Two men and their dogs offer unique shepherd experience in west Mayo
By Tom Gillespie
TWO sheepdog fanatics are operating a unique shepherd's experience in west Mayo.
Hill sheep farmer Alan Moran from Newport and Central Andes born Paul Walker offer sheepdog training for dogs of any age at their farm at Deradda, Newport. They also visit schools where they give displays to the students.
Alan Moran is a new generation sheepdog trainer. He grew up around sheepdogs and trained his first dog at 11 years of age.
Paul grew up in the Central Andes, in Chile, raising goats in the mountains, where dogs are still an important tool for farming them.
He said: "I started training my first dogs back in 1994. My dream then was to learn how to train a good sheepdog.
"After a long career with horses I decided to live my dream and came to Ireland. I started buying some dogs and bringing them on and learning from them and many people that have helped me in this journey.
"I am always fascinated about how important sheepdogs are in everyday life in Ireland and how they have been part of the history of humankind. This passion is what I want to share with everyone.
"I first came here to train horses in Laois and then the Irish Wild Goat Society hired me to catch goats in the mountains in Mulranny."
At their base Alan demonstrates skills and methods of working a sheepdog which have been handed down from his ancestors. Shepherds in this region, he said, could not farm these mountains without the help and trust of their dogs.
Alan stated: "We invite the public to connect with nature through observing and experiencing how dogs work together with us. To feel what it is to work a trained dog and how through this we connect with the present and nature.
"We will share an experience of how man adapted to nature, working together with his best friend, to understand that without this adaptation and the border collie it would be impossible to have handled sheep in these mountains as hundreds of generations have done.
"You will meet our dogs, and of course our different breeds of sheep, and gain an understanding of how genetic selection works, how breeding certain traits can develop a companion that will help us in our life.
"We welcome the public to join us for a truly unique and memorable experience for all ages and interests."
The Newport Shepherds are located three kilometres from Newport on the Achill Road (eircode F28 NY10) and the exhibition is signposted on the Wild Atlantic Way (N59). There is ample parking for cars and buses.
The facility is also signposted on the very popular greenway, which runs adjacent to the exhibition centre and offers an enjoyable and interesting activity on a family day out.
Alan added: "We offer sheepdog training from any age up to whatever the standard that the owner would like. Dogs are housed in comfortable kennels and are worked daily. Our methods have proven successful both in the mountain and in the trial field.
"After an assessment of your dog we will offer you the best plan to help you to achieve your dog’s full potential."
Paul added: "We are going now to schools. We bring dogs, sheep and pens and we demonstrate the importance of the dogs in every farm, especially in the mountains of Mayo. We tell them how important it is to have these work dogs.
"We let the sheep out in a small field and the dogs, through team work, bring all the sheep into the pens.
"Many of the children have never touched a sheep or a pup. At the end of the experience we have one dog who works for everybody. We explain the commands either to go left or right and how they have to pronounce the commands and the dog works for them. It is great to see the children connect with the dog.
"For us, sheepdogs are indeed something special - the result of hundreds of years of breeding and selection. Their unique nature is to work, their spirit is to please and help you in your daily farm chores.
"We offer a glimpse of this fantastic world. From a short demonstration suitable for all ages and backgrounds in our accessible paddock to the opportunity to experience the life of a shepherd in Ireland and even train your own dog using our proven methods.
"Dogs have been present in the history of humankind, and their help has been essential in the development of agriculture.
"Border collies were bred in the border between Scotland and England and were selected genetically for their instinct or will to work. Our modern sheepdog is the result of hundreds of years of breeding and selection.
"In the demonstrations we offer a glimpse of this fantastic world. Many say that if there weren’t any sheepdogs our civilisation would still be in its early stages. The hills and mountains around us wouldn’t be farmed without dogs. This is their value.
"We will share with you how the breed was formed, what traits were looked for, the different types, how they are trained, using their own innate sense of ‘balance’ to the sheep.
"You will see dogs in many stages of their training - puppies, started dogs and fully trained dogs.
"We will share with you information about our sheep too. The breeds, the importance of their adaptation to these mountains and much much more.
"We offer the opportunity to experience the life of a shepherd in Ireland. From doing daily chores with our sheep, starting sheepdogs, training them and getting them ready for farm work or the trial field. We can also arrange a circuit of the best trials in the island.
"We can help dog owners to learn how to train your dog, using our own proven methods."
The authentic Shepherd Experience is located at Deradda, Newport. Paul can be contacted on (087) 4402220 and Alan on (085) 1050094.