The Macraes Collie Club hosted its 74th annual trials last week on the Stevenson family's property Craiglynn Station at Moonlight. Otago Daily Times' agribusiness reporter Sally Rae paid a visit.

Neave is what Warren MacLeod describes as a "charity dog".

The heading dog, being run by the Waikouaiti triallist at the Macraes Collie Club's trials, came into MacLeod's ownership in somewhat unorthodox fashion.

A Fawlty Towers night was held as a fundraiser for the medical centre in Palmerston and it concluded with a charity auction.

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Everything from fertiliser to art works went under the hammer and the last item of the evening was a heading pup by Lloyd Smith's Ace.

The pup, which did not attend the auction, was bought by MacLeod (67) for $400.

"I bought it on spec basically and then I broke her in," he said.

Warren and Wendy MacLeod, with Rose and Neave, at the Macraes Collie Club's trials at Moonlight this week. Photo / Sally Rae
Warren and Wendy MacLeod, with Rose and Neave, at the Macraes Collie Club's trials at Moonlight this week. Photo / Sally Rae

Asked whether the dog was named after the First Baby - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's daughter Neve - quick-as-a-flash Mr MacLeod said no - "she named it after my heading dog."

He was "rapt" with Neave, saying she had not won an event yet but she was getting placings "on a reasonably regular basis".

MacLeod was accompanied by his wife of 42 years, Wendy, who is secretary for the North Otago dog trial centre.

She regularly accompanied her husband to trials, acting as his clerk when he was judging.

"Everyone says, 'when are you coming out with a dog?' I just enjoy watching everybody's runs, especially his," she said, indicating her husband.

"I'm a very harsh judge," she laughed.

Now retired, although still doing some casual driving for Cooks Transport, Mr MacLeod has more time to devote to his dogs.

He had been in a South Island championship run-off with heading dog Yank on the long head at Blenheim in 2003, and a New Zealand run-off with Slick, in the zig zag hunt at Oxford the following year.

At the moment, he has six dogs and while they were inexperienced, the potential was there.

This season, he had been getting "wee nibbles here and there".

While the triallists might have been taking their runs very seriously, those behind the scenes at Macraes preferred a much more laid-back approach to the two-day trials.

President Mick O'Connell was in his second - "and hopefully last" - year at the helm of the committee.

The club had only one meeting a year and did not take it too seriously.

"I put an apology in for the meeting so they made me president," he said ruefully.

The local farmer had been helping out at the trials for about eight years and was also running several dogs.

He also helped out at the Waihemo trials at Dunback trials the following two days.

It was a social occasion and a good opportunity to catch up with people.

His duties were not too arduous - "as long as there's plenty of staff around, it's pretty easy" - and one of his main tasks was delivering smoko to the judges and liberators.

In fact, he reckoned the best part of the trials was the catering, which was under the supervision of Anna Graham and Rebecca Tisdall.

The menu consisted of savouries, cheese rolls and toasties, scones, slices and cakes, with vegetable soup for lunch, potatoes, cold meat and four types of salad.

Graham and Tisdall had been in the cookshop for the past 20 years so they had it down to a fine art.

They were aiming for a 25-year stint to beat their predecessors who had also notched up 20 years.

Next to the kitchen was the bar, under the watchful eye of barman Jock Frew for about the past 10 years.

Frew (67) had been involved with the Strath Taieri club since he was about 15 - "now I'm 32" - and was also barman for that club.

Anna Graham (left) and Rebecca Tisdall have been catering for trials the past 20 years. Photo / Sally Rae
Anna Graham (left) and Rebecca Tisdall have been catering for trials the past 20 years. Photo / Sally Rae

He had run a few dogs over the years, but had never had much success.

"I just like helping people, you meet a lot of nice people," he said.

And he was also a staunch supporter of such events being held in rural areas.

"It just keeps the community together, it's needed. You see how people are getting on and what they're up to," he said.

The North Otago centre championships are being hosted by the Omakau-Earnscleugh club at its courses on Earnscleugh Station on April 29 and 30.

The Otago centre championships will be held at Tahatika on April 10 and 11.