The Jersey Cow

by Ernest Mathews, Little Shardeloes, Amersham, Bucks. Annual Report 1905. Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society

It is I think, now pretty generally recognised that the Jersey it by far the best cow to keep where butter is required, as the butter obtained from her milk is, all things being equal, the finest in quality, while the comparatively small quantity of milk required to make a pound of butter, enables her owner to manufacture it at considerably less cost than if milk from other dairy breeds was used.
There are, however, some few who consider, and I must reckon myself amongst these, that a Jersey cow will give as good a return to her owner, where milk is sold, as the larger breeds of English cattle, since her live weight, which has something to do with the quantity of food she consumes, is considerably less than theirs, her period of lactation of food she consumes, is considerably less than theirs, her period of lactation is much prolonged, while the quality of her milk is so much more prolonged, while the quality of her milk is so much richer than not only a higher price can be obtained for it, but there need never be any fear of legal proceedings on the ground that 3 per cent of fat and 8-5 per cent of solids other than fat are not present in the milk.

I do not, however, for one moment wish to initiate a discussion on the merits or the reverse of the different breeds of dairy cattle, but I have started with these propositions to show that the Jersey must be aken seriously as one of the best dairy breeds, and to try and trace, for the benefit of those who are not acquainted with her history, the story of the Jersey during the past 170 years, pointing out how she has attained that pitch of excellence which enthusiastic admirers, like myself, claim for her.

The history of the Jersey cow is almost unique, because, in addition to the "patience, perseverance and long continuance" in careful breeding practised by the Island farmers, the geographical position of the Island and the fact that the Channel Islands have their own Constitution have played an important part in assisting to place her in the position she occupied today.

I shall endeavour to show, as briefly as possible, how the cattle originally came to be good and rich milkers; the steps taken by the authoritites in the Island to keep them pure; the exertions of the breeders to improve the cattle; and lastly, what has been done by the English lovers of the breed to bring into greater prominence those dairy qualities for which the Jersey is so remarkable.

And let me at once state that I shall draw my information from the writings of well-know authorities -the late Col. Le Couteur, Col. Le Cornu, Mr. John Thornton (whose excellent prefaces to the two first volumes of the English Jersey Herd Book will well repay perusal), Mr. John Frederick Hall (the originator of the butter-test competitions), and those publications of the English Jersey Cattle Society which have  from time to time appeared in their Herd Books, and in the papers and journals devoted to agriculture.

The Jersey cow is supposed originally to have come from Normandy, but at what date the first importations took place there is apparently no evidence, although 170 years since she was considered a better dairy cow than the cattle in that part of France. The Rev. Philip Falle in 1734 wrote that "the cattle are superior to the French", and this opinion seems to have been pretty universal, although, until the article by Col. Le Couteur appeared in 1845 in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, no signle writer states how that superiority was attained.

The following is Col. Le Couteur`s explanation. He writes: "The Jersey cow was excellent, as she has ever been, which has been attributed to the circumstance of a few farmers having constantly attended to raising stock from cows of the best milking qualities, which attention, prosecuted for a long number of years in a small country like ours, when such superior qualities would soon be known, led to the excellence of milking and butter-yielding properties in the race at large. This never could have been attained so generally in NOrmandy, from whence our breed probably originated, or in any other extended country".

Thomas Quayle, who wrote in 1812, on the general view of the agriculture and present state of the Islands on the COast of Normandy for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture in England, in speaking of the cattle, says: " It may readily be conceded that the breed in these Islands, in one point of view appears to have an advantage over any other, and that is in the quantity and quality of cream produced from the consumption of a given quantity of fodder".

Other writers speak in similar terms of the cattle, notably Mr. J. Stead in 1809, Mr. George Garrard in the early years of the past century, and Mr. Henry Inglis in 1834; but they throw no special light on the causes which brought about the superiority of the Island cattle over those in Normandy.

In two or three instances, however, the yields of the cattle are given, and it is interesting, in view of the performances of these latter days, to consider them for a moment or two.

Quayle gives 22 quarts (English measure) as the greatest quantity of milk given in 24 hours, the medium quantity being 10 quarts i.e. 5½ gallons, with an average of 2½ gallons. From April to August some extraordinary cows gave 14 lbs. of butter in the week, instances of 12 lbs being well attested. In summer 9 quarts of milk (English measure) produce 1 lb butter, in Winter 7 quarts. I presume the lbs are Jersey lbs.

Mr. Garrard gives 14 lbs. of butter per week as the yield of some cows, the yields of milk being from 3 to 4 gallons per day. "In one year the produce of a good cow in butter may be from 220 lbs to 230 lbs. (Jersey weight)."

