Jerseys and Guernseys - traditional British breeds of cattle


Jerseys and Guernseys - traditional British breeds of cattle

The Jersey (pictured) and the Guernsey are two similar breeds of British small-to-medium size dairy cattle originating from the Channel Islands, but now farmed worldwide.

They are two of three traditional Channel Island cattle breeds, the other being the Alderney – now extinct.

They are highly productive cows, and can give over 10 times their own weight in milk per lactation; the milk is high in butterfat and has a characteristic yellowish tinge.

The more prolific Jersey is a tawny colour, and the Guernsey is fawn or red and white. Both are hardy and docile, and adapt well to various climates and environments. They have been exported to many countries of the world.

The Jersey is apparently descended from cattle stock brought over to the island from the nearby Norman mainland, and was first recorded as a separate breed around 1700. It was isolated from outside influence for over 200 years, from 1789 to 2008. As in 1789, imports of foreign cattle into Jersey were forbidden by law to maintain the purity of the breed. 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.

The Guernsey is first documented in the nineteenth century, though its origins are unclear.

Both breeds have evolved over time. For example, 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 Jersey breed displayed greater variation than it does today, with white, dark brown, and mulberry beasts. Since the honey-brown cows sold best, this was developed accordingly. Exports were highly successful, and Jersey cattle were exported to the United States from about 1850, and by 1910, over 1,000 head were exported annually to the USA. It is now believed to be the fastest-growing dairy breed in the world.

The States of Jersey took a census of stock in 1866, and Jersey then supported 12,037 head of cattle.

Jerseys occur in all shades of brown, from light tan to almost black. All purebred Jerseys have a lighter band around their muzzles, a dark switch (long hair on the end of the tail), and black hooves.

As well as cream and butter, Jersey milk is used to produce several artisan cheeses, from Jersey brie and camembert to an award-winning Jersey Golden Blue.

Today, the Jersey breed is the second largest breed of dairy cattle in the world, with an estimated worldwide population in excess of 2 million head. On the island itself there are around 4000 Jerseys in total with 3000 of these being adult milking cows. Guernseys are much less prolific around the world, with now around an estimated 14000, and less than 4000 on the island itself.

Further reading

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