Border Springs Farm
Craig Rogers runs 400-ewe Border Springs Farm in Virginia. His dogs have won national honors.
The National Sheepdog Trials Finals will be held in September in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and offer viewers telling glimpses of these swift, gentle, complex, difficult dogs.
Lambs grow best where it's cool. This simple truth of animal husbandry explains why you'll see so many large and small sheep flocks up and down the Blue Ridge, why border collies (aka sheepdogs) are common on farms and why there are dozens of sheepdog trials from Maryland to Georgia.
The annual trial circuit begins outside Gordonsville Va., in cold, cold January, swings down to Carnesville, Ga., then to Murfreesboro Tenn., north to Turbotville Pa., south to Rustburg, Va., and concludes in the fall with trials in Highland County, James Madison's Montpelier, Gordonsville and Lexington, all in Virginia. (Trials are listed at usbcha.com/upcomingtrials.htm).
This year's National Sheepdog Trials Finals will be held September 18-26 at historic Belle Grove Plantation, a few miles from the intersection of I-66 and I-81 outside Middletown, Va. Hundreds of brilliant dogs from the United States and Canada will compete for the North American Championship in the most difficult test of human/dog communication ever devised (nationalsheepdogfinals.com).
The sheepdog trial was devised to test and improve the abilities of "the shepherd's dog," and as a genetic strategy, the trial has been remarkably successful. Working sheepdogs on modern farms and ranches may never have been to a trial themselves, but they owe their trainability, athleticism and stock savvy to ancestors who performed well at sheepdog trials. These complex, difficult, gentle and beautiful dogs are part of hundreds of trials every year in every state. The Finals is the sheepdog championship: the biggest and most difficult trial of all.
Although some of their dogs may have been born where "lie down" is pronounced "la doon," Blue Ridge sheepdoggers don't resemble the craggy British shepherds who created these dogs.
Craig Rogers of Patrick Springs, Va., holds a engineering doctorate and has had academic posts but nowadays spends his time rearing and merchandising (certified) humanely reared lamb to the finest chefs in the southeast. Rogers' Border Springs farm is in the shadow of the Blue Ridge outside Patrick Springs, Va. borderspringsfarm.com.
Border Springs lamb is featured on menus at The Inn at Little Washington and The Hotel Roanoke, both in Virginia, and at Charleston, S.C.'s famous McCrady's. Rogers' humanely reared lamb is particularly luscious on the dinner plate.
When he can get away from his 400-ewe flock, Rogers trials Luke and Celt, and will judge the Labor Day Highland Trial. His dogs have won national honors but his happiest trial recollection is a tie. His Brit disappeared at a 2008 Canadian trial. Lost? Stolen? Lying in a ditch somewhere? Rogers spent the night looking for her. "I dreaded calling Joan" (his wife). Twenty-four hours later Rogers found Brit, and the next day, Rogers and Brit tied for the Canadian Championship.
BARBARA RAY RUNS 60 cattle and 450 sheep on her family farm outside Millboro Springs, Va. Big Bend Farm (bigbendfarm.com) was founded in 1926 by Ray's grandfather as a hunting estate; and his original log lodge with its broad, expansive views and walk-in fireplace is available for groups or romantic couples seeking an utterly private retreat where the loudest sound is birdsongs and entertainment is the fat stars at night.
Barbara Ray is a nationally ranked sheepdogger who won Utah's Solider Hollow trial and the Nursery Finals (young sheepdogs) in 1997 and 2001. She has trained hundreds of goosedogs who – working for kibble and an occasional pat – keep putting greens and office parks free of geese (and goose residue) all over the country.
Ray's Brit, Jobe and Queen are already qualified for this year's Nationals. Since Ray is co-chair of the host committee, she'll have her hands full.
Visitors are welcome at every sheepdog trial and the Finals will have dog and sheep demos to keep the youngsters entertained.
Sharp and swift, gentle sheepdogs are a way of life – and sport – in our mountain pastures.