Ground-breaking virtual online working sheep dog sale with real-time viewing

Skipton Auction Mart, the UK’s leading working sheep dog sale venue, is forging ahead with pioneering plans to stage what is thought would be the nation’s, possibly the world’s first virtual timed sale with real-time viewing.

Skipton Auction Mart, the UK’s leading working sheep dog sale venue, is forging ahead with pioneering plans to stage what is thought to be the nation’s – possibly even the world’s – first virtual timed sale, with real-time viewing.

Live working sheep dogs sales, which attract large crowds, cannot be held while Covid-19 restrictions remain in place and the North Yorkshire mart is well advanced with plans to organise and run the online initiative over a six-day period from Sunday to Friday, July 12–17th.

Following the forced cancellation of the spring sale earlier in May, in a letter to all potential entrants, Skipton Auction Mart’s general manager Jeremy Eaton wrote: “We deliberated long and hard about providing our regular customers with a substitute to ensure that dogs move into the right hands to keep sheep farmers farming and to provide succession on the trial field for trialists.

“Mindful of this, we propose to create a virtual sale following the form of conventional timed auctions, but introducing a semi-social element via pre-sale conference viewing the evening before each sale.”

Subject to Department of Health Covid-19 advice, the landmark fixture will feature standalone viewing and sale days for entries from three separate countries – Scotland, England and Wales.

These, it is hoped, will also be supplemented by two further standalone All-Ireland and European viewing and sale days, doubly dependant on both entry levels and access to transport facilities with the hoped-for resumption of freight crossings. “This really would give the sale a true international flavour,” said Mr Eaton.

Arrangements are already well in hand and moving forward. A final closing date for all entries has been set for Tuesday, June 16th, to be followed by pre-sale video catalogue viewing via the working sheep dog section of the mart’s website from Monday, June 29th.

Then, every evening between 5pm and 7.30pm immediately before each online sale day, vendors would be available for live conference viewing with Q&A sessions and live demos of individual entries.

On each sale day, there would be a 12-hour window between 11am and 11pm for online bidding, again to be streamed live via the mart’s website, with an inbuilt click-on bidding facility for potential purchasers.

The schedule would open with the viewing and sale of Scottish entries on July 12th/13th, followed by England on July 13th/14th, Wales July 14th/15th, All-Ireland July 15th/16th and European July 16th/17th.

In the interim, all entrants will be responsible for producing and submitting videos no later than Tuesday, June 23rd, showing individual dogs being put through their paces. This should not pose a problem for many handlers, who for some time have been recording their own videos and posting them on YouTube to effectively showcase the skills and attributes of their charges ahead of live working sheep dog sales.

However, Mr Eaton stressed: “It is important that videos are submitted in the correct format, with some simple minimum requirements to prove an entry’s authenticity against the dog shown working. We don’t want to have to reject entries if the videos are not in the required format.

“To this end, we are offering advice and guidance in video production to any entrants who feel they may require it. Within the working sheep dog section of our website we will have a video of best practice for the pre-sale video. We are also working with a provider who can do this for a vendor for a fee and is also able to film drone footage of both hill and top trial dogs.”

Mr Eaton further explained: “Our virtual sale will build on the usual pre-sale YouTube video channel, which has already added a depth to previous sales and will continue, but with the videos now watched in lot order in the online catalogue viewed directly from our website.  We also hope that the timings may help potential international buyers and visitors to participate.

“Of course, the replacement of a regulated auction with a real time or timed auction based on just a vendor’s video does not provide a potential buyer with the opportunity to see the dog run on neutral ground with the chance to question the vendor. Any replacement must honestly reflect the ability and potential of the entry and, above all, we must try to protect the integrity of the sale.”

Each sale will include a section for unbroken entries under 12 months, an unbroken section for dogs 12-15 months and a fully broken section. All entries will be fully scrutinised and limited a maximum of three entries per vendor, with priority given to fully broken dogs. No pups will be allowed.

Potential buyers must pre-register their interest to receive an invitation via email to attend the conference, speak to the vendor and watch the live trial. Successful buyers must also organise their own transport through an official carrier.

The mart reiterated that all arrangements remain subject to Department of Health Covid-19 advice and that there may be some variations dependant on the number and geographical locations of entries received.

Potential entrants have already received advance details, instructions, conditions of sale and an entry form. These are also posted online at

Mr Eaton added: “This is clearly new territory for us all, but we are available to help and advise on any and all aspects of the sale, which we hope will not only prove informative, but also, who knows, probably a bit of fun as well!”

In a normal year, Skipton Auction Mart stages four seasonal working sheep dogs sales, which regularly attract over 100 entries from reputable breeders, handlers and trialists from all parts of the UK mainland and, in particular, Ireland, with some also from Northern Europe.

In turn, buyers from all these areas attend in person, while online phone bidders are also regularly in evidence, primarily from the United States.

Working sheep dog sales at Skipton are renowned for producing top-notch impeccably-bred dogs for both work and trial. Some astronomical prices have also been achieved, multiple world records among them.

At the last sale in February this year, the world record price for a working sheep dog at an official sale was annihilated when Northumberland shepherdess Emma Gray hit 18,000gns (£18,900) with her black and white bitch, Megan. She fell to a telephone bidder from Oklahoma in the United States, cattle farmer and businessman, Brian D. Stamps.

Yet, while Skipton sales continue to produce solid prices and averages, plenty of dogs at readily affordable prices to suit all tastes and pockets – both solid broken entries for work and up-and-coming youngsters to further bring on and run in trials – can still be purchased. The organisers say the July fixture is confidently expected to produce more of these types.

Northumberland shepherdess Emma Gray is pictured on the Skipton trials field in February with her black and white bitch Megan, which went on to sell for a new world record price at an official working dog sale of 18,000gns (£18,900).

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