Jim Bob McEwen’s female border collie, Len, runs after three Boer goats, during a recent herding demonstration at the 2013 Indy Irish Fest.
Jim Bob McEwen’s female border collie, Len, runs after three Boer goats, during a recent herding demonstration at the 2013 Indy Irish Fest.

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s gone to the dogs. That is the perfect way to sum up Jim Bob McEwen’s career of competing in sheepherding competitions.

In 1946, his spark for the sport was lit when he watched a herding demonstration involving border collies at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

McEwen noted that the idea of livestock producers using sheep to watch over and shepherd their flocks originated in the hills of Scotland.

“The sheep would eat their way downhill at the start of the day,” he said, explaining that the animals would refuse to go back up the mountain and, due to the geographic terrain of the area, the farmers wouldn’t traverse the hillside to go down and get them either.

This is where the dogs came into play, McEwen said, adding that the Scottish farmers would send their collies down to the bottom, where they’d round up the sheep and herd them back to the top of the hill, so the flock could graze its way back down all over again.

Although McEwen no longer travels around the world to compete in national herding competitions, he still goes around the U.S., giving sheepherding demonstrations at Scottish and Irish festivals with his buddy, a border collie named Len.

One of the celebrations he participates in on an annual basis is Indy Irish Fest.

“Irish Fest has been good to us and wonderful to work with, he said.

At this year’s Irish festival, attendees had the opportunity to watch Len in action as McEwen had her herd three Boer goats around the arena.

He added that goats are great for training the younger border collies because they move well and, unlike sheep, which flock together, one never can tell exactly what a goat is going to do.

Besides goats, McEwen also uses ducks when trying to train puppies how to herd because the birds move slower than sheep and are not nearly as big as the wooly creatures in comparison to the nine-week-old border collies, which, he added, is the ideal age to start working with them.

While border collies are known more in Great Britain for their skills in helping farmers and other individuals involved in the agriculture industry, the sheepherding expert noted that many sheep producers here have begun to use the remarkable animals with their flocks because a herding dog will run around working 15 miles to every one mile that their owner walks.

“They work 365 days a year without worker’s comp, and they just want a good bed, and food,” McEwen said, adding that recently he had a lady purchase a collie from him and mentioned it took her 45 minutes every day to put her sheep away and, a month after purchasing the dog, only took 45 seconds.

The key to achieving maximum results from a herding dog, he stressed, is proper training, and 10 minutes a day is plenty of time to turn out a dog that at the end of a year’s time an individual won’t want to part with.

More information about sheepherding and McEwen’s border collies can be found at www.mcewenbordercollies.com.