The Jersey cow is a popular breed of dairy cow, well-known for high butterfat content of its milk and a genial disposition.
History of the Jersey cow
The Jersey breed originated on the Island of Jersey, a small British island in the English Channel off the coast of France. The Jersey is one of the oldest dairy breeds, having been reported by authorities as being purebred for nearly six centuries.
The breed was known in England as early as 1771 and was regarded very favourably because of its milk and butterfat production. At that early date, the cattle of Jersey island were commonly referred to as Alderney cattle although the cattle of this island were later referred to only as Jerseys. Jersey cattle were first introduced to the United States in the 1850’s.
Due to the small size, docile and inquisitive character and attractive features of the Jersey cow, small herds were imported into England by aristocratic landowners as adornment for aesthetically landscaped parks.
Jersey cow Characteristics
The Jersey cow is quite small ranging from only 400–500 kg (880–1,100 pounds). 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.
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 favour among competitive teamsters.
Reasons for the Jersey’s popularity is largely thanks to their greater economy of production due to:
- High fertility
- High butterfat conditions, 4.84% butterfat and 3.95% protein, and the ability to thrive on locally produced food.
- The option 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.