Top dog not sheepish about herding

Tess comes from Idaho to win sheepdog trial in Camas

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor



Did you know ?

The Johnston family has owned their Camas spread since 1890. It became a dairy farm in the 1920s.

Today, the 260-acre Johnston Dairy Farm has 350 cows. The herd produces 3,000 gallons of milk a day, which is sold to Andersen Dairy in Battle Ground.

In 1998, the dairy received an award from the state Department of Ecology for outstanding manure-handling practices.

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Lacamas Valley Sheep Dog Trials

CAMAS — Sweltering from herding 20 lambs in Sunday’s 85-degree heat, 8-year-old Tess took refuge in the tub of water on the sheepdog trial course.

Thirty-five seconds later, the border collie was up and working with handler Lavon Calzacorta to complete the complex task of getting the lambs through gates and herding the red-collared five into the final pen.

“She had control of the sheep and enough push to get the job done and enough kindness to get the job done,” Calzacorta, of Wilder, Idaho, said. And because of those skills, Tess was named champion of the Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trial, besting some 90 open-class dogs at the Johnston Dairy Farm in Camas. Sunday’s action featured the top 12 dog-handler teams, but 180 competed, in all classes, over the four-day event.

The competition brought handlers from six states and Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.

More than 1,000 people watched Sunday’s finals, many protected from the sun under a huge tent. Others perched on bales of hay in the bold sunlight.

This was the seventh trial at the property of Lynn and Alison Johnston. They have two border collies, Anna, 7, and Jesse, 4. Jesse just missed being in Sunday’s finals, finishing 13th.

In the finals, dogs and handlers work two groups of 10 sheep through three sets of gates, getting all 20 into a shedding ring. Then the challenge is to get the five lambs with red collars away from the 15 without collars and into a pen. At each challenge, the crowd whooped it up for Tess.

Lynn Johnston said his trial is just one of dozens across America. He said many who competed at his place will be invited to the U.S. national sheepdog trial in Carbondale, Colo., during the third week in September. Tess and Calzacorta will be there; the team finished fourth in the nationals in 2009.

Calzacorta said it can be an expensive sport. He pulled his trailer from his home near Boise. There were two dozen trailers on part of the Johnston land.

About 100 acres of the Johnstons’ land was used for the trials. He said the dogs had to bring in lambs from as far as 525 yards away. The flock of 500 lambs, all about 11 months old, came from the Reed Anderson commercial sheep operation in Brownsville, Ore.

Johnston said many visitors told him, “The dogs are remarkable and the venue is beautiful.”

He said it takes a good four years to train a dog for open competition. “I spend six hours a week training my dogs,” he said.

Handlers communicate with their dogs by whistle and voice commands such as “walk up,” come by” and “that’ll do.”

Jacoby Wiege, 14, of Vancouver was at his first competition with his border collie Skye, 9. He won a second-place award on Saturday by working with Skye to bring four sheep into a pen. He said Skye did, “really, really good.”

Not every dog can be a winner and trainer Terri Pelkey of Poway, Calif, said the Sunday heat was tough on her border collie Dash, 5. “He struggled,” she said of Dash, who could not finish the course on Sunday in the required 28 minutes. “I’m a little bit concerned about him,” she said, as the dog cooled in a water tub. “They don’t sweat. He gave me everything he could and more.”

Visitors seemed enthralled by the competition.

“I think it’s really interesting how the dogs work with the handler and the sheep,” said John Vallery, 71, of Forest Grove, Ore., He was under an umbrella with his wife, Shirley, 71.

“It’s very enjoyable,” Shirley said of the setting and the competition. “We’re just amazed because these dogs mind and ours doesn’t.”

Yep, they have a border collie mix, Lacey, a 9-year-old.

Alison Johnston said the sheepdog trials will be back again next year on the third weekend in August at the Johnston spread.