the Border Collie there are still those whose stand by a much lesser known herder of sheep the Bearded Collie.

Malcolm Ewart and his father Tom, who run Barkbeth Farm with grazing stints rising to 3000 feet on famous Skiddaw, are among a handful of farmers south of the Scottish border who prefer the long-coated "Beardie".

Although the future of the charming breed is now secure, there was a time in the late 1900s when it nearly became extinct. Several attempts to establish a breed club before the war were unsuccessful but a resurgence of interest from dog show circles saw the breed emerge again with Kennel Club recognition in the mid 1950s.

Luckily the breed's future is now assured but two types have emerged. The Bearded Collie has a huge show ring following and strains bred for beauty and profuse coat are well established.

But the dogs that herd the 1000 Blackface type ewes at Barkbeth Farm, and their many cousins whose shaggy appearance is a common sight on many Scottish hill farms, are a far cry from those that take show ring titles.

While there is a great beauty and grace in watching the show-bred Beardie almost glide along with its effortless gait and distinctive action, there is just as much to admire in the enthusiasm and skill of the rough 'n' ready working Bearded Collie.

Malcolm Ewart first became interested in the breed some 15 years ago. He needed a new dog at that time and having always "just fancied a Beardie" decided to try one. In fact, he tried two.

Not surprisingly both came from Scotland; one sent down unaccompanied on the train in the days when British Rail handled a fair bit of dog business.

These two produced a litter and so Barkbeth's long association with the breed began. Several litters have followed and now there are four Beardies on the farm all tracing back to the original parents.

Beardies are not silent workers and don't behave in the same way with sheep as do Border Collies. A Beardie will hunt and bark or "give tongue" when it finds its sheep which for hill shepherding has the desired effect of causing ewes to herd together and in lambing time to "mother-up" families.

"They are a great breed and suit us down to the ground. They're faithful and biddable and never fail you. They will keep going forever, show tremendous intelligence and determination. These are the sort of qualities we need in a dog to work on these high Lakeland fells," says Malcolm Ewart.

Selling pups is never a problem for Malcolm, in fact there is usually a waiting list. The main problem can be finding a suitable stud dog that doesn't involve a round trip of several hundred miles into the Scottish Highlands.

The shaggy coats provide a harsh, weatherproof jacket to keep out the worst of the wind and rain, though snow can be a problem sometimes as it tend to "ball-up" on the thickly-haired pads. June usually sees the most heavily coated dogs at Barkbeth on the receiving end of the sheep shears for a cool-off.

Although the Ewarts also have a couple of Border Collies, they are now firm devotees of the Beardie.

Says Malcolm: "They seem to last forever and never stop wanting to work and are just as keen as pups. In fact, I reckon they can work as soon as they can walk."

The Beardie is not a silent worker, says Malcolm Ewart. It "gives tongue" when it finds its sheep.


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