I received permission to forward the following from the Herders-l list:
<< Subj: Re: [HERD-L] SOAPBOX: Prince, an old farm collie
Date: 8/3/98 10:30:26 PM Pacific Daylight Time
From: [log in to unmask] (R. Lincoln Keiser)
I've been kind of inactive on the list lately, but I thought some of you
might be interested in hearing about a dog I ran into in Michigan when I was
there two weeks ago. This part of Michigan - north of Ludington and south of
Traverse City - is a kind of time warp. Near the lake it's like a resort
area of the '50's - beaches miles long, warm water, few people. But as soon
as you get away from the lake you find beautiful rolling farm land -
pastures and orchards hidden among woods and forests - and villages and
hamlets with names like Chief, Brethren, Kaleva, Copmish. Here you can still
find family farms; some are even centennial farms, i.e., in the same family
for 100 years or more. You find small farming communities of Amish and
Mennonites as well. We go there to our summer cottage near the shores of
Lake Michigan for two weeks every summer with our two aussies Jake and the
Cisco Kid. It's great to get away, but the dogs and I miss working our
It's hardest on Cisco. As long as he works every day he's a wonderful dog, a
bit intense, but biddable, and with a very sweet - even gentle -
disposition. But when he doesn't work he gets difficult to live with. He
gets hyper to the extreme and tries to chase everything that moves -
runners, rollerbladers, byciclers, and his favorite enemy, UPS trucks. He
can drive you nuts! Runs on the beach and even long swims help, but only to
a degree. They don't take the place of working stock.
So I asked Wink Somsel, a long time friend who lives in the area, if he knew
of anyone with some cows we could work. As it turned out he has a brother
Dick who owns an 80 acre farm in Brethren. Dick raises hogs and cattle. The
cattle (some beef, some dairy) number roughly 40 head. Dick said I was
welcome to come out to his place and give it a try, even if he wasn't
around. But, he said, he had one cow with a calf that tries to run dogs out
of the field and one 900 lb bull that he would love to get into his barn. He
also had 6 weaner calves that would be just about right - if I could
separate them from the rest of the herd. So I thought I would give it a try.
When we got there I found something else, a 1500lb Bhrama bull that Dick had
negleted to tell me about, and two dogs - one some kind of a golden
retriever mix who was tied on a chain and the other...well, a dog that
looked like he could handle himself around stock. This dog was running free.
Dick's truck wasn't there, but since the weaner calves were a little
separate from the rest of the herd I thought we might be able to separate
them enough more to give Cisco a chance to do some herding and so decided to
give it a shot. Cisco and I entered the pasture accompanied by Dick's dog
who immediately started working the entire herd. But Dick's wife came out
and called the dog into the house, leaving the herd to us.
It was a short lived and very sobering experience, a definite reality check.
As soon as Dick's dog was in the house the 1500 lb bull came trotting right
at us, accompanied by a couple of angry looking cows. They looked to me to
be clearly unhappy with our presence. Cisco made a quick swipe at the bull,
but when the bull turned to look at him, split as fast as he could right out
of the pasture. I thought at this point that discretion was definitely the
better part of valour, and made what I hoped was a more dignified retreat as
well. So ended our "session".
A few minutes later Dick pulled up in his truck and invited me into the
house, which gave me a chance to ask about his dog. The dog (Prince was his
name) was a 9 month old "collie" that Dick had bought from an Amish farmer
who lived about 20 miles away.
And I could see a collie resemblance, although Prince looked different from
any rough or smooth collie that I had ever seen. For one thing his build was
different. He was rangey, not blocky as many rough collies appear to be. And
although his coat was of a typical collie color, it had a different texture.
It was shorter than the rough collies, but longer than the smooth collies I
have seen. And it was kind of curled. His nose was collie-like, but not
extremely pointed. His ears were semi-pricked. And he had a kind of
confidence and toughness about him that indicated a dog happy in the dirt
and dust of an old time working farm.
Dick said he hadn't had the time to do much training with Prince, but that
he didn't seem to need it. (I didn't ask him if Prince had been to puppy
kindergarten since I knew that would get me laughed off the place and there
wasn't an obediance class offered within miles.) Prince just seemed to know
how to make himself useful without specific training.
And so Dick pretty much gave him the run of the farm. He was never tied and
he never ran off the place. And even if Dick wasn't around Prince took it
upon himself to make sure things stayed as they were supposed to be. For
example, when the hogs escaped from their pens and wandered onto the road,
as they did from time to time, Prince brought them back to their proper
location on his own. Dick felt better about leaving the farm if something
called him away when Prince was around to oversee things.
Dick suspected that Prince was not a pure bred collie. The amish didn't keep
pedigrees, prefering instead to breed a useful dog to a useful dog
regardless of anything else. So Dick thought that Prince might have some
blue heeler in him and possible some other kind of farm dog as well (what we
would call an English Shepherd perhaps?).
It was a pleasure to meet Prince - to see first hand a dog so focused, so
centered, so calm and so confident in what and who he was - a plain dog for
a plain job. It was a lesson in what we've lost with our closed registration
books, our fixation on purity of breed and our obsession with pedigree. And
it was good to know that there are still places out there - small, out of
the way places to be sure - where the kind of dogs our ancestors bred still