So what are the components of milk? There are three main categories:
- Other solids.
When a cow’s rumen digests fiber, it produces fatty acids. Some of these fatty acids are processed in the udder and released in the milk, accounting for about half of the fat naturally found in milk. The other half of the fat enters the milk from the bloodstream, often coming from the cow’s liver or backfat, or directly from fats absorbed in the diet.
Because fiber is important to producing milk fat, cows generally have higher levels of fat in their milk when fed diets high in natural forages of good quality. Cows are sometimes fed low-fiber, high-energy diets to increase total milk production. Needless to say, this extra production comes at the expense of the fat component.
Fat content is generally expressed as a percentage. This is important because a high-producing cow like a Holstein may yield more pounds of fat per lactation than a Jersey. However, a gallon of Holstein milk contains a higher percentage of water than a gallon of Jersey milk does. Total milk yield and percentage of components are usually inversely related.
Protein makes its way into milk thanks to the action of rumen microbes that start the process of breaking proteins down into amino acids. Mammary glands later reconstruct the amino acids back into proteins with the aid of glucose. Also, small amounts of albumin and immunoglobulin proteins enter milk directly through the bloodstream.
It is interesting to note that the chemical makeup of the protein component can vary from cow to cow. Casein is the main type of protein found in cow’s milk, but it can come in two forms, known as A1 and A2. The latter type is considered easier for humans to digest.
A deficiency of dietary protein will indeed reduce the amount of protein in a cow’s milk. However, once the cow’s protein needs are met, feeding additional protein will not further increase amount of protein in the milk. Beyond this point, protein content is strongly influenced by genetics.
Like fat, the protein content of a cow’s milk is expressed as a percentage.
Many times, when milk components are under discussion, fat and protein are the main solids of interest. However, there are many other solids that make milk:
- Lactose: A type of sugar; the carbohydrate component of milk.
- Minerals: Including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.
- Vitamins: Particularly vitamins A and B complex.
Why Components Matter
- Components indicate cow health. A healthy, well-fed cow with minimal stress will have plenty of fat, protein, and other nutrients to spare for her milk. On the other hand, a cow suffering from mastitis or from rumen acidosis will show a considerable drop in fat and protein components.
- Components are important for human nutrition. Two glasses of milk from two different cows are vastly different. A glass of milk from a cow bred and fed for high total milk production is mostly water. A glass of milk from a cow bred and fed with an eye to components contains more of the proteins, vitamins, and minerals necessary for good health. Even the fats are beneficial to humans, as they are important for building cells.
- Components offer value-added opportunities. Fat and protein are necessary to the manufacture of butter, cream, and cheese, among other dairy products.
- Components give rich flavor and texture to dairy products. Milk fat and other solids are what make ice cream creamy. In fact, one of the factors that separates gourmet ice cream from just plain old ice cream is a higher percentage of fat.
There are many way to categorize cattle breeds—beef and dairy, standard and miniature, commercial and heritage, Bos taurus taurus and Bos taurus indicus. One classification that is frequently used to describe beef breeds is British versus Continental.
The names are rather self-explanatory. British breeds come from the United Kingdom, while Continental breeds come from Continental Europe. But there is more here than meets the eye. British and Continental breeds were developed under vastly different circumstances, giving each type unique characteristics suited to different applications.
America has long had an association with the British Isles, so it was only natural that British cattle breeds predominated on our shores for many years. The foundation of our British cattle population was imported beginning in the late 1700s. These importations continued well into the following century. The vast majority of beef herds in America today are still built on British breeds.
Examples of British breeds include:
While each breed is slightly different, most British breeds share the following characteristics:
- Small size.
- Hardiness in cold climates.
- Early maturity.
- Calving ease.
- High percentage of waste at slaughter.
- Marbled beef.
- Meat tenderness.
British breeds have found niches in both commercial and alternative agriculture due to their adaptability. Although they dominate the industry sale barns, they are also typically the breeds of choice for grassfed beef production. A few of the breeds, such as the Devon, can be used as all-around homestead cattle, providing beef, milk, and draft power for small farms.
