Idaho rancher sets auction record
By M. Anderson
How much is that doggie in the stockyard? For a 3-year-old border collie named Skittles the answer is $45,000.
Jeff Clausen, a feedlot manager from Melba, Idaho raised Skittles both on the job and in the home, allowing her to be a pet for his kids and coaching her natural talent with cattle. It is a different approach than many stock dog trainers take, holding to the old belief that socializing a working dog will result in a poor drive.
“It used to be these cow-dogs were tools,” Clausen said. “They’re not tools anymore, and I think today’s society wants a pet at the same time as they want a partner to work with.”
That mindset has served Clausen well in the past. In 2018 he set the previous sales record when his border collie Gurdy sold for $30,000 at the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale in California. Clausen credits his success to his training approach, or lack there-of. Border collies are bred for long hours in the field, have a natural inclination to drive stock, and are eager to please. By relying on the dog to do what comes naturally and consistently rewarding the job done right, as well as inviting the dogs into his home, Clausen has been able to set these record sales numbers with only a year’s worth of “training.”
Red Bluff arranges a three-day herding competition during its annual stock sale, where trainers from around the country come to demonstrate their dog’s ability to drive a herd or single out an individual with just a whistle. Seventeen judges placed Skittles’ performance fifth overall, a ranking Clausen attributed to the criteria of the judges.
“In Red Bluff, they want a dog that gets ahead and stops cattle hard. She wasn’t that dog. She wasn’t the strongest dog in the competition, but she had the strongest personality.”
It was indeed personality that won over top-bidders, the Siller family, who run a small Texas longhorn ranch in California. The husband and wife duo were seeking a gentle dog that would not bite and potentially injure their show animals, and admired the care with which Skittles moved her herd during trials. Meeting with Clausen and Skittles after her run, the connection was instant.
“She was extremely loving, and you could tell she was going to be a family dog,” Andrea Siller said.
Even after they parted ways, Skittles hadn’t had enough, break-ing away from Clausen to further solicit loving from rancher Neal Siller.
“He looked up at me and was like “She’s coming home with us’,” Andrea said.
When the dogs that placed first through fourth sold for between $6,000 and $11,000, the Sillers thought they’d get a good price for fifth. But other spectators had been drawn in by Skittles’ charm as well. As her turn came, Clausen noticed the crowd change.
“Everyone started screaming and whooping,” he said.
Though they had not intended on spending a record price on a dog, the Sillers have no regrets. Their 8000-acre farm desperately needed a dog with Skittles’ skill level, and when not working she is a cherished family member to the humans and twelve other dogs in her new pack.
“She has fit in absolutely perfectly with our family,” Andrea said. “She’s living the spoiled life now.”
Clausen is proud of his dogs and has no reservations in parting, knowing that working dogs will have better lives if they can do what they were bred to do. He joked Skittles left without looking back, but Andrea Siller disagreed, noting that Skittles definitely missed Clausen.
“As soon as the auction was over and we took Skittles, it kind of broke my heart because I knew they had to have the most amazing bond,” she said.