By Toni Williams
Ray Kane has had an association with the Mayfield Collie Club for more than 50 years.
Being a member of the club, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, has given Ray opportunity to learn skills of the craft from some of the best of their time.
He remembers people like Hughie and Ted Weir, Cyril Johnson and Methven Collie Club’s Hughie King and Colin McKay.
When Ray first joined the Mayfield Collie Club, he was a 16-year-old school leaver working with dogs – and sheep – doing high country mustering around the district.
He worked at Ben McLeod Station, up the Rangitata and Ashburton gorges and later did a spell in the North Island.
He joined the club to gain more dog handling experience.
“I was working with dogs and wanted to get better at it.”
He “just rocked up” with a young heading bitch in tow looking to learn from club members, although some of the older club members “weren’t as forthcoming” back then.
While now the club runs clinics and training days to help people with their stockmanship, back then there were a few members who didn’t want to pass on their secrets – least of all to a young fella.
Ray’s parents, Jack and Jean, owned a sheep and beef property at Prices Road, in Mt Somers.
They bought it when Ray was 12, and at its peak ran 5200 breeding ewes and 1300 hoggets.
As a child Ray always had a dog around on the farm; the most memorable was Scruff, a mixed breed handy dog which Ray got as a puppy from a farmer down the road.
Scruff was a dog that got better with age and was always learning.
“Right through his life he developed as he got older … as I expected more, he gave more.”
When Ray eventually went mustering he had a good sized team of five dogs; three huntaways, a heading dog and a handy dog.
He believes there have been vast improvements in the huntaway breed since his younger days.
Then it was rare to see a dog at trial face up on to sheep. It was special.
“(Now) the young ones are getting out there head-on, and skilled, which is largely bred into them, but they have improved.”
“It’s a sport where age means nothing when you get out there and start running the dogs.
“You can win one day and blow out the next. There is no guarantee for success.
“There are three sheep, you, and the dog and everything has to go right.”
Ray, 68, has since taken over the property but has diversified into deer. It’s an option he ran with in 1989.
“I wanted to keep running it as a sheep and beef farm, but it wasn’t viable,” he said.
“It got to the point we needed to sort something out and make money.”
The decision had to be made, the value on sheep was low and farmers were getting one good year in five; of those five, three years would be average and one disastrous.
He now has 1200 velveting stags, 500 hinds and 600 weaner deer.
Ray still keeps 80 sheep on the property but just to keep down the ragwort weed.
And he still has dogs; Rusty, Glen and Gus help to keep those sheep in line, but Ray doesn’t use them for trialling, they’re not up to scratch.
He will not be competing in the club’s centennial trial at the Hakatere grounds on Potts Road this month but he will be on hand to help.
Of the four courses; zig zag hunt, straight hunt, the uphill long pull and short pull yard, Ray will be looking after the straight hunt.
He expects there will be 40 to 50 competitors on site doing around 60 to 70 heading runs and hunts each.
Although given it’s a centennial run, there may be more.