Although experiments were made with Continental breeds in the early 1900s, they did not become popular in the United States until the late 1960s and early 1970s, hence their other name—”exotic breeds.” These cattle were costly and difficult to obtain at first, so the process of establishing an American population was expedited by upgrading imports with British cattle already living on our shores. Most Continental breeds were considered purebred after four or five generations of upgrading. They left their mark on the beef industry by promoting the breeding of large-framed cattle, but this trend has abated somewhat in recent years along with the use of Continental genetics.
Examples of Continental breeds include:
- Belgian Blue.
- Maine Anjou.
Continental breeds vary widely, but they tend to share a few traits:
- Large size.
- Late maturity.
- Rapid weight gain on feed.
- Large yield of beef.
- Low percentage of waste at slaughter.
- Lean beef.
While quite a few of the Continental breeds have potential as dual-purpose beef and dairy animals, they are rarely used in this way in America. One of the most important roles of Continental cattle in the United States is crossbreeding with British breeds to create more desirable beef animals.
British/Continental Crossbred Cattle
The most common goal in crossing British and Continental cattle is to produce beef calves that retain the marbling of the former type, but with the bigger, more muscular package associated with the latter type.
Unfortunately, introducing the positive traits of Continental cattle into a herd can also introduce negative characteristics. In particular, using a Continental bull on a British cow can lead to the conception of a calf far too large for the cow to give birth to unassisted.
These crossbred cattle need plenty of grain to reach their full potential, so they are more commonly found in the feedlot than in a grassfed operation.
Looking for a good way to keep up with daily agriculture-related headlines? Give Kansas Ag Connection a try!
Subscribers to On the Range, our weekly country living update (read more), may already be familiar with this site as a source for some of our headlines. There’s a reason for that. Kansas Ag Connection is a clutter-free aggregator of news stories and press releases of interest to farmers small and large across the state.
Kansas Ag Connection offers a way to keep up with the latest stories on:
- USDA news.
- Updates from the governor and state legislature.
- Health issues currently affecting Kansans.
- KU and K-State research on health, nature, and agricultural topics.
- Press releases from Kansas-based companies.
- State and regional crop and weather reports.
- Conferences and workshops coming to Kansas.
- Ron Wilson’s Kansas Profile column, featuring Kansas entrepreneurs with rural roots.
Links are also provided to more headlines from neighboring states, across the nation, and around the world.
While many small farmers still love to hand-milk their cows, commercial dairying usually employs the milking machine.
The modern milking machine looks complex, but the principle on which it operates is actually quite simple. The machine pulls a vacuum on the teats of the cow, causing the milk to flow.
Here’s how it works:
- The cow’s teats are attached to the teat cups. Each teat cup contains a rubber or silicone liner inside a plastic or stainless-steel shell. The liners are the only parts of the machine that touch the cow. They form a seal between the teat and the short milk tube, used to transport the milk. All of the liners are worked by a pulsator valve, which in turn is connected to a vacuum pump. The area between the liner and the shell is the pulsation chamber.
- The pulsator pulls a vacuum on the pulsation chamber, causing the liner to open up.
- A constant vacuum is maintained on the short milk tube. As the liner opens due to the equalization of the vacuum pressure between the short milk tube and the pulsation chamber, the teat is exposed to the vacuum of the short milk tube, causing milk to flow.
- The pulsator then releases the vacuum and exposes the liner to air again. Because now the air pressure in the pulsation chamber is greater than that in the short milk tube, the liner collapses and tightens on the teat in a massaging motion. This maintains proper blood circulation in the teat.
- The pulsator operates at a rate of about 60 cycles per minute.
- The short milk tubes attached to the teat cups meet at the part of the machine known as the claw. Milk from all four teats mixes at this point.
- The vacuum in the long milk tube pulls the milk in a column through the line.
- As the milk flows through the long milk tube, it enters a receiving jar. Any trapped air pockets in the milk column are released at this point. Milk from other cows attached to other milking units is mixed in.
- As the receiving jar fills up, a pump kicks on and pushes the milk into the bulk tank, where it is refrigerated.
- When the cow’s udder empties, the milking machine automatically shuts off. Various types of meters are used to detect the decrease in milk flow.
- The teat cups automatically detach from the cow.
- The cow’s teats are dipped in iodine to reduce the risk of infection caused by contaminated milk flowing back into the teats when the pulsator lets air into the teat cup.
- The machine is cleaned to prepare it for another use.
Smaller operators might use a variation on this system in which the milk flows into a clean can or bucket instead of a receiving jar. In this system, the pulsator generally sits on top of the bucket. When the milking process is completed, the apparatus is removed from the bucket, leaving a container of farm-fresh milk.
How the Milking System Works
Includes plenty of photos and a useful diagram.
Thinking about starting a farm with heritage breeds? If you are new to this topic, you may enjoy An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry by The Livestock Conservancy.
This excellent beginner’s resource starts with the basics—defining breeds in general and heritage breeds in particular. It discusses the plight and importance of rare breeds, as well as the necessity to maintain genetic diversity within these breeds despite their falling numbers.
After a look at how different farming systems call for vastly different breeds, An Introduction to Heritage Breeds moves on to considerations of importance to new farmers, helping them honestly assess what species of livestock will best fit their needs and circumstances. Factors to weigh include:
- Handling ease.
- Noise and odor level.
- Shelter and space requirements.
- Zoning restrictions.
- Daily food and water requirements.
- Predator control.
- Processing and transportation.
- Potential markets.
- Breed associations and other resources.
Next comes information on getting started with heritage breeds:
- Choosing a breed.
- Providing for the basic needs of your livestock.
- Setting realistic goals for your project.
- Setting up a system of animal identification and record-keeping.
- Planning to market your livestock or livestock products.
Maintaining a heritage breed requires close attention to the principles of genetics and selection, particularly when the breed is teetering on the brink of extinction. An Introduction to Heritage Breeds provides an overview of this process in nontechnical terms. It also demonstrates that rare breeds can be maintained and promoted through breeding projects with very different emphases:
- Performance and exhibition.
- Production only.
- Production and breed conservation combined.
- Rescue of rare breeds or bloodlines.
The book closes with a look at how breed associations can either help or hurt a rare breed.
While An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is not a comprehensive guide to breeds, it does provide numerous breed snapshots, distilling the most essential facts about the distinctive characteristics of many breeds.
If you are serious about working with heritage breeds, you will quickly outgrow this resource. We recommend supplementing it with resources specific to your chosen species, including a guide to care, a guide to breeding and genetics, and a breed encyclopedia. If you can find any works written entirely about your breed, make it a point to add those to your bookshelf, as well.
An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is exactly what the title suggests—an introduction, concise and clear enough for a reader with no prior experience with animals.
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of cattle breeds, including some heritage breeds.
Horse & Donkey Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of horse and donkey breeds, including some heritage breeds.
As invading Roman armies traveled, they tended to leave a trail of abandoned dogs in their wake, no matter where they went. The dogs were large and mastiff-like, but they were kept to herd sheep and cattle to feed the soldiers. As the livestock was eaten up, surplus dogs were left behind.
One area that became the residence of a sizeable population of abandoned Roman dogs was southern Germany. While they may have been useless to the Roman soldiers, they were properly appreciated by the locals and were kept to guard native livestock for several centuries. Over time, the mastiff was crossed with various sheepdog breeds to enhance its herding ability still further. The new type of dog was used to drive herds of cattle to market, particularly in Rottweil—sort of a European cowtown. But not only could it herd—it was a capable draft dog, and when a bag of money was tied around its neck the safety of the money was invariably assured.
