Claire Apple: Farmcollies and the American Working Farmcollie Association

by Apr 26, 2023Podcast0 comments

Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.


Jessica Hekman: Hi friends. This week I talk all things farm Collie with Claire Apple, a board member of the American Working Farm Collie Association or AWFA. Claire talks about what farm collies are and what they do, how to think about populations of dogs who aren’t just one breed, and registering dogs on merit. It’s a really interesting perspective on managing populations using a group that’s not a breed club but provides much of the support of a breed club. 

Well, Claire, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. I’m really excited to talk about farm collies

Claire Apple: Great.

JH: And the way I normally start out is asking everybody about their own dogs. So do you want to tell us a bit about who lives with you and maybe what jobs they do for you, if any?

CA: Sure. So I specialize in Shetland Sheepdogs. And I have a small farm, I do pretty much agri-tourism as my income. And so they do everything from, you know, guard against small predators, moving the stock around to prepare for clients, as well as doing demos and working with clients, help take care of young animals like lambs and stuff like that. Definitely, you know, warning, warning bells for people arriving and they also do a good job on, you know, giving second opinions on health issues.


JH: What does second opinions on health issues look like?

CA: Usually if they’re following livestock, like if they’re following an individual, something is wrong gonna be wrong with that individual. 

JH: Oh, interesting. That’s very cool.

CA: So it could be, you know, fellow dogs. It could be sheep with, you know, an abscess or something that I can’t see from my human viewpoint. Could be a turkey that’s gotten torn up by a Tom, but I can’t see the injury. 

JH: Yeah. Oh, very nice. So how many of them do you have?

CA: A bunch. (Laughter) So I usually have around—well, you know, it kind of, my puppies can come and stay and get trained for free. So sometimes I have them for a weekend if the owners are out of town and stuff. So usually I have around 12.

JH: Yeah, that’s fair. So often I talk to people who have like one or two and they’re happy to tell me all the details of the one dog. There’s one time I asked someone about her dogs, and there’s this long pause and then she said, I have 13 of them, do you really want to hear about every single one? (Laughter) I was like no, you don’t have to do that.

So, well, so how did you get into Shelties and how’d you get into, sort of, farm collies specifically. Well, I’ll ask you next about defining farm collies, but I just would be curious about what your personal history is. 


CA: Um, I hadn’t really liked Shelties. The ones that I’d met at agility trials or whatever, they seemed very standoffish and kind of barky and you know, they’re not easy dogs.

JH: A little barky, yeah! 

CA: Yeah, not easy dogs to meet in public. But I was helping out for, you know, extra money job, a Sheltie breeder who was just raising, you know, pets. She’d be definitely considered a backyard breeder. But she taught me a lot. And I ended up getting one of, I did some herding, instinct testing and stuff with some of her puppies. And I ended up getting one of her puppies. And then it was kind of downhill from there.

JH: So, tell us what you mean by a farm collie.

CA: So farm collies are kind of a general term. So a bunch of different breeds fit under that. So, Border Collie could be a farm collie, an Aussie, an English Shepherd, Rough Collie, Smooth Collie, Bearded Collie. But what you’re really, what it really encompasses is kind of a homestead dog. So one that is more of a generalist, that is possibly safe to be around their livestock all the time rather than needing to be penned up because they’ll just work until they fall over. And one that has some nurturing abilities and some desire to, you know, say go for vermin and stuff like that. A general helper, multitasker.


JH: Yeah, yeah. So I’ve heard people talk about Border Collies as being like sheep specialists and herding specialists. And then I have a English shepherd who I’ve heard described as that breed tends to be more generalist. Is that similar to what you’re saying? 

CA: Mmm hmm.

JH: Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Um, and I was gonna ask you what kind of jobs they do. I think you’ve pretty much covered it in your, when you’re talking about the jobs that they do around your farm. Is there anything?

CA: It’s never ending. I mean, it’s finding, you know, I’ll send them for eggs in blackberry bushes. I’ll, you know, find missing stock. You know, they can…

JH: They retrieve eggs for you? 

CA: Oh, yeah.

JH: Oh, that’s so cool.


CA: Yeah, that’s why you have a retrieve to hand. (Laughter)

JH: Yes, yes. Fair enough. No, I’m looking at, so I have a Border Collie and English Shepherd, and right now I’m looking at them and thinking what total useless slobs they are. But, uh, but yeah, that is very cool. So, talking about farm collies, we’re talking more about dogs that do a particular job rather than dogs that are bred for breed purity or bred for specific lines, right? 

