A Call to Sustain the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd

If the English shepherd is a landrace, then the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd represents one foundational strain. It should concern all of us in the English shepherd community that this important foundational strain is not being properly sustained.

We know that within a true landrace breed, multiple foundational strains function in near total isolation from one another, so that the breed has several distinct and important isolated reservoirs of genetic material. This organizational structure provides for good maintenance of genetic variation, but the individually isolated strains have a high risk of loss or extinction. Risk of extinction is what’s happening right now with the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd line. A diminishing number of breeders are using a diminishing reservoir of genetic material.

By keeping separate groups such as the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd intact, we ensure that distinct lines are present in the landrace. The continued availability of distinct foundational strains facilitates genetic diversity. Across the entire landrace, we probably don’t have enough foundational strain level breeders to support our number of breeders at the composite strain level. As a result, the composite of our landrace is increasingly based on relatively few founding strains rather than a balanced variation.

Populations lose vigor and reproductive fitness if genetic variability becomes too low, which is called inbreeding depression.[1]Managing Breeds for a Secure Future: Strategies for Breeders and Breed Associations 2nd Edition by Phillip Sponenberg, Alison Martin, and Jeannette Beranger, page 43 Inbreeding depression in a foundational strain has landrace-wide ramifications.

A Sustainable Strategy

We need to devise and implement a strategy that puts aside the financial, political, and philosophical reasons that brought the Tennessee foundational strain to this point.  If the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd is to be sustained, sound breed management practices must be applied. Moreover, both supply-side and demand-side strategies must be considered.

Supply-Side Strategy

  • Use science-based, proven best practices for breed management.
  • Recruit composite strain level breeders to become Tennessee foundational strain level breeders.

Demand-Side Strategy

  • Raise puppies using modern enrichment methods so that offspring fit in well with modern society.
  • Engage puppy owners in a closed feedback loop to measure and refine success.

A Call to Action

Through the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd Association and its assets, I am attempting to raise awareness to the plight of the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd foundational strain.

Concurrent to raising awareness, my own breeding strategy is based upon the book Managing Breeds for a Secure Future: Strategies for Breeders and Breed Associations 2nd Edition by Phillip Sponenberg, Alison Martin, and Jeannette Beranger.

In 2020, I began a focused effort to sustain the foundational strain of the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd bloodline using science-based best practices for breed management.

In phase one, I established the modern history of the Tennessee bloodline and documented historical accounts by owners and breeders who provided first-hand testimony to the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd as a discrete, foundational strain.

In phase two, I continued by acquiring the necessary breed stock to sustain the Rutherford foundational strain. I traveled to Kentucky and acquired Sallee’s Rustie Jr.

Sallee’s Rustie Jr.

And in phase three, I started the process of breeding Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherds in a manner consistent with science-based best practices for the management of a healthy foundational strain. I out-crossed Sallee’s Rustie Jr. of the foundational strain to my Natchez Trace Josie. Josie is a medically screened, exceptionally athletic composite strain dog who is approximately half black and tan.

Next, I will take Natchez Trace Liberty, a male from the Josie x Rusty out-cross, and breed him back to the line by pairing him with my Natchez Trace Famous Shoes (Sugar). It is worth noting that another black and tan breeder here in Tennessee also acquired a male from the Rusty x Josie out-cross. He will also breed his male back to the foundational strain.

Natchez Trace Liberty
Natchez Trace Famous Shoes, “Sugar”

In future articles, I will continue to go into greater detail about each component of my strategy to manage and sustain the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd bloodline.

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References

1 Managing Breeds for a Secure Future: Strategies for Breeders and Breed Associations 2nd Edition by Phillip Sponenberg, Alison Martin, and Jeannette Beranger, page 43

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