The Rottweiler was valued until the mid-1800s when large-scale cattle drives were banned, ending the breed’s job as a herding dog. Furthermore, railroads were by this time putting an end to the need for draft dogs, leaving the Rottweiler without a purpose. Its numbers fell quickly.
Fortunately, a new purpose for the Rottweiler was found in the early 1900s—police work. From police dog it was only a short step to another role as a military dog. When World War I came around, the Rottweiler was found equal to the occasion. During the war, it served many purposes, ranging from hauling weapons and other supplies to sniffing out the wounded on the battlefield.
The first Rottweiler in America arrived sometime after the war, probably in the late 1920s. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1931, and it also quickly caught on with the American police and military. After World War II, the Rottweiler came to the attention of the general public and started to increase in popularity very quickly, first as an obedience competitor and later as a tough-looking pet and watchdog. Unfortunately, the more popular the Rottweiler became, the more puppy mills appeared to supply the increasing demand at any cost. Dangerous poorly bred Rottweilers were the result.
The reputation of the Rottweiler was tarnished by poor temperament in some lines, setting its popularity back for a time. This proved to be for the best, however, as conscientious breeders stepped up to the plate to restore the innate stability of the breed. Thanks to their efforts, the Rottweiler has remained a favorite in America, ranking as the 8th most popular breed in the nation according to AKC registration statistics.
The Rottweiler retains his historic versatility, as, thanks to his great work ethic, he will readily learn to carry out any meaningful task. He has proven his worth in trying positions ranging from police and military work to search and rescue, but he can also excel at less serious tasks. He can serve as a personal watchdog, pull a cart, or compete in sports such as agility.
The old herding instinct is still alive and well in this breed, but it is important to note that the Rottweiler has a considerably more forceful style than most herding breeds. While he can learn to moderate his approach with flightier livestock, the Rottweiler is at his best when dealing with stubborn, dominant animals, particularly cattle.
In general, a well-bred Rottweiler is quietly devoted to his family. He is happiest when allowed to be with his people, where he can fulfill his duty of protecting them. Away from his family, he can become frustrated, aggressive, or anxious. But this does not make the Rottweiler clingy. He is very loving toward his people, but shows his affection primarily by following them from room to room to ensure their safety, although he may indulge in the occasional shoulder bump. Females can be slightly more demonstrative.
Care should be taken to properly introduce the Rottweiler to visitors. He is not naturally reactive, but will take time to evaluate newcomers and form an opinion of them. If he sees that a guest is clearly a friend of the family, he will allow his good nature to shine through. Those who appear to pose a threat will meet with a harsh reception. The Rottweiler will be most accurate in his distinctions if he is introduced to friendly visitors from a young age.
Exercise caution with children. Some Rottweilers never become accustomed to the noise and fast movements of small children, and even a friendly Rottweiler can accidentally injure toddlers by bumping them around to herd them. Be especially vigilant if the neighbor’s children come over to play, as if roughhousing ensues the Rottweiler will leap to the defense of his own children.
This dog is not suitable for homes with other pets, as he is aggressive toward other canines. A few can adapt to living with a cat that they have been raised with, but this is not a sure thing. In general, it is safest to assume that the Rottweiler will prefer to be the only pet in the home.
The Rottweiler needs a strong owner that he can respect or he will easily end up dominating the household. He will test every member of the family from a young age, and will only obey those he recognizes as being in authority. However, the Rottweiler’s respect must be earned through a firm mind and an immovable will, never through physical strength. If a contest of authority devolves into a test of sheer brute force, the Rottweiler will win—every time. But once his respect is won, the Rottweiler is completely obedient and easy to train. Females tend to accept authority better than males in this breed.
When herding, the Rottweiler seeks dominance first and foremost. He deliberately finds and confronts the most stubborn individuals in the herd. He fears nothing and will quickly progress from blocking to charging to body-slamming if he feels the situation calls for stern measures. Once he has worked his herd long enough to gain their respect, however, the Rottweiler will tone down his approach and take good care of the animals. His preference is to gather livestock, but he can be taught to bring them to the handler or to drive them ahead.
