Viv Billingham Parks—A Lifelong Passion

Sometimes the best man for the job may be a woman. From the age of four, Viv Billingham Parks couldn’t wait to grow up and become a shepherdess. When she was a small child, her father’s occupation in the Royal Air Force necessitated that the family travel from pillar to post. Fortunately for her they lived from time to time in the country, where she was able to help with sheep on nearby farms.

Viv Billingham with Charlie, the Cheviot and her beautiful Border Collie Holly.

Her interest was further fueled by stories about Black Bob, a clever Border Collie from Selkirk by Peter Gray.

Her mentor was a kindly shepherd, Stan Merrit, who journeyed to his widespread flock on a bicycle, leading his collie Jessie on a piece of string. Viv credits him with inspiring her in her chosen career. She left school at the age of 15 to pursue the demanding life of a shepherdess in the beautiful countryside of hill farms in Yorkshire and Wales; she gained valuable experience in a lifestyle that has changed little since biblical times.

Viv Billingham, a modern shepherdess

Eventually, she was employed as a lamber (someone who oversees lambing) by Ernest Crisp, a farmer nearing retirement age. She stayed with him and his wife for the next twelve years and was treated like a daughter. Ernie gave her her first Border Collie, a female. He told her, “Ye’ll nivver get her tae stop,” and she never did. That collie produced a pup that Viv named Shep — her first trial dog. She entered the Stanhope Trial, where Shep promptly put the sheep into the secretary’s tent, upending the table carrying all the silverware. Ernest Crisp jumped up and down, proudly shouting, “She’s penned them!”

Viv Billingham with a brace of Border Collies – Courtesy Viv Billingham

Since then, Viv has been featured on the well-loved British television series, One Man and His Dog, which has introduced the ancient craft of shepherding to millions of viewers and brought to light the remarkable relationship that exists between shepherds and their sheepdogs. She competed with her beloved Collie Garry and has represented Scotland in the Scottish National Finals in 1992. She has traveled extensively in Europe and America, both to judge and to give training clinics.

Tweedhope Sheepdogs herding ewes and lambs on the banks of St’ Mary’s Loch (lake) in Scotland – Courtesy Viv Billingham

Viv is also an accomplished author whose books, One Woman and Her Dog, The Shepherd’s Wife, Tweedhope Sheepdogs, and Whistle While You Work, describe working sheepdogs in the beauty of the wild Cheviot Hills. Her writing brings to life the deeply satisfying, yet highly demanding, sometimes humorous, and at times sad life of sheep farming.

She offers tuition (training) and working demonstrations with her Border Collies If you get a chance to go to the Scottish Borders don’t pass up an opportunity to visit. You can contact her at: v.billingham793@btinternet.com

For information about training and handling stockdogs, please refer to the book, Stockdog Savvy (Alpine Publications) by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor:

http://www.lasrocosa.com/education.html

Copyright © 2009 – 2010 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor.

All Rights Reserved.

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