Rachel's working day revolves around sheep, dogs and the West Cumbrian countryside
Last updated at 09:54, Friday, 09 March 2012
HER flame-red hair flashing in the sun, Rachel Scrimgeour sets off across a field with dog Biddy darting left and right as she whistles commands.
With a finesse and confidence that belies her 21 years, Rachel brings the sheep round on the tenanted family hill farm in the shadow of Blencathra.
“It’s a stick and dog farm really, and there’s a lot of hill work so the dogs need to be clever,” she says.
“It is rough ground and most of it you have to walk; you can’t get away with quad bikes here.”
As the winter sun dips behind a fell, we retreat to the cosy kitchen at Lonscale Farm to find dad Derek at the head of the table and mum Helen rattling cups off their hooks.
It’s teatime and family pets clatter through the cat flap.
“I’m in training to take over the farm so hopefully, one day, I’ll be the boss,” says Rachel, making Derek crease into a smile.
He is an English trialling champion with an international reputation for breeding sheepdogs for enthusiasts across the world.
Rachel’s older brothers left years ago – one to make ice-cream and the other to become a chef.
“They both helped a lot on the farm, but didn’t want it as a career,” explains Derek.
“I do this because I love it and I want my family to do what they love.”
Rachel is building a business to sustain her and perhaps future generations on this 1,500-acre holding near Threlkeld.
“I went self-employed four months ago,” she says. “I have always been involved with the dogs, and now I am helping to make decisions about what dogs we breed together.
“I designed our website and do all the marketing, speaking to buyers all over the world.
“When I left school I was really shy and didn’t like speaking to people over the phone, but I made myself do it. Now I’m a harder business negotiator than my dad.
“Dad will give me a price sometimes, but I deal with the customers, arrange all the vet work and book the planes.”
Rachel did not have to wrestle the reins of the business; Derek happily handed them over.
“She buys the dogs from me and does all the marketing,” he says. “I just run the farm and breed quality dogs.
“I am much more intuitive in the way I make decisions and Rachel is much more business-like. She makes her own mind up about things. I know I could not tell her what to do but I can give advice.
“She started working for me and it soon became obvious she could make it work herself.”
Killiebrae Sheepdogs sells around 100 dogs a year, most of them destined for hobby trialists in Japan, Australia, Norway, Finland and America. Language is not a problem as most triallers use English to command the dogs.
The newest arrival, Kate, was not home bred. Rachel bought the 19-month-old bitch for 2,000 guineas at Skipton Auction Mart last month to introduce a new bloodline to the kennels.
She hopes one day to run Kate at national trials.
Derek and Rachel often buy partially trained dogs to breed from once and then sell on fully trained.
It is a big task matching a dog to the right owner, which is why part-trained dogs appear on the market so often.
“We’ll often get several people interested in one dog,” says Rachel. “Often the type of dog a person wants is not one that would suit them.
“If there is a dog that is really nice to watch, it’s just the sort of dog everyone thinks they want. But they might be sensitive and someone who has a loud voice would not work. Even strong body language can upset some dogs.”
Rachel harbours plans to build a wooden lodge near the family home, and says her choice not to go to university means she is making money rather than getting into debt. “Everyone goes to university, but I figured that I was already doing what I wanted to do,” she adds.
Derek can’t conceal his pride as he adds: “She’s learning so many people and business skills. It’s as good, if not better, than being at university.”
First published at 19:22, Thursday, 08 March 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk