To Merle or Not to Merle?

Posted in: Farm Collie

Merle Farm Collies are practically unheard of, especially when both parents appear to be non-merle. In this post we will explore where the merle came from and which of the puppies are carrying the merle genes.

Hidden merles?

We were surprised and elated to see the first puppy was a merle girl because we had been told that it would not be possible. Then we were even more surprised to see that the second one born was also merle. Andy of course being the determined guy he is went searching for answers and found out that merle coloring can hide in sable dogs therefore Rover must be a sable merle. A good source of information about merle genetics is at I was told by a friend that it is easier to spot sable merles when they are puppies which of course sent us directly back to the pups to check out the sables.

Our decision as to whether any of them are hidden merles was inconclusive so here below are some close ups of the pups what do you think?

I think, based on the small darker colored spots on Grump and Dopey’s backs and the greyish patches on their darker ears that they may carry merle genes. Happy however does not seem to have these features and Snow White, well being milk sable I don’t know if there is any way to tell. But we aren’t experts in this area, anybody else want to take a stab at it?

Tonya Ward

Where did the merle come from?

Rover's NKC paper

Rover's NKC paper

If you look at Rover’s pedigree you will notice the dog named Strunk’s Doc, he was a long-haired Leopard Cur that Richard McDuffie had used to breed the very first litter of OTFS with Dunrovin’s Keppie (Ole Shep’s litter-mate). Later on Chandler Strunk bought Doc from McDuffie, along with most of the OTFS dogs and bred him to Dunrovin’s Little Bit (Ole Shep’s litter-mate), this cross was the origin of the blue merle in this litter. Take a look at the picture of Strunk’s Dunrovin Peggy below, she is Rover’s dam and is blue merle. Rover is clear sable and white so he is carrying merle genes but hides it well.

Strunk's Peggy

Strunk's Peggy

McDuffie believed that the Leopard Cur and the Farm Shepherd had common ancestry and they do have common temperament, so he saw this as the natural source to outcross that litter to. You can see some of what McDuffie wrote on the subject at

Whatever you think of McDuffie’s decision to use Leopard Cur in this breeding program, it is 4 generations back from this litter so I have no doubt there are no “cur-like” traits in these dogs. The American Working Farmcollie Association website has this to say:

“Q. My breed is a rare breed, so where am I to go to outcross?

A. Another way is crossing with a related breed. While there is great reluctance because of the still prevailing „pure race“ dog breeding system, this method was of necessity used repeatedly in various breeds. Already after four generations of back breeding, breed type can be nearly restored, so even when greyhounds were crossed with bulldogs, or Boxers with Pembroke Welsh Corgis!”

8 Responses to To Merle or Not to Merle?

  1. Yes, this Merle and Sable issue is an interesting one. It’s an issue I still haven’t fully figured out with a bitch that my Mercury and Dublin were both bred to:

  2. Kary says:

    I have looked at lots of Cocker litter photos, with one merle parent, with explanations of which were merle/non-merle by the breeder. It is something that has interested me for years.

    I do believe you are correct in seeing the merle effect of Dopey and Grumpey, similar to their sire, but not on Happy. Of course, with merle on sable there is always difficulty.

    Merle on the recessive yellow/red/tan colors is even more difficult. Looking at Snow White I would expect that she is ee (homozygous red) on the extension locus, and not a sable at all. If she is then even the most experienced eyes could miss merle in that coat.

    I have found the mention of the color names ‘true red, Australian red, or golden in the following link on Border Collie colors. I imagine that as Snow White’s coat darkens with age, then, she will be ‘true’ light golden in color. I find it a beautiful color on a Collie.

    The light golden at this following link has a merle parent as well.


  3. Andy says:


    Thanks for the advise, as for the “ee (homozygous red) on the extension locus”, it’s all greek to me. This color in farm collie parlance is called “milk sable”, this pup has a great-grandmother and a half sister with what appears to be the same coloring. You can see them at

  4. Kary says:

    It’s interesting to read ‘milk sable’ is the nomenclature for this color in Farm Collies. All fine by me as every breed seems to have their own color names.

    For those interested in coat colors, there should be recognition that this color is inherited in a different locus than the common a’y’ sable – which is governed by the alleles on the agouti locus. This color is dictated by the alleles on the extension locus.

    Beautiful dogs and pups, and my eyes put odds on merle in Snow White as well. Her coloring looks to be a little less than even in its tone, which is the only indicator I know to go on with ee pups. There could be other reasons for this, but with a merle parent it would be one to look to.


    • Andy says:

      Thanks Kary, I did not realize that this was not just a light sable, I should probably look this up and do some reading on it.

      I have thinking the same thing about Snow White, but we may not know until she has puppies.

  5. Pingback: Doc, the Leopard Cur used in outcrossing to Farm Shepherds | Old Time Farm Shepherd .org

  6. I wonder with markings like this if we can’t rule out Brindle as well.

    • Andy says:

      I get out of my depth on genetic issues pretty quickly but I think I know enough about their heritage to rule out brindle.

      Who’e ever heard of a brindle collie anyway, (Scottie will probably dig up an image of a brindle collie now).

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