Jersey lies just fourteen miles off the French coast of Normandy in the English Channel. The Jersey Bailiwick consists of three islands while the Bailiwick of Guernsey consists of seven. These Channel Islands are under the jurisdiction of a bailiff.
The Jersey cow is the only breed on Jersey Island, all imports having been banned 150 odd years ago. The cattle found on the Normandy and Brittany coasts plus the Jersey and Guernsey breeds are believed to have originally travelled across Europe from the Middle East. The Jersey has been purebred for nearly 600 years and is believed to be the second most popular dairy breed world-wide. Jerseys are to be found in profusion in the UK, USA, Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada, New Zealand and Denmark. In conjunction with Guernseys, Jerseys have an unsurpassed reputation for their milk and butterfat production.
The Jersey has been in the United Kingdom since at least 1741. They were often known then as Alderneys, the name of one of the Guernsey islands. HM the Queen of Windsor has one of the oldest herds in the United Kingdom.
Of the dairy breeds, the Jersey is the smallest, showing marked refinement of the head and shoulders. The topline is long and straight. They are deep bodied and deep in the barrel. The cow’s weight ranges from 800 to 1200 pounds. The legs are straight and sound and the hooves are hard and black. Leg and foot problems are rarely seen in the Jersey. The bulls have muscular crests and shoulders and are heavier at 1200 to 1800 pounds. The Jersey is typically fawn in colour but ranges from a very light grey to a very dark fawn or even almost black (mulberry). The skin is black. The hips, head and shoulders are often darker. If the muzzle is black, there is a light band surrounding it. The face is broad with prominent eyes.
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The cows are easy to manage with a docile reputation. However, both Jersey and Guernsey bulls have a reputation for unpredictability and aggressiveness. Although it is so small, it rarely has trouble calving and cows can be safely put to beef bulls. The Jersey copes very well with hot conditions and is tolerant of a wide range of climates. Most produce over 13 times their bodyweight in milk each lactation. Their milk has high levels of minerals, protein and trace elements. The rich colour is a natural result of extracting carotene from grass. Milk from Jerseys is said to contain 18% more protein, 20% more calcium and 25% more butterfat than milk from other breeds.
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Jerseys have a number of advantages. They are:
- Early maturing, calving from 19 months onwards (although this isn’t recommended)
- Disease resistant
- Have less ‘down-time’ between calves than other dairy breeds
- Calve easily
- Not susceptible to mastitis
- Rarely troubled by foot and leg disorders
- Have good longevity
- Have a high feed conversion ratio
- Are adaptable, performing well under feedlot, intensive or free range conditions
- Have good temperaments.
While Holsteins (Friesians) compose the bulk of a commercial dairy herd, a percentage of Jerseys and/or Guernseys are often added to add to the overall butterfat content.