 Mr. Inglis had heard of a cow giving 22 quarts of milk, but according to him the general average produce was 10 quarts of milk per day and 7 lbs of butter per week.

Enough has been quoted to show that in the early days of the past century the cattle were known as good and rich milkers, and, considering how little dairying was then understood, it may be assumed that the butter yields of the cattle would, under the more modern systems, have been rather larger.

It must not, however, be imagined that the Jersey cow of that time was like what we see to-day. Col Le Couteur points out that "the Jersey farmer, conscious of possessing a breed excellent for the production of rich milk and cream .. sought no further, but was content to possess an ugly ill-formed animal with flat sides, wide between the ribs and hips, cathammed, narrow and high hips, with a hollow back". With all those faults, however, he goes on to state that "she possessed the head of a fawn, a soft eye, en elegant crumpled horn, small ears, yellow within, a clean neck and throat, fine bones, a fine tail -above all, a well-formed capacious udder, with large-swelling milk veins."

Passing from this description of the Jersey cow as she was in the early years of the nineteenth century, I propose to refer shortly to the various Acts of the States of Jersey which had reference to the cattle of the Island.

In 1763 an Act orbidding the importation from France inter alia of any cattle under pain of confiscation of the vessel and cargo to the King became law.

In 1789 another Act somewhat similar in its provisons was added to the Statutes, the preamble of which runs as follows: "The fraudulent importation of cows, heifers, calves, and bulls from France having become a matter most alarming to the country, in that it not only contributes to raise butchers`meat to an exorbitant price, but that it also menaces with total ruin one of the most profitables branches of the commerce of this Island with England, the States have judged it necessary to enact, etc."

In 1826 a further Act was passed, which commenced thus: "The export of cows from this Island into England being a branch of commerce advantageous to the country, and the superiority of their quality to those of France having shown the necessity of preserving the original breed, of avoiding any foreign admixture, and of preventing the frauds which might be practised by introducing into England French cows as being cows of this Island, the States have believed it to be their duty to that end to establish the following regulations etc".

In 1864 another Act passed the States which declared that it was "to the interest of agriculture to maintain the purity of the bovine race." And again a further Act in 1878, which allowed importations of French cattle for provisioning the Island "while taking precautions to preserve the animals from the rinderpest," which was at that time prevalent in ENgland.
I have quoted from these Acts of the States rather fully to show, first, that the governing bodies in the Island from very early days have been keenly alive to the interests of the farmers and breeders; and secondly, that through their legislation the Jersey can claim at the present time to be the only breed that, apart from pedigree has been kept pure for the past 150 years.

It is true about 60 years since some Shorthorns and Ayrshires were introduced into the Island with a view to improve the cattle, but the crosses turned out so badly that all the animals were quickly disposed of to the butcher.

In 1833 the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society was founded, with the Lieutenant-Governor of the Island as President and Colonel Le Couteur as Secretary. Colonel Le Couteur whose article in the Roayal Agricultural Society`s JOurnal I have quoted from, was connected with the Royal Jersey SOciety for the long space of 36 years, having for severall years acted as Secretary to the Agricultural Department, and on three or four occasions filled the office of President.

In addition to what he did for the Society, of which more hereafter, he served Her late Majesty Queen Victoria as Colonel and Adjutant-General of the Jersey Militia, for which services he received the honour of Knigthood.

I must here digress for a moment to call attention to a curious coincidence in the history of the Island, although I feel that I may be anticipating.

Next, perhaps, to Colonel Le Couteur (for I prefer to speak of him with the prefix by which he was so well known) must be mentioned the name of Colonel Le COrnu.

Like Colonel Le Couteur, Colonel Le Cornu has filled the offices of Secretary and President of the Royal Jersey Society, having been connected with it for nearly 50 years. Like Colonel Le Couteur, he has by his writings, by his work, by his interest in the breed, and by his position as one of the best known judges of Jerseys in the ENglish Show Rings, advanced and seen the advancement of the breed to its present high position. Like Colonel Le Couteur, he also served Her late Majesty Queen Victoria as Colonel and Adjutant-General of the Militia; and again, like Colonel Le Couteur, he received honours from the Crown for these services.

Well may the Island of Jersey and the breeders and farmers who live here be proud of two such names as Colonel Le Couteur and Colonel Le Cornu, for I venture to think that when the present generation have passed away these names will still live and be held up as instances of what has and what can be done both in public and private life to further the interests of the Island.

