BARBARA McMAHON visits Megan the world’s most expensive sheepdog

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When she bade farewell to England after just two years to pursue exciting new opportunities in America, her many fans were left reeling.

While some admired the starlet’s pioneering spirit, others felt let down by their heroine for seeking her fortune thousands of miles away from the country which had nurtured her ambitions and cemented her fame.

So how does the young lady in question react when I am granted a rare audience to see how she’s adapting to her new life?

Meet Megan. No, not Meghan-with-an-h but Megan the sheepdog, who swapped the fells of Northumberland

Meet Megan. No, not Meghan-with-an-h but Megan the sheepdog, who swapped the fells of Northumberland

Looking at me with limpid brown eyes and tilting her head coquettishly to one side, she licks my hand before taking off at lightning speed through the long grass.

Meet Megan. No, not Meghan-with-an-h but Megan the sheepdog, who swapped the fells of Northumberland — she was raised by shepherdess Emma Gray, 33, on her 100-acre farm near Otterburn — for the vast open plains of Oklahoma earlier this year after becoming the most expensive sheepdog ever sold.

The border collie was bought in February for a record £18,900 in a nail-biting contest at Skipton Auction Mart, North Yorkshire, famous for its sheepdog sales that attract buyers from all over the world.

The average trained dog fetches between £2,000 and £5,000. But to her new owner, cattle farmer and businessman Brian Stamps, she is worth every penny.

‘The price skyrocketed quickly and two or three times I was outbid,’ the 44-year-old says. He was on the end of a phone while an agent at the sale put bids in on his behalf.

The border collie was bought in February for a record £18,900 in a nail-biting contest at Skipton Auction Mart, North Yorkshire, famous for its sheepdog sales that attract buyers from all over the world

The border collie was bought in February for a record £18,900 in a nail-biting contest at Skipton Auction Mart, North Yorkshire, famous for its sheepdog sales that attract buyers from all over the world

The guy who was bidding on my behalf asked me each time if I wanted to drop out and I said, “Do what you have to do to buy that dog — whatever it takes.”

‘You can take the drive out of a dog, but you can’t put the drive back in. Megan has that drive. She lives to work.’

But while Meghan-with-an-h married into royalty, this Megan’s pedigree is the real deal, explaining her high price. Her forebears are British canine royalty. Her father Ross Games’ Roy was a two-time international sheepdog champion and her mother Maggie is the sister of another titleholder. 

Megan can trace her 110 ancestors, who all had impressive bloodlines, back six generations. According to her genetic tests, she is 29 per cent Scottish, 30 per cent Welsh and 41 per cent English.

Brian bought her to help manage his herd of Wagyu beef cattle — only the best for the breed that produces the most expensive beef cuts in the world — as well as his small herd of goats on his 1,000-acre ranch in Tuttle, Oklahoma. It suits two-and-half-year-old Megan perfectly as she was trained to handle both sheep and cattle.

Celebrities are always smaller than you expect, and the biggest surprise on meeting Megan is how petite she is. She weighs just 30 lb and stands at about 14in high, according to Brian. She has beautiful black and white markings, with marbling on her long and slender legs, and her face shines with fierce intelligence.

The average trained dog fetches between £2,000 and £5,000. But to her new owner, cattle farmer and businessman Brian Stamps (pictured), she is worth every penny

The average trained dog fetches between £2,000 and £5,000. But to her new owner, cattle farmer and businessman Brian Stamps (pictured), she is worth every penny

Agile and athletic, her little body pulses with pent-up energy, and when she moves it’s with a fluidity and grace that is an unexpected privilege to witness.

I get to watch Megan at work, and from her perky demeanour and tail held high it’s clear she is in her doggy element. Though, as I will learn later, like her namesake, her transition to her new life hasn’t always gone smoothly.

Her owner says: ‘When we get on to the gravel track that leads to the ranch, her head goes up and she knows she’s off to work and she’s happy. She’s got to be busy. She’s got more “try” in her than any dog I’ve seen.’

Her first job of the day is to bring six of the 266 cattle grazing in fields about half a mile away into the yard so they can be given routine medication.

Megan’s body is quivering with excitement until Brian instructs her to go and she shoots off like a projectile — she can hit speeds of 30-40mph. Within seconds she is a black and white blur ploughing through the long grass but soon she is bringing her charges towards the yard. Whenever an unruly cow attempts to turn back, Megan performs tight turns, carefully redirecting each lumbering animal.

As the livestock is herded into a special pen that allows a vet to get close, Megan paces back and forth like a sergeant major inspecting her troops. ‘She’s checking that they’re standing in the right sequence,’ laughs Brian.

Brian bought her to help manage his herd of Wagyu beef cattle — only the best for the breed that produces the most expensive beef cuts in the world — as well as his small herd of goats on his 1,000-acre ranch in Tuttle, Oklahoma

Brian bought her to help manage his herd of Wagyu beef cattle — only the best for the breed that produces the most expensive beef cuts in the world — as well as his small herd of goats on his 1,000-acre ranch in Tuttle, Oklahoma

Next, it’s off to move his mini herd of goats — nine rams and 12 ewes — that roam the ranch. Goats can be more challenging to herd than sheep and cattle because they are easily distracted and can be stubborn. But they are no match for little miss bossy boots.

Then we head out deeper into the ranch. She bounds out of Brian’s vast truck and lays down flat on her belly, her right ear cocked and her eyes glued to her master, awaiting his instructions about a small herd of Wagyu.

They are magnificent beasts but intimidating. Some of them weigh 1,400 lb, and they have calves in tow, which make them extra protective. But Megan is undaunted. Brian shouts ‘away’ for a right-hand turn, ‘come bye’ for left and ‘steady’ to slow down.

