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Old Hemp

Old Hemp, a tricolor dog, was born in Northumberland in September 1893 and died in May 1901. He was bred by Adam Telfer from Roy, a black and tan dog, and Meg, a black-coated, strong-eyed dog. Hemp was a quiet, powerful dog to which sheep responded easily. He served as the model for the Border Collie exterior.

The Telfer family were all involved in sheepdogs and sheepdog trialling. Walter, Adam’s father, won the first sheepdog trial held in England in 1876. Adam was born in 1859 in Redesdale, Northumberland and was a hired shepherd and later a farmer. His sons, Adam, Walter, and Jack were also shepherds or farmers, and Adam Telfer, Jr. was also a sheepdog triallist.

Old Hemp’s big influence on the breed was caused by his sensational appearance at trials. Since he started trials at the age of one, he never lost one. Old Hemp had a formidable ability to read sheep, and finished every course apparently without any difficulty. The reticent Scots apparently described him as ‘bluidy marvellous’.

Hemp’s working style became the Border Collie style.

“Hemp obviously came too soon for the Nationals and International, as the ISDS was not formed until 1906, three years after Hemp’s death; but much is said about his working capability and his ability to pass it on to his descentants.”

Actually, it was quite surprising that Old Hemp was this talented. His father, Roy, was a nice dog, but did not possess special talent for herding sheep. His mother, Meg, on the contrary was such an intense worker that she hypnotised herself instead of the sheep. Thus Old Hemp was a typical example of a dog inheriting all the good characteristics of its parents without being burdened by their bad habits.

Halsall calls Hemp a “sheepdog genius” who became the premiere stud dog in the Borders, but he goes on to say that without Telfer, a man dedicated to the improvement of the working collie and one who knew how to go about it, there would have been no Hemp and consequently none of his progeny. It was Hemp’s progeny that went on to affect the breed for generations in Britain as well as abroad, through his grandsons, Sweep and Herdman’s Tommy.

Sheila Grew, in her book Key Dogs From the Border Collie Family Volume II (1985 Payne Essex, Ltd.), says “Old Hemp is considered the progenitor of the Border Collie breed. The reason he isn’t number 1 in the stud book of the International Sheep Dog Society is that he was added after the book began and early numbers were already given out.”

Grew goes on to say that Adam Telfer “was not just a great breeder, he was also an expert trainer and handler, and seemed to have a great understanding of his dogs and their behavior.”

Telfer won the International Championship twice, once with Sweep, a grandson of Old Hemp, who himself won the International twice, in 1910 with Telfer and 1912 with Thomas Armstrong.

In fact, Grew tells us, “Of the first 29 winners of the International Championships after 1906, all, with only one or two exceptions, carried the blood of Hemp on one or both sides of [their] breeding.”

All pure Border Collies alive today can trace an ancestral line back to Old Hemp.

During the eight years of his life, Old Hemp was a very popular stud dog, supposedly he fathered more than 200 dogs and an unknown number of bitches. A scary high number of offspring, and thus most current Border Collies are somehow descendants of Old Hemp. A factor adding to the success of Old Hemp as stud dog is the fact he passed on his characteristics to his offspring very well. Many of them became successful.

Although the generations have diluted the effect of Old Hemp’s genes on the much larger population of Border Collies being born today, Old Hemp, a shining example of the breed, will always be remembered as the father of the Border Collie breed.

Old Hemp, a tricolor dog, was born in Northumberland in September 1893 and died in May 1901. He was bred by Adam Telfer from Roy, a black and tan dog, and Meg, a black-coated, strong-eyed dog. Hemp was a quiet, powerful dog to which sheep responded easily. He served as the model for the Border…

The Old Hemp Stud, 1893

“Of the first 29 winners of the International Championships after 1906, all, with only one or two exceptions, carried the blood of Hemp on one or both sides of breeding.”

-Sheila Grew, in her book Key Dogs From the Border Collie Family Volume II

AuldHemp aka “Old Hemp” the progenitor of the Border Collie breed – c. Pre1902

The Old Hemp Stud

‘Bluidy Marvellous’ is how the Scottish described the Northumberland born Border Collie Auldhemp aka “Old Hemp”…

Old Hemp was born in 1893 to trainer Adam Telfer in West Woodburn, Northumberland.

Old Hemp’s father “Roy” was a overly nice dog that “did not possess special talent for herding sheep” often disinterested at the task at hand. His mother “Meg” was the polar opposite, always on the job and “was such an intense worker that she hypnotized herself instead of the sheep”.

Old Hemp was a triumph of breeding inheriting all the good characteristics of both parents while losing the bad traits.

“One shepherd who took a keen interest in breeding and training sheepdogs was the Northumbrian, Adam Telfer, and he succeeded in finding the right blend of the two types of dog. The result was a canine genius called Hemp…”

Ancestor of all things “Border Collie” – Old Hemp…. Adam Telfer, with Brigg Moss (standing) and the Legendary ‘Auld Hemp’ lying at the Master’s feet!

“none who saw him ever forgot him…Almost faultless in work…he was born with such knowledge of his craft that he never required training and went to his work naturally.”

– Eric Halsall, Author and commentator of the time about Old Hemp

Unlike the loud overly hyper sheepdogs of the time, Old Hemp was calm and mild mannered in his demeanor but worked so intensely that he Physically trembled.

This is a trait still found in the border collie breed from Old Hemp…

Tommy (16) a grandson of Old Hemp

“he flashed like a meteor across the sheepdog horizon. There never was such an outstanding personality.”

Old Hemp was quiet, which the sheep responded to very easily. Some say Hemp was unbeaten in trials although no records survive of him competing.

The sheep responded very well to Hemp but he also had the unique ability to naturally read them and heard them to his will.

Every course Hemp ever started he finished without difficulty, which lead to Hemp becoming a stud…

Welsh farmer W. J. Evans from Monmouthshire with his Border Collie Nell 6879 seen at the International Sheep Dog Trials in 1953 at Cardiff, Wales

“Old Hemp is considered the progenitor of the Border Collie breed. The reason he isn’t number 1 in the stud book of the International Sheep Dog Society is that he was added after the book began and early numbers were already given out.”

– Sheila Grew, in her book Key Dogs From the Border Collie Family Volume II

If your best friend is a border collie or even a mix with a border collie there is a good chance that you have Hemp by your side…

“All pure Border Collies alive today can trace an ancestral line back to Old Hemp.”

Hemp, Sit, Good Boy…

Telfer family, Old Hemp’s owner Adam Telfer holding puppy

The Old Hemp Stud, 1893 “Of the first 29 winners of the International Championships after 1906, all, with only one or two exceptions, carried the blood of Hemp on one or both sides of breeding.”