We have very much enjoyed our experience raising Jersey Dairy Cattle. We only milk once a day (yes, I stated once a day) and seasonally so from April through December, or earlier depending on weather and grass availability. We don’t produce as much as if we milked twice a day, but we do not use the milking parlor twice a day so we reduce electricity used, chemicals used, labor and the cows love coming in the barn when it is 80+ degrees out. We have truly had no issues with practicing with way – maybe you can’t milk this way with all dairy breeds, but you certainly can with Jerseys!! All of milk is marketed as a one-herd, grass-based cheese and we are planning on adding ghee, butter and compound butters this coming year!!
Characteristics. The Jersey cow is quite small, ranging from only 800 to 1200 pounds. The main factor contributing to the popularity of the breed has been their greater economy of production, due to:
- the ability to carry a larger number of effective milking cows per unit area due to lower body weight, hence lower maintenance requirements
- high butterfat conditions, and to thrive on locally produced food.
Bulls are also small, ranging from 1200 to 1800 pounds (540 to 820 kg), and are notoriously very aggressive. Castrated males can be trained into fine oxen which, due to their small size and gentle nature make them popular with young teamsters. Jersey oxen are not as strong as larger breeds however and are generally out of favor among competitive teamsters. Due to the small size, curious docile character and attractive features of the Jersey cow, small herds were imported into England by aristocratic landowners as props for aesthetic landscapes.
History of the breed. As its name implies, the Jersey was bred on the British Channel Island of Jersey. It apparently descended from cattle stock brought over from the nearby Norman mainland, and was first recorded as a separate breed around 1700. Frank Falle has speculated (on the basis of DNA evidence) that the oldest settlers in Jersey were Danish vikings who had been to Nantes with Hatain, where it is recorded that tribute was given by the King of France to Hatain of 500 cattle to leave that area, whereupon they settled in the Normandy area. The marked resemblance between Jersey cattle and the Nantaise cow would seem to bear this out.
While the breed is isolated from outside influence today, this was not always the case. Before 1789 cows would be given as dowry for inter-island marriages between Jersey and Guernsey (Boston, 1954). This was, however, not widespread. Since 1789, imports of foreign cattle into Jersey have been forbidden by law to maintain the purity of the breed, although exports of cattle and semen have been an important economic resource for the island. The restriction on the import of cattle was initially introduced in 1789 to prevent a collapse in the export price. The United Kingdom levied no import duty on cattle imported from Jersey. Cattle were being shipped from France to Jersey and then being shipped onward to England to circumvent the tariff on French cattle. The increase in the supply of cattle, sometimes of inferior quality, was bringing the price down and damaging the reputation of Jersey cattle. The import ban stabilized the price and enabled a more scientifically controlled program of breeding to be undertaken.
Sir John Le Couteur studied selective breeding and became a Fellow of the Royal Society – his work led to the establishment of the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society in 1833. At that time, the breed displayed greater variation than it does today with white, dark brown and mulberry beasts. However, since the honey-brown cows sold best the breed was developed accordingly. In 1860 1,138 cows were exported via England, the average price being £16 per head. By 1910 over a thousand head were exported annually to the United States alone. It is now the fastest growing dairy breed in the world.
On 1866, at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society, H.G. Shepard notes in his history that “it was resolved – on the motion of Col. Le Couteur, that the Hon. Secretary be hereby invited to open and to carry on a “herd book” in which the pedigree of bulls, cows and heifers shall be entered for reference to all the members of the Society.”. In 1869 for the first time prizes were awarded at the Society’s Shows for Herd Book Stock Cattle.
The States of Jersey took a census of stock in 1866, and Jersey then supported 12,037 head of cattle, of which 611 were bulls, and no fewer than 6,322 pigs and 517 sheep. This was before the motor age and 3,227 horses were kept, Saint Helier being responsible for 888.
Learn more about Jerseys from The American Jersey Association.
We can’t say enough about the important health benefits of fresh dairy products from cattle that are pasture-raised. We encourage you to visit The Weston Price Foundation website to read more about it.