Tuesday, March 18, 2008
This is Nipper, our Amish-bred Blue Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog). She is the most recent of a long line of stockdogs here. We took Nipper in when a young girl could no longer keep her. I have had numerous Border Collies, an Australian Shepherd, and two Blue Heelers. I also had some Blackmouth Curs that would head and heel cattle a little.
Years ago, I used to enjoy going to sheepdog trials and herding events in Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. We had a big commercial flock then, and it was kind of a bus man's holiday. I lost interest after a local tragedy that happened to some very nice people I knew from the sheepdog events. The short version is they adopted a very troubled boy, and he murdered his adoptive mother. Years later, I still tend to remember this event when I think about Border Collies My pain has been minuscule compared to that of the family, but evil has a way of reaching out.
A good dog is a nice asset on the homestead. We had some pigs that would probably have had to been shot rather than loaded for sale if it were not for Pete the Heeler. Dan the Border Collie was probably my best sheepdog. He made up for our saggy fences numerous times.
For what it is worth, here is my opinion about various breed for farm work.
Border Collies are loopy workaholics. When Dan had nothing else to do, he would circle the chicken pen, making the hens move from one side to another. He never hurt a chicken, in fact he could sneak up and gently catch loose birds. Jake the Border Collie was a sex maniac. Do not get a Border Collie unless you have a job for it. It is also sometimes difficult to get them to stay with you if you are doing any task they perceive as boring, such as stacking wood. Border Collies tend to be a little soft as well. Dan got kicked by a calf and gave up on working cattle. I understand there are western strains of Border Collies that are tougher.
Blue Heelers are tough. A kick from a calf is not going to stop them. They also tend to stick around their master better. They lack all sense of delicacy though. It is difficult to use a heeler to herd ducks or lambs. Some folks in the next County used heelers for Buffalo. The big drawback can be temperament. I have been bit twice by heelers while visiting other farms. Nipper's hobby is trying to trick visitors into coming close enough to bite their heels.
Australian Shepherds, and their cousins, the English Shepherd, are my ideal of a good all around farm dog. They do not retrieve sheep from a mile away, but our Aussie Roy was invaluable at shearing and foot trimming time. He also worked well in smaller pastures. The big problem with these breeds is finding a good strain. Australian Shepherds were ruined by show breeding. The show bred dog is too heavy boned, and cannot move well enough to work hard. Fifteen years ago, there were five good Australian shepherd working dogs within a mile of here (including Roy). They are now all gone. We tried to breed Roy to one of the older local females before he died. Unfortunately, it did not take, and the strain is gone. One of my Border Collie friends believes that the demise of the small farm has led to the demise of the working strain of the Australian Shepherd as well.