Megan is concentrating so hard she does not seem to hear Brian’s first ‘that’ll do’, signifying that she should stop approaching the cattle. She gets very close, displaying no fear. But she hears him the second time and retreats, crouching low.

Over lunch at a steakhouse Brian, who also owns an oil and gas company, says he had no idea he had paid a record price for Megan because he was confused about the price being in guineas, which is what livestock is still traded in at British auctions. A guinea was worth one pound and one shilling in pre-decimal days or 1.05 sterling now.

‘I’d done the calculations on Google and got it wrong, so I thought I paid less than I did. But she’s worth it. Megan’s a phenomenal dog and I love her to bits,’ he says.

Then we head out deeper into the ranch. She bounds out of Brian’s vast truck and lays down flat on her belly, her right ear cocked and her eyes glued to her master, awaiting his instructions about a small herd of Wagyu

Then we head out deeper into the ranch. She bounds out of Brian’s vast truck and lays down flat on her belly, her right ear cocked and her eyes glued to her master, awaiting his instructions about a small herd of Wagyu

‘I never found a dog I liked and then I found Facebook posts Megan’s owner Emma made. I got in touch and she sent over a grainy livestream video of Megan working with cattle and I knew I had found my dog.’

Megan arrived in March — not in first class but in cargo on American Airlines. ‘It was the last day they let flights leave because of Covid-19 and I drove to Dallas to pick her up,’ he says. ‘The first thing I thought when I saw her was that I was surprised she was such a wee thing and she was timid, unsettled by the journey.

‘On the four-hour drive back home, we stopped several times to allow Megan to stretch her legs but I kept her on the lead all the time because I was worried she’d run away.’

Slowly, she got used to Brian’s other dogs, 13-year-old golden labrador Ryder and Thor, a three-year-old German shepherd. There was also Casey an 18-month-old American border collie who Brian hoped would become Megan’s working partner. ‘I was thinking that Megan could also teach him a lot,’ he says.

When he took Megan out to work, however, her formidable intellect and training was nowhere to be seen.

‘She wouldn’t listen to me. I tried to get her to go around or lay down, but she’d sit or go off and do her own thing. I thought it was my American accent — that she couldn’t understand me — and I tried a British accent, which I’m not very good at.

Slowly, she got used to Brian’s other dogs, 13-year-old golden labrador Ryder and Thor, a three-year-old German shepherd

Slowly, she got used to Brian’s other dogs, 13-year-old golden labrador Ryder and Thor, a three-year-old German shepherd

‘The ranch hands thought it was hilarious and were making fun of me calling me “guv’nor” and saying “hello love”.’

Then he had a brainwave. ‘Emma had sent me a training video with all the commands, and I turned the volume up and played it in Megan’s pen. She recognised Emma’s voice 100 per cent. I don’t know if it put her at ease because she had been missing Emma, and I was worried it would make her more homesick — but it didn’t.

‘She started to respond. It was like a switch had been flicked and she suddenly started to run more smoothly, obey commands and became a joy to work with. We never looked back.’

Back at Brian’s house, where he lives with his wife, Mandi, and seven-year-old son Grady, I try to hug Megan but she wriggles out of my arms.

While Brian says Grady plays with her, she’s all about work — not a cuddly family pet.

Brian reveals she’s fascinated by ceiling fans. He says: ‘I don’t think she ever saw one in Northumberland. She follows them, turns around in circles and tries to jump up and bite them.’

When he took Megan out to work, however, her formidable intellect and training was nowhere to be seen

When he took Megan out to work, however, her formidable intellect and training was nowhere to be seen

There’s no sign of Casey, Megan’s partner, and Brian tells me that he was killed two months ago in a freak accident on the ranch. ‘Casey was more aggressive than Meg and he would run up to the cattle and nip them. One of the Wagyus had her calf nearby and she stepped on his ribcage and shattered it. He died instantly.

‘I could see a difference in her after he died. They’d kennelled together. She was looking out for him. I’m searching for another dog. They are better in pairs.’

Given that she was so expensive, you might expect Megan to bed down in a four-poster bed, and she does sometimes sleep in Brian and Mandi’s bedroom — but she’s happy to settle down with the other dogs in the laundry room.

Her diet consists of premium dry dog food and she is also fed bits of Wagyu beef. ‘I give her fatty bits of brisket as well because I’d like to put a couple of pounds on her. But she runs it all off! Unlike many other dogs, she’s not food motivated,’ says Brian.

Does he worry about her being stolen? ‘Not too much because she’s never away from me. I’ve got my eye on her all day long — and she’s microchipped of course.

He hopes to breed from her and says that while he has had offers from people to buy her, he will never give her up

He hopes to breed from her and says that while he has had offers from people to buy her, he will never give her up

‘In summer, when the temperatures are high, we get up at sunrise and work till about 10.30am and then she goes inside to rest until night-time when its cooler. If I didn’t do that, she’d run herself into the ground.’

Another danger is attacks by coyotes. ‘This past year they’ve taken six or seven calves off the ranch. She’s small enough —they’d kill her. That’s why I don’t let her out of my sight.’

He hopes to breed from her and says that while he has had offers from people to buy her, he will never give her up.

While Meghan-with-an-h has her family with her in LA, Megan-without-an-h isn’t entirely alone in her new adventure in the U.S., either. Her aunt has been bought by another rancher in a different part of Oklahoma. She’s living a two-and-a-half hour drive away, ‘just down the road’ by Oklahoma standards, according to Brian.

‘Once the pandemic travel restrictions lift, I’m going to take Megan to visit. It’ll be nice for her to see family.’

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