To return the year following the formation of the Society saw the first scale of points for bulls and cows drawn up, by which scale the judges at the shows were to be guided, and at the same time a rule was made that no bull should receive a prize  until he had remained in the Island at least one whole season after the prize was awarded.

This first scale of points and some of the later ones, which were more elaborate than the original one, have been subject to criticism, because so very few points were allotted to the udder, milk veins etc. The critics, however, are either ignorant of or have forgotten the position the breed was in at the time these points were first drawn up. Colonel Le Couteur states most emphatically in his article, from which I have only just quoted, that the cattle in the Island possessed "wellformed capacious udders, with large-swelling milk veins", and as the object of the Society at that time was to improve the cattle in hose points where they were deficient, it was only natural that at that time the sclae of point should be drawn up with a view to improve the cattle where they were weak.

Even of late years I have heard the same criticisms passed on the more recent scale of points, but again I think the critics are wrong, as no judge would take the trouble to scale an animal unless she possessed a good milking vessel in every particular.

I do not propose to give here the various scales of points that have been in force from time to time, more particularly as the present scale of points is set out at length in the yearly reports of the Royal Jersey Agricultural Society, but I will venture to say that, in my opinion, they are most practical and of the greatest use to any breeder or judge of Jerseys.

Following the institution of the scale of points came, as a necessary consequence, the Annual Shows of the Society, which omitting the Parish Shows and including the Butter Test competitions, of which there are two in the course of the year amount to three, viz, the Spring Show for bulls, the May Show for cows and heifers, and the Summer Show for animals of both sexes, which is usually held in August.

It is needless in the presence of such an audience, to refer to the good tha texhibitions of stock have done gnerally, and in this respect it may be taken for granted that the shows in Jersey have not been behind the shows that have been held elsewhere.But there is this drawback to all exhibitions of live stock, viz, that the entries must be voluntary, and therefore that only those who can afford to exhibit get the full benefit that the show brings to the succesful competitor.

In Jersey this is not the case, as I shall try to show you later on when mentioning the Herd Book Examinations.

In March, 1866, the Jersey Herd Book was established in connection with the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society, but in 1868 it was resolved to maintain the Herd Book as a distinct institution.

To say that the formation of breed societies and the establishment of books for registration of pedigrees has done good will, I think, be a truism that can be accepted by all breeders, but  I know of no Society where the practical application of rules i so well and thoroughly carried out as by the Herd Book Committee of the Royal Jersey Society.

The fact that Jersey is an Island, and not too large is, of course, a reason why rules can be made and enforced which would be impossible in England; but, all the same, the care and forethought originally given to the rules, which have certainly made the Jersey cattle what they are to-day, reflects the greatest credit on the original framers of those rules, while their practicability is shown by the circumstance that the first rules are still he guiding principles which regulate the admission of the cattle into the Herd Book.

The list of Officers and Committee published in the 1st volume of the Herd Book is as follows:
President: C.P. Le Cornu, Esq, now better known as Colonel Le Cornu. Committee: Messrs Thos. Gaudin, J.P. Nicolle, C.F. Dorey, W. Labey, E. Simon, W.G.R:F. Godley, J.P. Marett, Albert Le Gallais, with Mr. A.A. Le Gros as Secretary.

I have given these names in full, as I think it may be said of them all that they are "mighty men and men of renown" in the Jersey cattle breeding world.

In England, as most of you know, all animals whose sires and dame are entered in the Herd Books are eligible directly they are born for entry, and that whether they are good or bad. It will therefore readily be lelieved that there must be some animals entered in the various Herd Books that bring no credit to the breed, if they do not do positive harm.

In Jersey this is not possible. Inspection has been a sine qua non, no matter how good the pedigree of the ancestors may have been, and in this particular the breeder in Jersey has ad advantage which is attainable only by an exhibitor in England.

It must be remembered that in 1866, when the Herd Book was started, all the cattle in the Island had been kept pure for over 70 years, the shows, where a scale of points guided the judges, had been held for some 30 years, and, therefore, when inspection was made a condition precedent to registering an animal in the Herd Book it will readily be conceived that the improvement of the cattle in the Island made great progress..

It is not necessary for me to give all the rules and conditions which regulate the admission of cattle into the Herd Book, as they are printed in full the annual reports of the Society, but I would mention the following as specially worthy of imitation:

1) No heifer, although she may be descended from registered parents, can be entered in the Herd Book until she has had a calf. This ensures the exclusion of poor milkers.

2) Every bull submitted for qualification must be accompanied by his dam, in order that the merits of the latter may be taken into consideration in awarding a commendation to the former.

 3) Every animal that passes the Herd Book judges obtains a qualification -commende or highly commended -so that a breeder of good stock in Jersey obtains in this way the opinions of the judges without being obliged, as in England, to exhibit his cattle at one of the agricultural shows.

I think I have said enough to show you have eminently practical the Herd Book rules are, but I would like to add that, having had the privilege of attending a Herd Book Examination, I can testify to the care and thoroughness which the judges bestow on their work; and, further, that I am certain a good many animals which in England are entered as of right in the ENglish Herd Books would not obtain that honour if the system of examination pursued in Jersey could be tried there.

So much for the work and consequent good done by the Island breeders. I must now turn for a few moments to England, and see what the breeders there have done to promote the improvement of the Jersey cow.

The English Jersey Cattle Society was established in 1878, and in the following year the first volume of their Herd Book was published. Like all other breed societies, good resulted; the number of breeders of Jerseys increased, the quality of the animals exhibited at the shows improved; but beyond saying that the Jersey breeders did their best to persuade breeders of other cattle that the dairy qualities of the Jersey were exceedingly good, the Society did no more than any other Society of a similar character.

In 1880, however, a new departure was made. The buttertest classes were started, and from that day to the present they have increased in importance, and now are recognised as essential to the show yard, not only here, but in England and AMerica, while their influence, through the publication of the reports containing the butter ratio figures, the average yields of the cattle, and of the length of time they have been in milk, has even penetrated to the great dairying countries of Sweden and Denmark.

These classes owe their inception to Mr. John Frederick Hall of Scarcombe, in Somersetshire. He had made experiments in his own dairy, and satisfied himself that no cow could compete with the Jersey for butter production. His suggestions were taken up warmly by the English Jersey Society, of which he was at that time a member of Council, and from that time up to the present prizes and medals have been given by them for competition at various Agricultural Societies` meetings.

I 1890 a show of Jerseys only was held at Kempton Park, the whole of the prize money and all expenses being borne by the English society. At that show the food return of the cows tested for butter was published, and it is to be regretted that it has been found impossible to get these returns since, exhibitors objecting in some instances to give the necessary details. That the idea was right is, I think, shown by the fact that milk testing and control societies now exist in Denmark, and according to an account of them published in the Journal of  the Board of Agriculture for April last, they have been so successful that there are now in that country 308 societies, with 3.780 members possessing 136.800 cows. In Sweden there are 204 societies, in Norway 120, 40 in Finland, and 50 in Germany. The weight of milk of each cow is taken and tested, and a proper system of feeding prescribed.

If only in this Island a similar system were adopted, and butter making more scientifically pursued, I am convinced that no country could send into England butter of such quality or so economically manufactured (to use the word in its bradest sense) as Jersey.

The results of the various butter-test competitions were so satisfactory to Jersey breeders that the English Society, in order to ascertain whether other cattle gave as rich milk, offered prizes to the Bath and West of England Society on the same lines, but open to any breed of cattle, including crossbreds. These prizes demonstrated the usefulness of the Jersey, but what brought the open butter-test competitions into prominence was the munificence of Lord Rotschild - a great breeder of Jerseys -who, in 1893, gave the sum of £200 in prizes at the Tring Show for those cows of any breed or cross yielding (a) the greatest quantity of milk and (b) the greatest weight of butter by the practical test of the churn. The Tring trials, as they are now called, have been continued on the same lines and with the same liberal prize list ever since, and it is satisfactory to add that they have demonstrated over and over again the superiority of the Jersey breed as butter producers.

The English Jersey Society have also given their medals to other societies for these useful competitions, notably to the Royal Jersey Society, the British Dairy Farmers` Association, the Royal Counties Society, the Tunbridge Wells Society, and for the past two years to the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

I mention this to show that the English Jersey Society has tried to do its best to forward the interests of the breed of cattle with which it is identified.

But it may be asked, Are Jerseys any better since these competitions were first started? or, in other words, Have the competitions done the breed any good?

This is a difficult question to answer off-hand, because when one deals with figures it is easy to quote instances of large yields in the early days  of testing, and to show good average returns; but I think I shall not be accused of overstating the case when I say that on the whole the yields have generally increased, and I base my opinion on the fact that in the early days only a few cattle competed, whereas now the entries are very numerous, and the average of the cattle have not gone down.

I have gone through all the butter-test figures for the past 18 years to see if I could arrive at any more definite conclusion,  and perhaps the best proof that there is an improvement may be found in the fact that, notwithstnading the points necessary to obtain a certificate of merit have been raised (Jerseys in this respect having to earn more points than any other breed), more certificates in proportion are granted every year.

Two more points in connection with the butter tests I should like to mention, although I may be considered to be driftig from my subject: the first, that richness of milk appears to run in certain families, and to be transmissible through both male and female equally as quantity of milk; and secondly, that no breed can compare with the Jersey in the long-sustained flow of milk, which seems peculiar to the breed.

The efforts of the Englsih Society, too, have been succesful in another way, which will hardly be credited here, viz, that one no longer hears in ENgland of a Jersey being a drawing-room cow, and only fit for gentlemen, etc, the trials having shown her to be one of the most useful and profitable of the dairy breeds.

In the commencement of this paper I ventured to say that a Jersey cow is considered by some to give as good a return where milk is sold as the large breeds of English cattle.

If the published yields of milk in the butter-test trials and the period of lactation figures are read together, it will be seen that many of the cows must give at least 700 to 900 gallons per annum, and some a good deal more.

When the live weight of the Jersey is taken into consideration as also the fact that the milk being so good it fetches a higher price, and that there is no fear of it containing less than 3 per cent, fat or 8.5 per cent, solids other than fat, one wonders there are not more of these useful animals to be found in the herds of those farmers who supply our large towns with milk. This is not the place to discuss the milk standard, but I have always felt that there are two sides to every question, and the public ought to be considered as well as the farmer.

I have now, I think, given a rough outline of the history and merits of the Jersey cow. I have, I hope shown you that 150 years since the breed was noted for its dairy qualities, and particularly for its rich milk. I have touched slightly on the care that has been bestowed on the breed, and so on the interests of agriculture, by the governing bodies of the Island. I have tried shortly to lay before you what has been done to improve the cattle by the breeders, the Royal Jersey Society, the Herd Book, and, lastly, by the English Jersey Society.

I trust I shall not be thought to exaggerate when I say that in my opinion no breeders of dairy cattle have been so thorough during so long a period of time as the Jersey breeders in trying to improve their cattle both in appearance and practical utility, and that the system of examination necessary to get an animal registered in the Herd Book is one that might well be  copied elsewhere.

By some it is thought that the appearance of a dairy cow is worth little so long as she is profitable. Such people would in a very short time undo the work of 150 years, forgetting that it is comparatively easy to breed ugly animals but very difficult to get good-looking ones, and to to combine that beauty with utility which can be claimed by the Jersey cow. They also forget that to many "a thing of beauty is a joy for ever", and that in all the various breeds of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs etc, in England, the eye of the successful breeder has always been directed to the shape and peculiarities of the breed he favours, which shape, etc, in every instance has been based on experience found to be the most practical for the purpose for which the individual breed is required.

I have hitherto mentioned only two names in connection with the breed in Jersey -Colonel Le Couteur and Colonel Le Cornu. If I were to attempt to go through the long list of breeders who have come into prominence through their excellent exhibits at the shows, or to give the names of all those who have worked indefatigably for the society, I should not be able to satisfy myself nor many of my audience, for my omissions might be greater than my nominations; but I trust I may be allowed to mention the name of one great breeder of recent times, whose stock are known wherever Jerseys are known, both here, in ENgland, and in AMerica, and whose influence undoubtedly has had a great bearing on the present beautiful specimens of Jerseys met with in every showyard -I mean the late J.P. Marett.

Other names of hose who have served the Island well will be found in the lists of Presidents, Secretaries, Committees, and Judges published in the annual reports of the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural SOciety, but I refrain from naming them, as I might unwittingly be guily of the sin of omission. I would, however, like to mention the names of four who have showed me ivariable courtesy and kindness during the new years I have been present at the May Show, viz, the four Secretaries that I have come into contact with -Messrs Le Gros, A. Le Gallais, Le Cornu, and Perée.

Some of my audience may be in Jersey for the first time to-day. I hope I have not wearied them with the length of this paper, but if they have followed me, and will go and look at the cattle in the showyard to-day, bearing in mind that they are inspecting the picked specimens of the result of careful breeding for over 150 years, they will not, I feel sure, deny me the privilege of quoting the inscription to Sir Christopher Wren over the north porch of St. Paul`s Cathedral, and applying it to the labours and consistent work of the great breeders of cattle in this Island: "Si monumentum quæris circumspice."

©• Hans Nørgaard • Egebjergvej 33 • 5771 Stenstrup • Telefon:. +45 6226 1341 • E-mail:

© Developed by DKviaNET A/S