Rural Decay

On the way through Tennessee this week I couldn’t help stopping by Brush Creek, the original home of the Old Time Farm Shepherds before Richard McDuffie bought the last litter and moved them to South Carolina. I found the crumbling remains of what was obviously a prosperous place at one time, as I made my way across central Tennessee on the back roads I found town after town in the same condition. It’s not just Tennessee though, here in Oklahoma there are many small rural towns that progress has moved on and left behind. Indeed across America the post-war prosperity that we all benefit from has come at a heavy price to rural communities.

The forces that have shuttered the store windows of Brush Creek Tennessee are the same as those that have wiped out the farm shepherd population across the country. As agriculture has become less profitable over the years people have taken jobs in larger towns and cities, by and large the land now sites fallow or hosts cattle or other low input agriculture, empty barns across the landscape attest to this fact. People drive into the larger towns and cities to do their shopping at large stores, the small stores in places like Brush Creek cannot compete with their prices. Places like Brush Creek and the culture and lifestyle they supported were not abandoned wholesale, it was a gradual process as the people and business just slowly evaporated, because the process was slow, nobody realized what was happening until it was too late. The same is true of the farm shepherd, everybody didn’t decide they were all going to get rid of their shepherds, they were just slowly, almost imperceptibly replaced. Then one day somebody looked around and rural America was dead, and the farm shepherds were gone.

When the Roman Empire collapsed there was knowledge lost that would not be rediscovered for centuries, at the time such knowledge was lost it probably seemed inconsequential, yet in retrospect we can see the folly of that thinking. May we not take the same approach to our own past, are we so sure that the tools and technologies of the rural life of our parents and grandparents are not valuable? Maybe some effort should be made to preserve places like Brush Creek, the rural lifestyle that powered life there and the animals that were so important to that lifestyle, animals like the farm shepherd.

How many of our grandparents were involved in agriculture? Probably the majority of Americans have at least one grandparent that was involved in small-scale rural agriculture. In less than a century things have changed drastically, most people today have no family members involved in agriculture. I don’t mean agriculture in the sense of “I run a few head of cattle on my place”, or “I have a dozen chickens out back”, but in the sense of it is your primary source of income. Maybe in another hundred years things will change drastically again and we may wish we had not allowed so much of rural America to decay, die out and become forgotten, but then it may be too late.

Today many of us are playing at the rural lifestyle, we have what are termed “hobby farms” meaning that our real income comes from somewhere besides agriculture. The real agriculture in this country takes place on massive, industrial scale and it’s just as hard for us to compete against that as it was for the country store in Brush Creek to compete against the Wal-Mart in Lebanon Tennessee. This being the nature of things, most of us don’t need our farm shepherds, not in the same sense that our grandfathers needed their farm shepherds. Yet they are worth preserving because they are unique and nobody can say if they might not be really needed again in the future. When a technology is lost it can be rediscovered, but when a breed of animal is lost, it is lost forever. We cannot allow this unique and valuable breed to disappear, never to be seen again, just because we are comfortable in our suburban homes and there is a good show on the TV tonight.

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  1. Some of us need our farmcollies BECAUSE we play at being farmers. 🙂 I’d have lost my ducks and sheep to the neighbors (bobcats, raccoons and coyotes) by now if it weren’t for the dogs. I’m not home enough, and both types of livestock are rather dumb about staying in safe areas. There’s still a niche!!

  2. I agree with you, but still, if you had lost your ducks and sheep it probably wouldn’t have effected your bottom line all that much. Most of us are not dependent on the land for our very existence like our ancestors were so without shep we might lose our stock, but not our livelihood. So in this sense they are not needed, at least to the same degree.

  3. I recently asked my Dad what breed our old dog Spike was, Dad said he was just called a shepherd. Spike was a black,tan and white dog and was very well behaved around us four children as well as being a good sheep dog. we had him in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He was 13 when he died of a heart attack. I think he was either the scotch collie or maybe the english shepherd.

  4. It is nice to find your blog. I am heartily in favor of landrace dogs and now blog, providing knowledge of landrace Chihuahuas- which average about 10 pounds and are tough as nails.

    I come from farmers and ranchers, but have played at keeping vestiges of this life style alive in my own life. I keep thinking we need to remember and live out pieces of the self-sufficient lifestyle. It is not only shepherd dogs, I was raised with useful horses- cowponies – and kept horses as an adult even though they had no purpose but as a hobby. This is true of most horses today too. I see keeping horses as a way to hang onto a shred and memory of where we came from. It is a trust for the people who can afford to keep horses, but they have to be “re-purposed”- their old jobs are no longer needed…!.

  5. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment Kate, it’s nice to see someone else caring for landrace dog breeds. I see you are in Tucson, that’s where I’m from.

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