A NEW world record price for a working sheep dog bitch of 14,000gns (£14,700) was the highlight of the opening fixture of 2019 at Skipton mart.

It fell to Northumberland shepherdess Emma Gray, 33, and her two-year-old tri-coloured bitch Brenna.

Emma, who farms on the remote National Trust-owned Fallowlees Farm at Harwood Forest, Morpeth, only narrowly failed to match the all-time world record high price of 14,100 guineas. established at Skipton in May, 2016, by Northern Ireland’s Padraig Doherty, of County Donegal.

Brenna, already a multiple nursery trials winner, is a daughter of legendary Welsh trialist Aled Owen’s Welsh National and International Supreme Champion, Llangwm Cap.

Brenna, whose dam is Aeron Flos, bred by Mr Owen’s nephew Arwel Jones in nearby Llangwm, had attracted tremendous pre-sale interest, both from at home and overseas. On sale day, bidding opened at 3,000gns, with several telephone bidders from the United States fiercely competing.

She is now bound for America after being bought by Dr Pamela Helton, who farms in Maryland and has a flock of 60 head of Swedish Gotland sheep. She also runs dogs in United States Border Collie Handlers Association (USBCHA) trials in the eastern and mid-western US.

“I already have many plans for Brenna. She is slated to be my farm and primary trial dog and I am strongly considering importing her in whelp (pregnant) to the US. A potential sire is under consideration,” said Dr Helton.

Emma, who operates under the Graylees prefix, was selling a fully broken dog for the first time at Skipton. Brenna was sold on condition that she could compete two days later in the English Nursery Final at Hutton in the Forest in Cumbria. Although Brenna put in a good run she didn’t finish in the top ten, though Emma did become English Nursery Champion with another of her dogs, Telf Joff.

After her world record price, Emma, who has a 400-strong flock of North of England Mule sheep, and commercial suckler cattle herd of Whitebred Shorthorn Blue-Greys and Galloways, said: “I am over the moon, absolutely delighted.”

She began working with dogs at the age of 13 and later became the first woman to win the Northumberland Sheepdog Trials League in its 40-year history.

She was also English Nursery Champion and Reserve National Champion with another dog, Tweeddale Jamie, a son of Littledale-based Ricky Hutchinson's International reserve supreme champion, Sweep, with whom Emma also represented the English team that won gold in the International Sheep Dog Society’s (ISDS) 2017 World Sheep Dog Trials in the Netherlands.

She took over the 150-acre Fallowlees Farm aged just 23, becoming the UK’s youngest solo shepherdess and hit the headlines in 2012 when she penned a memoir of her solitary life with no neighbours for miles around, called One Girl and Her Dog.

Dubbed Britain’s loneliest shepherdess, the story had a happy ending when Emma last September in Kelso married local fireman Ewan Irvine.

As well as making the national press, Emma has since featured on national television in the BBC’s Countryfile, ITV’s Flockstars, Robson Green’s Tales from Northumberland and the Alan Titchmarsh Show.

The couple are now expecting their first baby.

Other prices achieved included 7,000gns by Wharfedale’s Mark Shields, of Timble, near Otley, with his April, 2017, black and white dog, Lad, by County Antrim breeder Brendan McAllister’s highly regarded Spot. Lad found a new home in Ireland with a well-known sheep dog trialist, who asked not to be named.

County Antrim’s Michael McAlister, a former jump jockey made 3,800gns with his two year-old black and white dog, Sam, when bought by NC Cutter, of Great Ayton.

Jean Howes, of Wolsingham, in Weardale, made 3,700gns with her tri-coloured and mottled bitch, Pandy Dotti, a July, 2017, daughter of Netherlands-based former World Sheep Dog Trials champion Serge van der Sweep’s Gary. Out of MJ McNaught’s Ben. Dotti joined Hexham’s David Robinson.

Local breeder Carol Mellin, of Oakworth, claimed 3,600gns with her three-year-old black and white dog, Moor Lodge Scott. The home-bred son of Moor Lodge Mirk, who has been placed in nurseries, went to SG&LM Whalley, of Chorley.

The opening winter sale attracted another solid entry of 137 dogs, of which 87 found new homes.

Prices and averages: Broken dogs – 30 registered dogs from 400gns to 3,800gns (av £2,090); 1 unregistered dog 650gns; 22 registered bitches from 450gns to 14,000gns (av £3,223); 3 unregistered bitches from 1,000gns to 1,250gns (av £1,117). Part/unbroken dogs – 15 registered dogs from 250gns to 600gns (£361); 2 unregistered dogs to 300gns; 14 registered bitches from 200gns to 1,100gns (av £665).

Future seasonal working sheep dog sales at Skipton take place on May 17, July 5 and October 25.