CA: Right. 

JH: Bred for a specific breed. Would you—so the the term I sort of wanted to talk about then was landrace, which maybe you could define for us, and let us know if you think does that sort of apply to farm collies in general?

CA: Oh, sure. Um, so when I think of landrace, I think of dogs that are kind of locally adapted. 

JH: Yeah. 

CA: Because the dog use is dependent on the livestock husbandry style, which is dependent on geography, and weather, and cultural tendencies. And then you throw in shared genetics with that. So, you know, dogs that are used, that are made to work, you know, cold mountainous areas, with a particular husbandry style, are going to be looking very different than dogs that are flatland or bog working dogs.


JH: So we might say that there are different landraces from, you know, with sort of different purposes, and a bunch of them could be useful as farm collies. So you might not say that farm collie per se was its own landrace, but that there are different landrace types that could make it up. Would you say that?

CA: I would say that initially, that “farm collie” heading was a land race. 

JH: Mmm hmm, and then it split. 

CA: And then it’s been you know, once things start being standardized and picked up by clubs and registries, and people really pick a working job for them, then you start having breeds. But if you start thinking back about function, and “Okay, well, I want to select for function in this type of environment,” you can certainly tend back towards, you know, ignoring the breed boundaries, right? 

JH: Yeah, that makes sense. But even so, there is a way to register farm collies, right? So you’re on the board of the American Working Farm Collie Association, which AWFA, I really want to pronounce it “awwfa.” (Laughter) Do people say that or do they say AWFA? (Laughter)

CA: I don’t know, I usually tend to say AWFA. 


JH: You type it. Well, we’ll say AWFA, but maybe I’ll just keep calling it awwfa in my head. Because I think that’s a fantastic name for an association. Um, so it’s sort of like a breed club, but it’s not like a breed club. Do you want to tell us a little bit about it, how it works? 

CA: Sure. So we have a merit use type of registry. So we’re looking at dogs that have shared genetics, right, as their base looking back at what breeds were developed from the initial farm collie type landrace. And what we try to do is keep track of good farmstead dogs and try to preserve working farm dog traits in the purebred descendents. And encourage that as one of the goals for breeding. And not just purely on looks and purely, you know, it’s a Sheltie, it looks like a Sheltie, everybody says Sheltie in the ring, right? Um, and also, it’s a great way for people who are looking for farm dogs to be able to find one that’s tailored to their needs. 

JH: Right. So how do you identify a dog that’s appropriate to be registered?


CA: So basically, it’s a process of, because it’s merit… I have a dog trying to help me with my paperwork here. 

JH: See that’s what happens when the dog thinks they can help with everything.

CA: Yes, they do try! So that the dog, because we’re looking at behaviors that may require more age on the dog to show up, like for my shelties, they’re not fully adult until they’re three. There are behaviors I know I will not see until they’re three. And temperament things that I will not see until they’re three. So to register a dog we want them to be at least a year old, but mentally mature, you’re going to get a better reading of course. Must be a collie type breed or mix. So something derived from those initial, you know Scotch Collie type dogs, so Aussies, English Shepherds, Bearded Collie, Border Collie, Kelpie, Rough Collie, Smooth Collie, Sheltie. 

JH: Sheltie, don’t forget the Sheltie. 

CA: Yeah. So, you know, Welsh, those are all, or mixes of those. Or if you have a dog that you don’t know the origin of, right? Those are also fine. As long as they bear close resemblance to that initial Scotch Collie type.


JH: So you wouldn’t take a golden retriever, even if they could do the job, basically.

CA: Right. 

JH: Okay. 

CA: And then we’re looking, because we’re looking for consistency, right? So it might be, it’s more likely to be a one off, in a Golden Retriever. 

JH: Yeah. 

CA: But if say you had, you know, your family was on their fourth generation of farm collie style working retrievers, you might be able to talk us into it.


JH: Yeah, let me know, if that ever happens. (Laughs) That would be interesting.But yeah go on.

CA: They have to qualify in two out of the three categories. So we’re looking at herding, guarding tendencies, and hunting tendencies. And so they’ve got to be, they’ve got to have two of those three categories.

JH: So what do those tests look like? I can imagine what a herding test looks like. What do hunting and guarding tests look like?

CA: Well, because it’s, we want basically full essays on the dogs. We will take videos too. But we’re looking for, you know, say for herding, how far away does the dog like to work? Does the dog grip, and where? You know, is it just a head or is it just a heel? Some people really need one or the other. Does it fetch, does it drive? Does it kind of just do a general? Does it herd by having a relationship with the stock and, you know, walking up and telling the stock to go? Or does it do a more traditional pressure style herding? You know, how much eye does it have? Things like that for your herding category. And, does it have a preference in stock. You know, because later people will need to know is this from a line of cattle dogs, and I just need a good chicken dog, this may not be the line I need to look at.

And then for the guarding, that encompasses both what we call nurturing Guardian skills. So that would be the dogs that really adore the bottle babies and snuggle them and, you know, keep them warm, and are good babysitters for chicks, you know, take care of the barn cats, watch the children, as well as territory guarding. You know, watchdog skills, how good are they about announcing strangers? Will they back off if you tell them? How independent are they on patrolling their territories and also how well do they guard against predators? 


JH: Yeah, so that’s a lot. And that’s complex. You’re saying you basically get essays from people? And then I assume you have as a set of club volunteers who read over the essays decide yes or no on a particular dog?

CA: Yeah, we have long- Yeah we have, you know, multi question stuff. Plus, we want write ups. So the more people can log their, “Oh, wow. You know, Bob did this great job today. And, you know, he backed off the ram while my back was turned.” That’s the stuff we need to hear. 

JH: Yeah. 

CA: So logging all of those situations and incidents as your dog develops and letting us know, gives us a really good picture of the dog. Because there are so many little pieces to it. 

JH: Yeah, so when you say logging, you’re basically asking people to keep a diary as their dog grows up?

CA: That would be the best way, right? In order to give us the most information.


JH: Yeah, I can imagine. So do you get a lot of applications that are, you know, like, the person really wants to register their dog and you say, no, that the essay just doesn’t look like the dog cuts it?

CA: Yeah, I mean sometimes we get ones that just don’t have enough information. 

JH: Yeah. 

CA: Sometimes we get ones that, hmm, dog’s a little young, talk to us and another eight or nine months. Because we’re just, we don’t think the dog is mature into its job yet. And there’s going to be some where they might be city dogs, and we just don’t get enough information. Like they’re not exposed to the jobs enough for us to say one way or the other.

JH: So there could be dogs that actually would be perfectly competent farm dogs, but they are not living on a farm. So there’s no real way to know.

CA: Yeah, exactly.

JH: So how does this interact with other registries? So it sounds like probably a lot of your dogs are registered elsewhere as purebreds. Is that true? 

CA: Sure. We totally encourage double registration, triple registration.


JH: And then people are coming to you basically so that they can, so there are breeders who want to be able to maybe find other breeders to, you know, for mate selection, or they want to be able to advertise through you to to have good access to good farm homes to place their puppies in? Is that the role that you see yourselves in? Or is there another part of your role that I’m missing there?

CA: Well, I mean we also have an educational role, you know, as far as helping people settle into their farm collies, right, and you know deal with behaviors on the farm, and recommending different breed combos or particular lines that might fit well, helping people match. But yeah, I mean, most people who register either, you know, find that they’re able to get better farm homes where the dogs are actually going to be proven by working through listing with AWFA. And for people who are looking to do crossbreeding it’s a good place to look for dogs that may not be your breed, but are performing a similar task. 

JH: Yeah, for sure. There’s not a lot of places to go to to look for things like that. So forgive me for this question. I was a data nerd in my previous life and I’m thinking hard about how to set up a database type thing for the Functional Dog Collaborative right now. So when someone comes to AWFA to search for a dog, and they have a set of particular needs, right, so they want the dog to herd, and maybe to prefer a certain type of stock, and maybe they want a particular style of herding, as you said, heading versus heeling, and they want the dog to also be very good at helping take care of baby sheep. Do you have, like how do you help them navigate that and find the right breeder for them? Do you actually have- I should have thought to look, but we hadn’t talked about all these things the dogs can do, do you like have a way for them, a search function for that, or do they basically just go start talking to people?


