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The Smithfield dog in Tasmania

by Roy Butler, District Veterinary Officer
Dryland Research Institute
Department of Agriculture and Food - Western Australia

An article appeared in the Tasmanian Journal of
; August 1978. Please do not copy or reproduce.
It is under copyright. Mr. Roy Butler has given permission
for reproduction of this article. Fortunately, the National
Library of Australia was able to provide a copy of
the article where the images were reasonably clear.
The text was retyped to provide better clarity on the printed words.

"The three main sheep dog breeds in Tasmania are the Kelpie, the Border Collie and the Smithfield

I am particularly interested in and somewhat intrigued by the Smithfield for reasons that I will explain.

First though, I'll describe what I mean by a Smithfield, although I'm sure all rural Tasmanians could identify one at forty paces. The Smithfield, to me, is a medium-sized rough coated, outgoing, active dog. His tail is usually long, but on rare occasions is absent or has been docked (see Bobtails, later). Coat colour varies—black, grey, brown—but mostly there is some white, on head, chest, feet or tail. The ears are usually partially erect, and turned down at the tip; the muzzle is whiskery (see Beardie, later) and there is plenty of hair down the legs, and between the toes. As a working dog the Smithfield is forceful, fast and game. He is said to be good in the highlands, in snow, and in rough bush country. He is not an 'eye dog' and therefore is not seen in sheep dog trials.

The Smithfield seems to adapt better than the other working breeds to suburban life, and with his normally friendly disposition, makes a good, if boisterous, pet.

That's my idea of a Smithfield. There is sure to be someone who will disagree with some details; this is quite understandable since the breed has no Standard.

This brings me to an explanation of why the Smithfield, of all dogs, is of particular interest.

I am puzzled why the breed persists at all, given the number of factors which seem to operate against its continued existence.

The breed is not recognised by the Kennel Control Council and has no register or stud book. There are no breed records other than any that private individuals might keep.

There is very little deliberate breeding of Smithfields' that is, most sheep dogs are mated either by chance or to another good dog, the breed being of little consequence.

There has been no reinforcement of the breed in Tasmania by the importation of new blood since the original dogs arrived, presumably before 1900. However, Old English Sheepdogs (Bobtails) have become more common in Tasmania in the last 5-6 years and a few of their crossbred offspring may join the working sheepdog population.

But while there have been no recent importations to Tasmania of Smithfields or Bearded Collies (Beardies), quite a few Kelpies, especially, and Border Collies have been imported.

All of these factors—lack of a Breed Society register, few owners who are deliberately breeding Smithfields, a small original gene pool with little or no new blood introduced, and numerical competition from other working sheep dog breeds—should mean that the Smithfield is a rare if not extinct breed, in Tasmania. So why are they still common?

It must be that the breed has survived on its merits; a high proportion of Smithfields must be good workers since the breed has remained one of the Big Three on Tasmanian sheep farms. Perhaps too, some of the physical characteristics of the breed are strongly dominant and have resisted submersion through generations of cross breeding.

Whatever the reasons for its survival, it seems the Smithfield is here to stay: a true farm animal—unregistered, unappreciated (by the dog show fraternity), but performance tested and quietly (in a sense) doing the job it was bred for.

The Origins of the Smithfield

Old English Sheepdog (Bobtail):

These are obviously related to the Smithfield. Bobtails are bigger, heavier and hairier than the Smithfields, and more uniform in coat colouring—grey or blue or blue merle and while. Some Bobtails are born tailless but most are docked. Some Tasmanians dock Smithfields' tails in the belief that that is the way they should be, and there are stories of naturally tailless Smithfields. Some authorities on the Old English Sheepdog believe the Tasmanian Smithfield is a descendant of that breed.

Bearded Collie (Beardie):

This is an old Scottish breed, once known as the Highland Collie.

Mrs. G. O. Willison, an English lady largely responsible for the revival of interest in this breed in Britain, believes that it is one of the oldest British breeds. She suggests that the Old English Sheepdog evolved from the Bearded Collie, but other authors have suggested the reverse.

In contrast to the Old English Sheepdog, the Beardie has a long, lean body, a natural tail (not docked) and a double coat of raw harsh texture and medium length. The name, of course, refers to the 'beard' on the face. In fact Mrs. Willison's description of a Beardie would just as aptly fit our Smithfield and I believe the Smithfield actually is, or is closely related to the Bearded Collie.

There are now small numbers of Bearded Collies on the Mainland.

New Zealand Beardie:

This breed probably also originated from the Bearded Collie and, if so, would be closely related to the Tasmanian Smithfield.

The Smithfield—Tasmania's Own?

While Smithfields may exist in small numbers on the Mainland, it seems the other breeds with shorter, smoother coats are preferred for heat tolerance and grass seed resistance.

I believe there are good grounds to claim that the Smithfield dog is a true product of Tasmania, one to be proud of, and perhaps one to promote and protect.

Although the breed has persisted in Tasmania up till now with little assistance, we cannot rely on this state of affairs to continue. It is difficult now to find a seemingly 'pure' Smithfield, and most have a recognizable dash of some other breed. With the availability across the Strait of Bearded Collies, and in our own State Old English Sheepdogs, it should be easy now to reinforce the breed with new but closely related bloodlines.

It might be debatable whether the establishment of a breed Standard, and the keeping of pedigrees is desirable; perhaps if a satisfactory performance test was included, among with suitable type, as a condition of registration then the pedigreed Smithfield would be as valuable a sheepdog as the present day Smithfield.

If I have succeeded in alerting some Tasmanians to the presence here of a dog that is (almost) uniquely Tasmanian, then I will be content.

If, even better, a few people take an interest in preserving, recording and promoting the Smithfield breed I would be delighted."

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