Craig Ogier may have lost his old mate Jess to cancer, but she will still be very much part of the family when he steps into the arena for the Central Victorian Yard Dog Championship.
“At a rough count there will be at least 14 of Jess's descendants at Bendigo, spread over the novice and open competitions,” the Macedon-based builder laughed.
Mr Ogier himself will be handling Jess's daughter Roustabout Darcy and son Roustabout Gus in the open and also running her grandson Quia Charlie in the novice event.
It says volumes about (Winganna) Jess's abilities that her bloodline has spread so far, even though Mr Ogier only ever bred three litters from her.
“She was a really good dog, she always threw good dogs and some of her daughters became foundation bitches in top kelpie studs.”
She always threw good dogs and some of her daughters became foundation bitches in top kelpie studs.
As a result Jess's gene pool often dominates the competition, like last year at the Seymour Yard Dog Trial.
“I had a dog that won the novice section and it turned out first, second and third were all out of Jess's daughter and fourth was actually her daughter,” Mr Ogier said.
“Many times that happened. Back in 2012 Jess won the Gippsland open and her daughter won the novice.”
And, last year, when the nationals were held at Bendigo, one of Jess's grandsons Broken River Kev came third in the O'Sullivans Transport Australian Yard Dog Championship.
What made Jess so special was her uncanny ability to read sheep. “She had a really strong natural ability to work stock, to read stock. You can't teach that to a dog. It is either in them or it is not,” Mr Ogier said.
“Some dogs just have this knack to move stock quite easily and effortlessly and others don't so much.
“That's the main thing with the trialling is that you are trying to perpetuate the good qualities of the dogs.”
Mr Ogier himself is not exactly typical of triallers though. Instead of big mobs of hundreds of sheep, Jess and other past dogs were often trained on no more than half a dozen lambs due to the constraints of living on a couple of acres on the Melbourne suburban fringe.
“When I was about 15 to 19 I worked as a stockman on a couple of big stations, but then I drifted out of agriculture and I became a builder. But I always had a kelpie, more as a companion than anything.
“I never trialled or anything until my kids got a bit older and I saw a couple of trials and I thought I might have a go at that.
“Now I live at Gisborne and we run like about 70 ewes, but years ago, we were living near Sunbury and I used to just buy half a dozen lambs for training and we'd periodically knock one over and put it in the freezer.
“I remember winning one trial and a bloke saying to me, 'that's a great dog. How many sheep do you run?' I said, to be honest, just the one, because I only had one left.”