It is a dog’s life and good as it gets
KEN Sykes has been everything from a country cop to a resort manager, but one constant throughout most of his life has been his beloved border collies.
From their 32 hectare Clifton block, Ken and wife Veronica operate Haig Border Collie stud and run 300 sheep and lambs, predominantly dorpers.
Ken said they established their border collie stud 30 years ago, while managing a group of properties for a Sydney wool firm, east of Tamworth in the 1980s.
"I've had this line of border collies for the past 30 years. I started with the breed as we ran primarily merino and cross bred sheep, as well as cashmere goats and the largest angora goat stud in the world at the time," Ken said.
"The country was very rugged, and the border collies were good in the mountains, as it was too steep for bikes or horses," he said.
Ken said he purchased his first dog from a well-known breeder in the New England.
"He was a chap named Hombsch, and he used to import his dogs from England. I bought two bitches and a dog from him to start my stud," he said.
Today, Ken has nine dogs in his stud, bred for his own use.
"I don't sell them. They are for pure pleasure," he said.
"I breed a litter every two or three years for myself, and family and friends."
Goats have taken me all over the world, including South Africa, Bangladesh and New Zealand, mainly speaking on goat husbandry and meat goats.
In the last three or four years, Ken has been competing in sheep dog trials and going reasonably well.
"I wanted to do something that both my dogs and I enjoy. I like to see how my station bred dogs compare with the super dogs," he said.
"I've learnt a tremendous lot from watching the experienced triallers, and I've picked up a few minor placings.
"I won an encourage trial in Roma last year, and that's my best result ever."
Ken competes with his four-year-old dog Haig Joshua, and two-year-old bitch, Haig Willow.
"Josh is just coming into his best. Willow is just starting out and has had only two trials," he said.
After finishing at Tamworth, Ken and Veronica were managers of rural recreation resort Little Hartley in the New South Wales Blue Mountains, where horses were a
large part of the daily routine.
"The resort had about 80 horses, and horses had been a big part of my life," he said.
Ken showed and bred appaloosas and quarter horses for close to 20 years, and travelled the show circuit during the late 1970s and 80s, picking up a few national champion ribbons during that time.
"We also had the first registered appaloosa to place on a registered racetrack. That horse was Tacos Old Gold and she placed third at Wandoan in 1979," he said.
Ken also owned a small property in the Stanthorpe area for eight years, running poll dorset sheep, again utilising his border collies on the property.
He also managed a property in the Traprock country, west of Warwick for six years.
"I had sheep and goats again, and the dogs performed very well in that country," Ken said.
Before marrying Veronica, in the early 1970s, Ken also owned property in the Miles area, and wondered what livestock could be run on that type of country.
"That's where I first got into angora goats, well before the angora boom," he said.
"Goats have taken me all over the world, including South Africa, Bangladesh and New Zealand, mainly speaking on goat husbandry and meat goats.
"I still keep a few goats at home for my dogs to work. It gives them variety."
Ken also spent 13 years in the police force, working at Miles, and for the stock squad at Quilpie.
"Veronica was making far more money on the farm than I was making as a policeman, and with far less stress, so I got out," he said.
When asked what he hasn't tried, Ken replies that the only advantage of being old, is that you've had time to do a lot of things.
"My plan is to retire in a few years and get serious about dog trialling," Ken said.
"Different people go into dog trialling for different reasons.
"It is very competitive, but also very relaxing, and I just want to have fun with my dogs and if I win along the way, well that's a bonus."
A full sister to Josh, Haig Pippa is one of Ken's dogs he feels has the most promise as a trial dog.
"She's by far the best dog working at home, but tends to get a bit excited at trials. I'm hoping with maturity she will settle down," he said.
Ken plans to attend sheep dog trials at Millmerran, Roma, Kalbar and Karara this year, with the trialling season coinciding with the show circuit.
"I'm told the southern Queensland trialling circuit is the most competitive in Australia, as we have quite a few of the top sheep dog triallers on the south east Downs and Granite Belt," he said.
"At most local trials, you have a least 10 top triallers. It is very competitive."
Ken believes Kelpies and Border Collies are equally as good around sheep, but each with different traits.
"For finesse in the trial ring though, I don't possess the skills as a trialler to get the best out of a Kelpie," he said.
"I'll definitely stick with my border collies."