The Rottweiler looks like a tough dog, and indeed he is. He suffers from fewer health problems than many popular breeds. Unfortunately, the difficulties that he is prone to can be extremely serious. Careful attention to good health should be a top priority for Rottweiler owners.
One of the first things to note is that the Rottweiler is susceptible to digestive problems, ranging from embarrassing flatulence to life-threatening bloat. This, coupled with a hearty appetite disproportionate to the dog’s real food needs, means that the owner should take no chances when it comes to diet. Feed a quality dog food, preferably in two or three moderate portions a day rather than in one big meal. Also pay attention to your dog’s weight. The Rottweiler is quite efficient when it comes to packing on the pounds.
However, be cautious when exercising the Rottweiler to keep him slim and fit. He has a proportionately short nose that makes it harder for him to pant to cool off, leaving him prone to overheating. (This short snout is also why he snores.) Furthermore, the Rottweiler is a big dog that takes a long time to mature. Excessive exercise, especially on hard surfaces, can damage his bones and joints while he is still growing.
Other common problems in the breed include:
- Hip dysplasia.
- Elbow dysplasia.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes inefficient due to thickened walls.
- Aortic stenosis, a narrowing in the aorta leading to severe complications including sudden death.
- Bone cancer.
Also, be careful where you let your puppy play, as the Rottweiler is more susceptible to the infectious gastrointestinal disease parvovirus than other breeds.
- Minimal grooming needs.
- Adaptability to cold climates.
- Work ethic.
- Ability to handle the toughest livestock without being intimidated.
- Disreputable breeders.
- Legal liabilities.
- Need for supervision around children.
- Potential aggression to strangers.
- Unsuitability for homes with other pets.
- Need for an assertive owner.
- Exercise requirements.
- Need for owner’s constant companionship to avoid behavior problems.
- Need for a job.
- Heavy shedding.
- Poor heat tolerance.
- Life-threatening health problems.
Scrub cattle run wild across Florida, just waiting to be rounded up and driven to market—a market hungry for beef in the days just after the Civil War.
If you love inspiring your children with books based on real history, give Brave the Wild Trail by Milly Howard a try. They will get a great introduction to Florida Cracker cattle, Marsh Tacky horses, and even catch dogs. They will learn about the perils of cattle driving, ranging from a ludicrous attempt to milk a wild cow to the deadly danger of robbers.
But there is much more than history and adventure to make this story worth reading. This is also a tale of changed hearts and true friendship.
Great story for younger readers!
The Roots of Cattle Driving
Learn more about the background of the events in this book.
Dog experts disagree on the history of the Bouvier des Flandres. All we know for certain is that, from time immemorial, sturdy cattle dogs lived and worked in the Flanders region of Belgium and on the northern plains of France. What types of dogs went into the gene pool is mostly unknown. Some monks at Ter Duinen were early breeders, and we do know that they imported Irish Wolfhounds and Scottish Deerhounds to cross with local farm dogs. Where the local farm dogs came from, however, is uncertain. Some experts suggest they were descendants of herding dogs from the rest of Continental Europe, perhaps various types of schnauzers, but this is mostly speculation.
In any case, the Bouvier des Flandres was strictly utilitarian. It was quite versatile, pulling carts for butchers and driving and guarding herds of cattle for merchants. It also found a place on the family farm, completing any work necessary, from working grist mills to defending property from intruders.
Every region had its own preferred type of Bouvier. Differences in size, shape, and color abounded for many years. Even when the first breed standard was drawn up in 1912, great variation was permitted.
The face of the breed changed quickly when World War I struck. In war-torn France, all suitable working dogs were pressed into military service. The Bouvier des Flandres again proved its worth and versatility. It could deliver messages, haul guns, and search battlefields for wounded soldiers in need of help. These were dangerous jobs, however. The breed paid a heavy toll during the war.
