Farm of the Week: The Worth Valley mother and son who train some of the best sheepdogs in the north

Worth Valley mother and son Carol and Philip Mellin of Moor Lodge Farm, near Oakworth, were the stars of The Dales TV show over a decade ago with their sheepdog demonstrations at local agricultural shows.

Philip Mellin and his mother Carol are renowned sheepdog triallists

Sheepdog trialling and training remains their combined passion. They are currently secretary and treasurer of the Yorkshire Sheepdog Society, but farming and their livelihood comes first and they now work separately since sharing the farm between them five years ago when Philip was 21.

Carol said that the foresight of their landlord at Walshaw Moor Estate had a huge input into Philip moving forward.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“He realised it would be good for Philip to be independent. I remember Luke Casey who presented Dales Diary on ITV coming here years ago when Philip was very small and telling viewers that he would be running his own farm at 16 years old.”

They now farm separately on the Walshaw Moor Estate

Philip said he had always known he wanted to farm and has always believed in learning from his own mistakes but had been aware from a young age that he would need another income.

“My heart is with the sheep and always has been. I bought my own start-up flock as a teenager and have built it up to 320 mostly Texel cross ewes that start lambing around April 1. It’s the Beltex type lambs that tend to attract a premium and this year I’ve used Beltex cross tups.

“The ewes have scanned at 205 per cent. I’d like to get to a flock of 1,000 breeding ewes and be able to spend all day with them but I need the contracting side that I started with when I was 17.”

Spraying using a quad bike was Philip’s first foray into agricultural contracting which has grown into an array of ‘tackle’ that sees him involved in all kinds of work from grass harvest to muck spreading and bale carting to pasture topping. Philip said he has learned many lessons about providing a service to farmers along the way.

Both own champion sheepdogs

“You’ve got to make sure your pricing is spot on; nobody likes breakdowns of equipment and everybody wants you on the same day. Farmers don’t like having to spend money and want to know they are getting good value.

“I’m the same, but I’ve also learned that I’d rather pay the finance, buy the right equipment and have it in good working order than have something constantly breaking down.”

Philip has 250 acres of in-bye land rented from Walshaw Moor Estate and additional land rented elsewhere. He is always on the lookout for more. He buys shearlings to add to his lambing flock from Skipton livestock market in September and said that he usually sells all his spring-born lambs fat in December and January, but that he made a decision to sell his last 50 as stores last year before the Brexit deal was done.

“I had a premonition of wagons stacked up at the border and since a lot of lambs from this area are normally traded in Europe I thought there may be a downturn. They still made a decent price for me, but the fat lamb price remained high and grew higher.

“What seems to have happened is that a lot of farmers got shot of their stock earlier, which has since led to less fat lambs about; and due to Covid there are also more people cooking at home.”

Carol has 1,700 acres including moorland rights and in-bye rented from the estate. In the past three years she has changed her sheep breed from Swaledales to Herdwicks and she said this year will be the first when she will not have lambed a Swaledale ewe for many years.

“I started my Herdwick flock with 30 that I bought from Broughton livestock market in Cumbria. I lambed them and enjoyed the experience. The Herdwick is such a nice breed, much quieter than the Swaledale, they don’t jump up at you and you don’t get horns in your legs. It is their ease of lambing and management that makes a huge difference. Their lambs very rarely get stuck and not one of mine has had triplets.”

Last autumn Carol bought another 120 two-crop ewes from Peter and Robert Bland of Grasmere at the breed sale in Cockermouth livestock market bringing her flock to just short of 300 ewes and gimmer hoggs with 170 of them grazing on the moorland from May 1 to October. Carol said she is planning on rearing hoggs to shearlings and selling as breeding sheep at local auctions next year.

“My breeding ewes will lamb from April 1, like Philip’s, and have scanned at 155 per cent this year.”

Carol and Philip’s sheepdog demonstrations with geese and ducks were a popular attraction throughout the county’s summer shows and their long-running New Year’s Day sheepdog trials at the farm raised funds for charity. Carol said they were hugely enjoyable but had run their course.

“We finished the demonstrations three years ago. It was time for us to finish and let someone else have a go. We had been doing it for many years, but we are still both very involved with sheepdog trials and have our own sheepdogs.”

Covid restrictions have decimated the past year’s sheepdog trials that sees Yorkshire Sheepdog Society members competing alongside four other societies in the Pennine Inter Club team and individual competitions. Philip’s dog, Spot, is still the second placed Yorkshire sheepdog in the Pennine nursery trials 2020/21 season. Carol said the Yorkshire branch was very much alive and well.

She has bred and trialled dogs for many years and evidence of her outstanding training ability, shepherding and the professionalism of her working sheepdog, Moor Lodge Ben, last week at home in the hills of the Worth Valley is nine minutes of pure magic on her Facebook page. Carol said Ben is extremely adaptable.

“We had three Herdwick escapees and Ben did his job beautifully over a distance of around a quarter of a mile, finishing with them back in the trailer ready to return to where they should have been.”