As one goes through old family photographs taken throughout the early 1900's, it is not uncommon to come across pictures of farm and ranch families gathered on a front porch. This was a time when the majority of our nation's populace resided on the land and new the values of community, healthy ways of life, and a good dog. So often we've seen in the photographs a medium-haired dog sitting among the children or at the feet of a parent. Photographs of our family are no different. We've found out that a good many of these dogs, across the country and across the years, were Farm Collies, English Shepherds, or often just called "collies" or "collie-dogs"--American Farm Collies, a breed that has all but been forgotten in today's view and our history. The breed is synonymous with English Shepherd although there is little English about these dogs. Likely the breed originated here in the United States arising from Scottish Shepherds ariving with the immigrants--small farmers, sheepherders, cowherds, and the like. The breed never experienced the intense selection for specific herding abilities as did Border Collies. Thus, in addition to retaining an all around adeptness for many everyday tasks necessary to working farms and ranches, American Farm Collies lack the obsessiveness found in many Border Collie lineages.
This picture dates from about 1927 when Jack W Atkinson (Katie, Callie, and Aislee's "Gramps") was 6 living on a ranch near Rifle, Colorado. By the time that this photo was taken, Rex, a handsome large American Farm Collie, had already saved Jack's life from an aggressive stallion (resulting in Rex's blindness in one eye from a kick) and was well-known for his devotion and intelligence. Here are samples of the stories that Gramps relates to us regarding some of Rex's traits that exemplify why American Farm Collies make such great farm dogs.
"Your great grandfather (John William Atkinson) was moving cattle with Sid Butler down off of Davey Mesa. Up ahead he saw an open gate and told Rex to run around the line of cattle and sit
in that open gate. 'Don't let any cows get through that gate,' he said. Rex quickly did just as he was asked, amazing Sid who then turned to your
great grandfather and said, 'I'll give you $50 and the pick of any of my saddle horses for that dog!' Your great grandfather just matter of factly stated
'Rex isn't for sale. He's one of the family.'"
"Rex, when he was just a young pup, accompanied your great-great grandfather out to a pasture to bring in the milk cows on just one evening. Looking out the kitchen window the next evening, there sat Rex with the milk cows all lined up and ready to be milked."
"It wasn't unusual for your great-great grandfather (William Lincoln Atkinson) to stand on the front porch and tell Rex. 'Go out in the pasture and bring in Molly, Rose, and Betsy.' Namely, three cows from a herd of a dozen or two. Or alternately, a team of draft horses or a certain saddle horse. Rex would do just that--head out to the pasture and bring in cows, and horses too, by name!"
"Now, Rex's mother (Chummy) was a collie that would work sheep in a big corral by just running across the backs of the ewes, sorting out ones that were injured or sick or needed doctoring. She would also work sheep loading them onto railroad cars at the yards at Rifle. Whoever was loading sheep would ask that Chummy come down to the stockyards. Quite a dog."
Shep and Ithilien work daily on Coon's Age Farm where they have experience holding gates, just like old Rex did over 80 years ago, moving sheep, bulls, running off foxes from the henhouse, and Shep even excels at pointing and retrieving pheasants.
Both dogs exemplify the dedication and thoughtfulness common in American Farm Collies. Moreover, their first batch of pups has shown adaptiveness as they have become family members in varying situations; a farm, along a golfcourse, a young outdoor-oriented family, and a remote cafe' nestled on the northeast corner of Yellowstone National park. They are always assessing the activities on the farm, in the barnyard, and around the house immediately noting if an animal is out of place or something amiss.
If you are interested in pups from Ithilien and Shep, (like those to the left who are learning about gently working sheep--and vice-versa-- as "Esther" the Shetland lamb is now a yard-sheep who runs and plays believing she, too, is a farm collie!) pups brought up in an active working environment, please contact us directly. Obviously, the pups will be socialized with all sorts of critters and will be ready to go to working farms and families. We are taking reservations for puppies available in February at 406.664.3155.
Eric & Melonie
Katie, Callie & Aislee Atkinson
Coon's Age Farm
99 Lovers Lane
Belfry, MT 59008
Give Us A Holler
Small Farmer's Journal
English Shepherd Club