One of the survivors was a dog named Nic de Sottegem. He was saved by a veterinarian with the Belgian army. After the fighting was over, dog show judges were given an opportunity to examine both Nic de Sottegem and his progeny. His structural quality was considered so excellent that he and his offspring were used as the basis of a new, more uniform standard. Breeders not only sought to replicate Nic de Sottegem’s good points, they relied heavily on his descendants to rebuild the numbers of the breed.
Much of the rebuilding process occurred in the 1920s. It was also at this time that the Bouvier des Flandres was taken to America. AKC recognition was granted in 1931. The breed quickly caught on, not as a working dog, but as a show dog.
Today, the Bouvier enjoys moderate popularity across the United States, having achieved the rank of 83rd in AKC registration statistics. It is not one of the more common farm dogs, but is still represented at most herding trials.
Many Bouviers today are kept as companions or show dogs, but they are still quite able to work. They make good therapy dogs and guide dogs.
On the farm, the Bouvier des Flandres is a trustworthy general-purpose worker. He is best known for herding cattle, but he is quite suitable for working sheep and poultry. He is a dutiful guardian of family, livestock, and territory. He can even pull a cart of firewood or garden produce.
But the fortitude of the Bouvier is perhaps at its best in the dangerous, trying duties of police and military work. He can do anything from sniffing out drugs to apprehending a fleeing criminal. Likewise, he can be absolutely depended on in search-and-rescue work.
The Bouvier des Flandres combines a bold presence with quiet manners. There is little he fears, and there is absolutely nothing that can rattle him out of his calm self-possession. He is a thoughtful dog, used to making his own decisions and relying on his own judgment. Fortunately, his judgment is extremely sound. He can readily size up a situation and respond with the precise action necessary. Even around strangers, he is never aggressive unless he feels that danger is in the air, preferring to awe intruders with his cool scrutiny.
But with members of his own household, there are few dogs more loyal and deeply affectionate than a Bouvier des Flandres. He is happiest within sight of his family, and if they scatter he will do his best to nudge them back together. He loves children, but is far less patient with other dogs. Caution is needed with cats and other pets, but most Bouviers will accept these animals if raised with them.
Even though the Bouvier is a willing worker, he must first be taught to respect human authority. During adolescence, he can be somewhat difficult to live with, as he will push the limits whenever possible. He can be very rowdy during play at this time, as well, so be careful about leaving a young Bouvier alone with small children. Training must balance kindness and firmness. The Bouvier can learn quite quickly and has a keen memory, so don’t bore him with needless repetition. Just remember that he needs to think before he can react. If he has learned to respect your authority, he will obey you—just give him time to process what you are telling him.
The Bouvier is a well-behaved housedog when his activity needs are met. A daily job will help him feel like a useful member of the family. When he does spend time outdoors, he needs to be contained in a physical fence at least five feet high. An underground fence is not a sufficient barrier, as he is nearly impervious to the slight tingle of most electronic collars.
As a herding dog, the Bouvier des Flandres is a quiet worker. He mostly relies on his imposing size to influence his charges to move. He has a strong instinct to gather stock, using a physical body block to prevent escapes. He can also drive animals from behind.
The Bouvier des Flandres matures very slowly. During his first two to three years of life, exercise him gently to avoid damaging soft bones and joints. Running and jumping should be avoided at this time.
His digestive system is something to be reckoned with. He tends to suffer from embarrassing flatulence. More seriously, he is prone to bloat. All Bouvier owners are advised to become familiar with the symptoms of bloat, as it is a life-threatening condition. Avoid this problem by feeding your dog two or three small meals daily instead of one large meal, and avoid undue excitement and activity within an hour of meal time.
Some autoimmune disorders exist in this breed, including cancer and hypothyroidism. Fortunately, the latter is still not terribly common.
Otherwise, the most common health problems in the Bouvier des Flandres include:
- Hip dysplasia.
- Elbow dysplasia.
- Subaortic stenosis, a birth defect that narrows the left ventricle at the point where it joins the aorta.
- Minimal shedding.
