Jersey cattle

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Walworth Gate 010.jpg
A Jersey cow in England
Country of originUnited Kingdom
  • Male:
    540–820 kg (1,200–1,800 lb)
  • Female:
    400–500 kg (900–1,100 lb)
  • Cattle
  • Bos (primigenius) taurus

The Jersey is a British breed of small dairy cattle from Jersey, in the Channel Islands. It is one of three Channel Island cattle breeds, the others being the Alderney – now extinct – and the Guernsey. It is highly productive – cows may give over ten times their own weight in milk per lactation; the milk is high in butterfat and has a characteristic yellowish tinge.

The Jersey adapts well to various climates and environments, and – unlike many breeds originating in temperate climates – it tolerates heat well. It has been exported to many countries of the world; in some of them, including Denmark, France, New Zealand and the United States, it has developed into an independent breed.[1]:212 In Nepal it is used as a draught animal.[1]:212

History of the breed[edit]

Jersey cattle being judged at a show in Jersey, home 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.

The breed was isolated from outside influence for over two hundred years, from 1789 to 2008.

Before 1789 cows would be given as dowry for inter-island marriages between Jersey and Guernsey.[2] This was, however, not widespread.

In 1789, imports of foreign cattle into Jersey were 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 stabilised the price and enabled a more scientifically controlled programme of breeding to be undertaken.[citation needed]

Jerseys are well known as curious and gentle cattle

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[citation needed].

On 1866, at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society, H.G. Shepard notes in his history[3] 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.

In July 2008, the States of Jersey took the historic step of ending the ban on imports, and allowing the import of bull semen from any breed of cattle, although only semen that is genetically pure will enable the resultant progeny to be entered in the Jersey Herd Book. For many decades each of the 12 parishes in Jersey would hold cattle shows in the Spring, Summer and Autumn of every year; followed in turn by the main shows held by the Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society where the best of the parish shows would compete. It was said that the colour of the rosette secured by a prize-winning cow determined its export value. Today the RJAHS holds two shows a year where usually 5 or 6 of the remaining 23 herds will compete against each other for the top prizes. A Jersey cattle show is also held in Jersey, by The West Show Association.[4]

In February 2010, it was revealed that semen from a non-pure breed Jersey bull had been imported into the island despite strict laws and checks, and 100 cows have been impregnated with the semen. Their offspring will not be recorded in the Jersey herd book.[5]

Jersey cattle were exported to the United States from about 1850. A breed society, the American Jersey Cattle Club, was formed in 1868. In the USA, a distinction is sometimes made between the "American Jersey", which is comparatively coarse and large and has been selectively bred mainly for milk yield, and the original or "Island" type;[1]:212 the latter may also be called "Miniature Jersey".[6][7]


The Jersey cow ranges from only 400–500 kilograms (880–1,100 lb). Factors 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, and superior grazing ability
  • Calving ease and a relatively lower rate of dystocia, leading to their popularity in crossbreeding with other dairy and even beef breeds to reduce calving related injuries.
  • High fertility.
  • High butterfat conditions, 4.84% butterfat and 3.95% protein, and the ability to thrive on locally produced food.[8]

Jerseys come in all shades of brown, from light tan to almost black. They are frequently fawn in colour. All purebred Jerseys have a lighter band around their muzzle, a dark switch (long hair on the end of the tail), and black hooves, although in recent years colour regulations have been relaxed to allow a broadening of the gene pool.[citation needed]

The cows are calm and docile; bulls may be unpredictable or aggressive.[1]:213

Jersey cattle have a greater tendency towards post-parturient hypocalcaemia (or "milk fever") in dams, and tend to have frail calves that require more attentive management in cold weather than other dairy breeds due to their smaller body size (which results in an increased surface area to mass ratio, increasing heat loss).[citation needed]

Famous Jersey cows[edit]

Sculpture by John McKenna, unveiled in 2001 and on display at West's Center, St Helier
  • Brown Bessie, the famous champion butter cow of the Chicago World's Fair dairy test, averaged over 18 kg (40 pounds) of milk a day for five months, and made 1.3 kg ( 3Lb ) of butter a day.[9]
  • Huronia Centurion Veronica 20J EX-97% is a well known show cow of the Jersey breed. In 2003 she was sold for $85,000 at public auction.[citation needed] She was the 2006 World Dairy Expo Supreme Champion.[10] She has also been named the All-American Grand Champion Jersey.[11]
  • Mainstream Barkley Jubilee holds the top two records for milk production for a Jersey cow. She produced 49,250 lbs of milk after calving at 3 years and 6 months of age, and 55,590 lbs after calving at 4 years and 8 months old.[12]
  • Lily Flagg, raised in Northeast Huntsville, Alabama, champion butterfat and milk producer of 1892. She produced a record 1047 pounds, 3/4 ounces of butter as well as 11,339 pounds of milk.[13] Her owner threw a locally famous high-class party in her honour, going so far as to paint his house "butter yellow" for the occasion.[14] She was a "Cow worth Kissing", her value to the community was so high.[15]
  • Duncan Belle, sired by Highland Magic Duncan, was named the winner of the 2000 Great Cow Contest.[16] This came after she was named the Reserve Grand Champion of the All-American show in 1993.[17] She was also named All-Canadian cow between 1991 and 1993.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d Valerie Porter, Lawrence Alderson, Stephen J.G. Hall, D. Phillip Sponenberg (2016). Mason's World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding (sixth edition). Wallingford: CABI. ISBN 9781780647944.
  2. ^ Jersey Cattle, Eric James Boston. 1954.
  3. ^ One Hundred Years of the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society 1833–1933. Compiled from the Society's Records, by H.G. Shepard, Secretary (extract). Archived from the original on 12 July 2002.
  4. ^ "Jersey Cattle Show & Family Day Out – The West Show, Jersey". 8 July 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  5. ^ "Non-pure bull semen imported into Jersey". BBC News. 17 February 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  6. ^ Miniature Jersey Breed History. American Miniature Jersey Registry & Association. Accessed January 2018.
  7. ^ History of the magnificent Jersey breed. Miniature Jersey Herd Book. Accessed January 2018.
  8. ^ Rex Paterson in Jersey Cattle, ed. Boston, 1954, pp81-95
  9. ^ "The Book of the Fair : Chapter the Nineteenth: The Live-Stock Department (Image)/ Paul V. Galvin Digital History Collection". 26 August 1998. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  10. ^ "Show Summaries 2006". World Dairy Expo. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  11. ^ "Dairy Cow Daily – Huronia Centurion Veronica 20J". Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  12. ^ "Top 30 Records In History: Cheese Yield, Protein, Fat and Milk (spreadsheet)". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  13. ^ Lucindaville (17 April 2010). "Cookbook Of The Day: Huntsville Heritage Cookbook". Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  14. ^ "Huntsville History Comes Alive". 9 April 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  15. ^ The Historic Huntsville Quarterly of Local Architecture and Preservation: "Monte Sano Dairy " (PDF). Vol. XV, No. 3, Spring 1989. Historic Huntsville Foundation Inc. p. 16-18.
  16. ^ a b "Rapid Bay Jerseys". Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  17. ^ Sydney L. Spahr, George E. Opperman (1995). The Dairy Cow Today: U.S. Trends, Breeding, and Progress Since 1980. USA: Hoard's Dairyman. p. 74.
  • Balleine's History of Jersey, Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens (1998) ISBN 1-86077-065-7
  • Butterfat in Relation to the Jersey Breed, Boston, E.J. and H.L. Webb, WJCB, 1954.
  • A Short History on the Origins of Jersey Cattle., Boston Eric, WJCB 1965

External links[edit]