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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
Agriculture; 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
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
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
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
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
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
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."