- Partially hypoallergenic coat.
- Adaptability to most conditions, particularly cold.
- Unsuitability for homes with other dogs.
- Need for plenty of human companionship.
- Need for firm training.
- Rowdiness when young.
- Coat that tends to collect debris and saliva, particularly around the beard.
- Special grooming requirements to maintain wiry coat.
- Exercise requirements.
Most of the herding dogs of the British Isles trace back to a common ancestor—the big, black-and-tan mastiffs brought by Julius Caesar around 55 BC to guard and drive livestock to feed the Roman army. Of course, British and Scottish sheepdogs do not look much like mastiffs. This is owing to the influence of small herding spitzes brought by the Vikings after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The two dogs, mastiff and spitz, proved to form a powerful combination.
Ever afterward, sheepdogs were a part of everyday life on the desolate pastures of Scotland, the hilly country on the border with England. Ancient writers tell us that the sheepdogs of the Border country could be trusted to take a flock out to graze during the day and herd them safely home at night. Early on, the farm collie, or Scotch Collie as it was called at first, was bred to work.
Life went on the same for centuries, each generation of farm collie being more or less like the last. But matters suddenly began to change with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly, wool and mutton became big business. Shepherding morphed from a matter of subsistence to more of a commercial enterprise. Scottish farmers expanded their flocks considerably, but of course this meant that they needed greater assistance in handling them. A good dog was often cheaper than a shepherd, and frequently more reliable. Greater efforts were made to improve the farm collie, enhancing his speed, precision, and obedience.
In 1860, Queen Victoria made a trip to Scotland and fell in love with the humble farm collie. Almost overnight, the shepherd’s dog became the devoted companion of the aristocracy. However, wealthy breeders preferred a fluffier dog with a more refined build. A split began in the bloodlines of the farm collie, the aristocratic version assuming sole ownership of the name Scotch Collie. This dog was also called the show collie or just the Collie, and is the breed now exemplified by the immortal Lassie. The dogs that stayed behind in the hill country to work were just known as sheepdogs.
At this time, however, the ideal sheepdog had yet to come to the forefront. Whenever shepherds met, it was inevitable that the conversation would turn to sheepdogs and, often, to boasting about the best dogs. Some dogs drove stock before them, while others fetched sheep to the master; some were incessant barkers, while others preferred to work silently. Since the situation was the same wherever sheep were worked with dogs, shepherds conceived the idea of holding contests to settle the disputes.
The first sheepdog trial in history was actually held in New Zealand, but the first trial of note was hosted in Bala, Wales, in 1873. A Scottish dog named Tweed won prizes for both herding and beauty. But the future of both herding trials and sheepdogs changed forever in the 1890s when Old Hemp appeared on the scene.
Old Hemp resembled a modern Border Collie in every way, from his appearance to his working style. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not bark while at work. He controlled his sheep with a hypnotic stare, willing them to obey. His method was unbeatable—Old Hemp won every herding trial he attended his whole life through. Little wonder that Old Hemp became both the standard and the fountainhead of the Border Collie.
Some of the best Scottish sheepdogs were brought to America beginning in the 1880s, often to work on the expansive sheep ranches of the West. For about 100 years, the Border Collie was simply a good working dog.
In the 1990s, however, the breed became more familiar to the general public. Meanwhile, the American Kennel Club was in the midst of an expansion phase. The Border Collie was added to the Herding Group on October 1, 1995, creating a split between show and working bloodlines that still sparks heated debate today.
Whatever its purpose, the Border Collie is incredibly popular given its energy level and exercise needs. It is the 38th most popular dog according to AKC registration statistics, and it can be found working on many farms and ranches all across the country.
Don’t be confused by the fact that there are working Border Collies and show/pet Border Collies—all Border Collies need a job, no matter what bloodline they come from.
Working Border Collies are serious dogs that pretty much have to put in a full day of strenuous work to be content. These dogs need to live on a sizeable farm or ranch with plenty of opportunities to herd sheep. Some working Border Collies have enough force to handle cattle, as well.
