I recently had the privilege of photographing and filming Kelpies working with Merino sheep the invitation came from Peter and Terrie L’Estrange, they are the owners of a station on the outskirts of Condobolin Central NSW called Belswick Merino Stud. I believe they have around 7000 acres running mainly Merino sheep including prize animals that are regularly shown at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney .
The Merino is of course the sheep that gave Australia its place in history as the leading wool producing country in the world. Wool production of Australia accounts for approximately 30% of world production.The Merino originally from central Spain (Castille). Its wool was highly valued even in the Middle Ages.
The fine micron quality of Merino wool gives this commodity its reputation as the highest quality of all wools.
Merino sheep introduced into Australia from Spain in the late 1700s and developed by Captain Macarthur in the early 1800s into the valuable commodity it has now become for Australia. The production of Merino wool adds some Aust $2 billion annually to the Australian GDP. From the 1800s it was generally accepted that Australia rides home on the Merino’s back. The droving and organising of the sheep has always been a hands on exercise however those hands do have assistants – the Kelpies.
Although different breeds of dogs work with sheep it is generally Kelpies that the the Australian stations use. These dogs tend to have great personalities and have an inbred desire to work and to organise.
The Kelpie tends to be a one man dog and is great with children if brought up in an environment with them. A good working dog is prized and can change hands for anything up to $30,000 Australian Dollars and as one station owner pointed out is worth 2 men. Watching the two drovers working with the dogs moving some 100 sheep around was an incredible experience. The handlers shouted orders to the dogs more or less indicating to them where they wanted the sheep to be directed. The dogs quickly respond to signals even to a glance. To see a sheep cut from the group and the speed of the dogs forcing the sheep to rejoin its mates gives an insight into how intelligent these animals are.
The Australian Kelpie is the most popular of working dogs and their agility gives them the ability to move around tightly packed sheep, see the dog in the photograph clearing the sheep by jumping them. They are workaholics easily trained herding is in their nature.
The workaholic nature and energy of this breed can be demonstrated by the image of the Station hand hosing the dogs down following an intensive working session. The dogs actually seek the cooling hosing when work is finished.
Boredom is the Kelpie’s worst enemy they are working dogs.
When travelling in Peter L’Estrange’s 4×4 one of the dogs Lucy sat between us. This particular dog is as pointed out the house dog and rarely leaves Peter’s side however she still needs to work and knows when he is preparing to move the sheep and more or less demands participation. She can be seen travelling on the back of Peter’s quad bike waiting for one of the flock to make a false move.
Photographer: Shane Aurousseau