Talk About Collie Weed, Eh?
The Border Collie as we know it today is descended from a dog named Old Hemp. Old Hemp’s style was reportedly different from that commonly seen during his era, as he worked more quietly than other sheepdogs of the time.
This style was adopted and used by other breeders and trainers and became the dominant style among Border Collies within a few generations, according to Wikipedia.
Tricolor dogs much like the Border Collie existed centuries ago. As confirmed by old paintings and lithographs, sheherds’ dogs in the days of old looked quite similar to today’s Border Collie.
But the Border Collie as a breed didn’t exist, according to Cimmiekris Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, until a Northumbrian farmer (Northumberland is in northern England, on the border with Scotland), Adam Telfer, crossbred two types of sheep dogs in 1894.
Old Hemp, who was born in 1893 and died in 1901, showed a natural affinity for shepherding, first following sheep at the tender age of six weeks. Though mild-mannered, he grew to have a great ability to herd, moving sheep quietly unlike the louder sheepdogs of the era.
He was bred by Telfer from Roy, and black and tan dog, and Meg, a black-coated, “strong-eyed” dog. Old Hemp, undefeated at trials, was a quiet, powerful dog, and sheep responded to him quickly.
His owner, Telfer, was thoroughly impressed with the dog, once saying Hemp “flashed like a meteor across the sheepdog horizon. There was never such an outstanding personality.”
Author and commentator Eric Halsell was also impressed by Hemp’s skill. He once said of the dog, “none who saw him [work] ever forgot him… Almost faultless in [his] work… he was born with such knowledge of his craft that he never required training and went to his work naturally.”
This dog got around, and he wasn’t all work and no play. Bitches loved Hemp. Estimates place Old Hemp’s offspring at more than 200, due to his stud services being widely sought after.
Each of the 29 collies that won the Farmers Championship for sheepdogs between 1906 and 1951 were descendants from Old Hemp.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Toke reader Mark for tipping us off to this interesting fact!