AKC Border Collies are slightly more laid-back, making good companions for active families. They thrive in the hands of owners with a competitive streak, whether it comes out in canine sports like agility or human sports like marathon running. Given the right climate, Border Collies can even make excellent sled dogs in middle-distance races. Of course, herding is still appreciated by many AKC Border Collies. However, their lower octane levels help them to be content with herding in AKC trials or on hobby farms.
In their spare time, most Border Collies make good watchdogs.
The Border Collie is nothing if not intense. He loves nothing better than to work and to please. If his mind is kept busy, he is calm, reliable, and impeccably well-mannered. If he has to find his own jobs and entertainment, however, he is prone to a whole host of compulsive behaviors, including herding shadows, chasing cars, chewing furniture, finding new ways to escape, and barking at nothing in particular.
In keeping with his subtle methods of reading and controlling sheep, the Border Collie is exceptionally sensitive. This creates a unique set of training challenges:
- A Border Collie puppy should be introduced to a wide range of people, places, experiences, and (particularly) sounds, all in a safe, fun way. Otherwise, he is likely to develop severe phobias during those early, insecure weeks.
- Consistency is all-important. The Border Collie can detect the most subtle changes in tone, an important skill for dogs that must respond to distant whistle commands when herding on expansive ranges. As far as the dog is concerned, a word means one thing when spoken in a high-pitched tone and something completely different when spoken in a low tone.
- Punishment should be kept to a minimum when training. The Border Collie cannot handle harsh reprimands, and will act irrationally when punished. Fortunately, he truly wants to please, so this type of discipline is rarely necessary anyway.
- Praise should be delivered with perfect timing. A poorly timed word of praise can reinforce bad habits, especially since the Border Collie needs only one or two repetitions to completely master a new behavior. For this reason, many Border Collie owners use a clicker to train their dogs, since most trainers can press a button with much greater speed and precision than they can speak.
The Border Collie is happiest when with his family, with whom he bonds very deeply. He can get along quite well with older children, other dogs, and even the family cat (depending on the personality of the cat). He displays a strong instinct to keep all of his family members in a group, making him prone to separation anxiety. Unfortunately, this gathering instinct can also lead to dangerous situations with small children. If children run from him, a Border Collie may try to hold them with his teeth. He is not being aggressive—just controlling his flock.
When herding sheep, the Border Collie works with a style seen in no other breed. He naturally tends to make sweeping runs, working at a considerable distance from his flock. However, he can still maintain a high degree of control with his stalking approach and his unnerving stare. This intent gaze is known as “eye.” Because of his reliance on eye, the Border Collie typically prefers to work at the head of his flock. However, he is quite versatile, and can be taught to drive animals in front of him, or even to tend livestock in an unfenced pasture. Likewise, the Border Collie can learn to work either independently or under tight control from the handler.
Note that the AKC Border Collie is more relaxed than the working Border Collie, although still full of energy.
Health problems common in the Border Collie breed include:
- Lens luxation.
- Collie eye anomaly, a genetic defect that prevents the eye from developing properly.
- Progressive retinal atrophy.
- Hip dysplasia.
- Allergic reactions to flea bites.
- Multi-drug resistance, which can cause life-threatening reactions to some tranquilizers and heartworm medication.
Epilepsy has been seen in a few dogs, as has osteochondritis dissecans, a painful joint condition in which cartilage and bone die and crack.
Never breed two merle dogs together. The resulting puppies may be born white, blind, and deaf.
Note that the Border Collie is a serious workaholic. He will not stop working just because he is too hot or tired, so owners must be alert to prevent heatstrokes.
- Unparalleled ability to learn.
- Adaptability to most climates.
- Work ethic.
- Incredible herding instinct.
- Need for constant companionship.
- Tendency to chase cars and small children.
- Susceptibility to phobias and compulsive behavior.
- Need for consistent training.
- Need for a challenging job.