CA: Well, all of the registered dogs are listed on the site and have little write ups. So you could go look for the ones that are, you know, of breeding age. If there are no listings for upcoming litters or recent litters, you could go look at individual dogs and see what is there and what matches your needs. And then we also have a Facebook group that you could say, “Hey, I really need a blah,” you know, and people would suggest things.

JH: Yeah, it’s actually it’s sounding a lot like, I’m in the middle of trying to put together what we’re calling breeding cooperatives for the Functional Dog Collaborative right now, and it’s sounding really similar actually. That, you know, there’d be groups of people who come together to talk about, you know, exactly what they’re doing and finding dogs to do it and then caring more about what the dog’s job is rather than, you know, being willing to accept different breeds coming in. And maybe some people wanting to say, “Well, I’m only breeding Shetland Sheepdogs. But I’m still interacting with other people who are breeding Border Collies or Aussies or whatnot because they have useful information to give me.” 

CA: Of course, always. 

JH: Yeah, it’s a nice model actually. I like it a lot. 


CA: We do have an online pedigree database now. It’s still kind of in flux. So it might, eventually we might be able to search for specific little behavior pieces like that.

JH: Yeah, that’s the tough part with databases like this. I’m discovering right now that it’s very easy to imagine what you want it to do. And very hard or expensive to find someone to make it do it, right. 

CA: Oh, yeah.

JH: Yeah, so and I’m suspecting that a lot of the people who are going to listen to this are not on farms, but like me are interested in herding type breeds for sport type things. And I have actually no idea whether you would say these are dogs that, this would be a good place to go to for like an agility dog, or this would be a really terrible place to go to for an agility dog. So I thought maybe you could address that head on.

CA: I’d say it’s, it’s 50/50. Um, some of the breeders that you talk to will not have been placing their pups routinely in sport homes so may not be able to evaluate them for sport homes, just because of that. But you know, certainly, if you went with, you know, okay we’re looking for a little bit more biddable dog, not quite as, you know, not not a super tough dog. That may give you a nice biddable easy to train companion, right, because we do evaluate them on independence. That’ll give you some idea. Is it okay, once you tell them what the job is they do it on their own, which is great persistence and confidence. Or okay, well they’re going to do the job they think needs to be done and they’re a little hard to get switched off.

JH: Yeah. And it seems very likely to me that in any litter, there’s going to be dogs that are better or worse at particular jobs, right. So if you do your best possible breeding hoping to produce a litter of farm collies, you might get several that are going to be great on the farm, and several that might do well elsewhere. But I’m guessing that if someone wanted a dog like this for a pet, they’d have to expect it to be pretty high energy and need a lot of exercise. 

CA: Totally depends on which line and what niche. The ones that are just like, we just want to sit on the porch and watch the chickens and chase off the Hawks and play with the kids. Those are going to be lower energy dogs.


JH: Although perhaps louder ones.

CA: No, not necessarily. 

JH: Oh okay. 

CA: But you know, the ones that are okay, well, it needs to, you know, work cattle for hours every day. Those are going to be a little bit more hard to keep exercised and enriched in an urban environment. I’d say in general they’re going to be, you know, for sport home they’d be pretty reasonable. 

JH: Uh huh. 

CA: And, you know, with a, you know, like a good hiking active family home, they’d probably be a fine match.

JH: Yeah. All right I’m sold. I would like a dog to retrieve eggs for me. (Laughter) So if someone wants to know more about AWFA, where would they go?


CA: Well, we are on Facebook, and it’s just capital A W F A. And then our website is: 

JH: Nice. 

CA: And the list of dogs that are registered as: 

JH: Okay, I am probably going to go check that out, as I’m now fascinated by databases of dogs these days. (Laughs) And then if someone was interested in you, or your particular breeding program, would you have a place you would want to send them?

CA: Sure. I can be found on Facebook, most of my dogs, I take pictures of them every day almost. And, it’s Claire Apple on Facebook. And then it’s, I believe it’s ncdogtraining on the web.


JH: Yeah, I will look that up and put the links in the show notes. Great. All right, well thank you so much. It’s really interesting to look at different ways of managing breeding populations. I feel like a lot of us think of the breed clubs as the only way to do it and it’s, I like looking at this other like, well, you can do it with a breed club but then you can have this alternate sort of management strategy. Which is, AWFA sounds like a fascinating and very, very cool organization. So thanks for talking to us about it.

CA: You’re very welcome.



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