Presumably, not many cattle farmers in Denmark are fully aware of the fact that the cattle breed in their own barn - the Jersey cow – has a fascinating cultural history, which stretches back many centuries.
The Royal herd of England
The first recorded Danish description of the cattle breed from the small Channel Island is by the Danish professor of land economics, Gregers Begtrup. In 1797, he went on a field trip to England. He writes: ”They have an ugly figure, but are highly praised for giving lots of milk, which is very fatty and yields more and better cream, and of which finer butter is churned, than of the equivalent amount of cream collected from other cows”.
Until about 1870, Alderney was a collective term for all cattle originating from the islands known as the English Channel Islands; Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, etc. In the 1770s, cattle exports from Jersey to the Governor of Alderney, whose son later became Mayor of London, can help to explain the unprecedented status the breed received in England. King George 5th already had Alderneys grazing in front of his castle, but under Queen Victoria’s reign, Jerseys really made their move into the Royal barns at Windsor Castle. To this day, it is thus still a tradition to present the Queen with a prime cow when she visits Jersey. The Royal Jersey herd must be among the world’s oldest herds, dating back to 1847.
First the Alderneys came to Denmark…
Museum Director Esben Hedegaard proved that the first Alderney cattle came to the Zealandic estate Gunderslevholm sometime in the 1840s, where it was crossed with Danish cattle. The Danish author H.C. Andersen’s patron, who lived on an estate on the island Fyn, also imported Alderneys from England in 1855. However, in the Danish Farmer’s Weekly (1866), the Alderney cattle were still considered to be a barely profitable ”dairy breed … which doesn’t give the same returns as the English landraces”. The general tone was that ”this breed is being maintained by having gained the favour of the big English landowners as a dairy breed”. In the landowners’ ”parks…these fine, lively animals, resembling more the forest’s game stock than England’s improved cattle breeds, serve to enliven the landscape, in addition to giving butter of a special fattiness and yellow colour, which is regarded as a delicatessen on the tables of the rich”. However, American Jersey breeders had looked differently upon this matter for years. In 1882, when Campbell Brown initiated the publication of the butter tests which had been privately conducted with American Jersey cows, the public opinion in Europe really changed. The European press immediately began to report on the amazing yields on the other side of the Atlantic. The European dairy community was aroused.
… Followed by Jerseys
The Swedish agronomist Hjalmar Otto Nathorst (1821-99), who worked at the Farm Academy at Alnarp, must be regarded as the first real advocate for the introduction of Jersey cattle to Scandinavia. His recommendation was published in the book ”On the Necessity of New Goals in our Cattle Farming” in 1885. According to Nathurst, higher fat contents in cow milk was the only feasible way to improve profitability in the Swedish dairy industry.
In the same year, the Dane Bernhard Bøggild went on a journey through Europe. However, in contrast to Mr. Nathorst, he did not recommend importing Jerseys to Denmark. Instead, Bernhard Bøggild wrote in the Farmer’s Weekly in 1886, ”we should not only focus on producing a lot of milk, but rather on producing a lot of fat milk. Our two cattle breeds, the Danish Red and the Jutland Cattle, have contributed to our success in the dairy industry, … We must strictly keep to these breeds”.
It is unclear when exactly the first Jerseys were imported to Sweden, but most records indicate that it was in 1890. In this year, the Norwegian-born businessman Nils Georg Sørensen in Stockholm sent his inspector, Mr. Thalén, to Jersey to purchase breeding stock for the Torreby estate in Bohus Län. The next import occurred in connection with the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago. The businessman C.O. Swanberg, who lived in the USA, was encouraged to establish complete Jersey herds on his Swedish estates Svartingstorp (1893) and Engelstofta (1898). The oldest Nordic Jersey herd at Wirum Säteri in Kalmars Län can be traced back to this import. The import to Denmark began in June 1896, following an initiative of the northern Jutlandic contractor and landowner Jørgen Larsen (1851-1931), who received the first Jerseys – six heifers and six bulls. The same autumn, the actual import from Jersey began, which lasted until 1909 and amounted to about 5300 animals. Imports were stopped when it was shown that several of the animals suffered from paratuberculosis. In the beginning, Jerseys were mostly found on the estates in Vendsyssel (northern Jutland), but the breed soon spread throughout all of Denmark. In 1902, Jersey breeders formed their own cattle breeding and husbandry association, ”Jersey”. The new association took care of the logistics associated with the cattle imports. In 1900, the Norwegian Ola Bjelland initiated the first Jersey imports to Rogaland in southwestern Norway. However, other records indicate that the breed arrived in Norway much earlier – in southern Telemark and the area around Drammen.
In the long run, the Jersey breed experienced a unique development in Denmark, and in recent decades, Danish Jersey has even achieved international acclaim. However, in the years after the end of the imports in 1909, there was a period of stagnation, during which many of the pioneers, and especially the larger farms, phased out their herds due to disease. In contrast to such countries as Sweden, the development in Denmark was rather unique, since the Jersey was mainly adopted by small and medium-sized farms. On western Fyn, in the area around Nørre Åby, there were specifically favourable results. Due to a well-designed, local breeding programme, with a strong emphasis on increasing the milk’s fat percentage, early establishment of a local breeding association, a bull-keeping association, insurance schemes, etc., Jerseys were found in one half of all cattle herds on Fyn by the mid 1970s.
Another milestone was reached in 1983, when Danish Jersey surpassed Danish Red (RDM) as the second largest dairy cattle breed in Denmark. In 1983, there were 115,773 registered Jersey cows, second only to Danish Friesian (SDM). However, in Norway and Sweden, the breed has only had few dedicated supporters. Jersey breeding in Norway was organised in 1935, and the first herd book was issued in 1947. At that time, Jerseys and Jersey crosses in the county of Rogaland numbered 884. In Sweden, some breeders were at first members of the Danish Jersey Association. The Swedish Jersey Association was not established until 1949, and counted 50 members after seven years. In the mid-1950s, the association issued its first herd book. Presently, there is limited cooperation between the Jersey populations in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.