The Origins of the Channel Island Cattle

thomasgainsborough.jpg"We do have in our collection [Jersey Museum] a pencil drawing of a cow by Thomas Gainsborough. This has been said to be an early study of a Jersey cow, but in fact the Jersey cow as a breed did not exist until after the artist`s death [1788]". Louise Downie, Curator of Art. 11 August 1997.

The Origins of Channel Islands Cattle

Bones of domestic cattle have been identified in Jersey from approximately 4500 B.C. and there is no reason to doubt that they existed on the other islands at similarly early dates. 2) A small piece of bone of a "domesticated bovine", carbon dated to 2430+/- 70 BP (about 430 BC) was found in the peat at Longy Common, Alderney, in 1990 3) Cattle were brought over from Brittany and Normandy at various times. Regional differences of "race" in cattle before the eighteenth century were largely the outcome of geographical distance or isolation by natural barriers rather than of deliberate attempts to maintain purity of breed. Up to the end of the eighteenth century there was little difference, if any, between the cattle on the various Channel Islands which circulated freely between the Islands and France.
Felicity Crump: The Alderney Cow. Where did it come from? What was it like? Where is it now? First Published 1995 by The ALderney  Society, The Museum Alderney C.1.

abercow.jpgAlderney breed 1842 [Cow and calf, the property of M. Brehaut of Jersey Colour Plate XIV. David Low. On The Domesticated Animals Of The British Islands Comprehending The Natural And Economical History Of Species And Varieties: The Description Of The Properties Of External Form; And Observations On The Principles And Practice Of Breeding. Pps 767. 1842.]

Channel Islands
The Jersey and Guernsey breeds, along with Englands`s South Devon, are unique among British cattle (and unusual among those of all Europe) in possessing the bovine haemoblobin B allele, which is prevalent in African and Asian cattl. Yet blood-factor studies reveal a surprising genetic distance between the two island breeds which is almost as wide at that between, say, the Jersey and the Holstein.
The Channel Island are physically much closer to the French coast than to the English and the island breeds have a certain affinity with the breeds of Brittany and Normandy. Being island cattle, however, they have developed to some extent in isolation, especially on Jersey, a tiny island which has managed to breed a cow whose fame is worldwide, and with justice.
The northernmost of the islands is Alderney and in times past it was common to describe all Channel Island cattle as being of the Alderney breed, even when they were clearly Jersey, Guernsey or small French dairy types. In the nineteenth century, they were all categorised together as "the Alderney or French breed" said to be bred chiefly on Alderney and to a lesser extent on the other islands. The Alderney of the period was considered to be the best of all milch cows.
Yet the different types found on Jersey and Guernsey had long been well known in England, which had imported Jerseys (under the Alderney name) since at least 1789. In 1763 the State of Jersey placed a ban on all imports of live cattle to the island, Guernsey followed suit in 1789, and thereafter the breeds developed in isolation.
Traditionally these island cows were tether-gazed by the horns and were accustomed to handling, a factor which contributed substantially to their affable temperament. They were also used to living out, tolerating salt-laden Channel Weather and forage, both of which no doubt contributed to the development of the breeds.

guernseycows-01.jpgGuernsey ca 1850
Golden brown and white. Short-horned. Dairy.
In general it would seem that the now-extinct Alderney was fairly similar to todays`s Guernsey but smaller (in 1800 bulls stood at 119 cm, cows 112 cm and oxen 140 cm) and with short, crumpled (curled) horns, fine bondes, a long, thin neck and protruding, raised hips. Its coat was light red or dun mottled with white. No doubt the Alderney and the Guernsey had a shared ancestry: both islands were colonised by Normandy monks in the eleventh century.
There is a rare Brittany breed which is very similar to the Guernsey and possibly formed the ancestral stock. It is the slender, wheat-coloured, lyre-horned Froment du Léon, which looks very like the old dun Shetlands cows of the early twentieht century and almost identical to the modern Guernsey in conformation but not in horn. This French breed, which produces high-fat milk, was probably not distinguished from other breeds of northwest France until the nineteenth century, including the Contentin type (later absorbed by the Normandy breed), which probably also came to the islands, and the now-extinct brindled Isigny draught breed of Normandy, which was also a famous buttermaker but much lager than the Léon and with horns which curved forward and inward rather than outward and backward. The Guernsey`s horns tody are more commonly like those of the Isigny but perhaps the smaller Alderney owed little to the Isigny and more to the Léon.
At one stage the Guernsey was used as a draught animal and later for beef, but its prime role was always as a milk producer. By the end of the nineteenth century the Guernsey was described as native to Alderney, Sark and Herm as well as Guernsey and was still kept pure by restrictions on imports. Pure herds were also found in the Isle of Wight and Guernseys also spread to several English and Scottish counties to decorate parkland or supply house milk and butter. They had come to England during the eighteenth century through the southwestern ports and an English breed society was formed in 1884. The colour was described as rich orange-and-lemon with  white patches, and yellow in the ear was deemed important as a sign of potential milk quality. The body was wedge-shaped, big of belly, narrow-chested, with a very large udder spreading the hindquarters apart and yielding large quantities of yellow,f at-rich milk for butter-making. The curving flesh-coloured horns were yellow at the base, those of the Alderney often brownish, and the skin and body fat were as golden as the milk.
By the mid-twentieth century the Guernsey was no longer a park decorator in England but in great demand as a commercial dairy cow. It also found favour inNorth America (with a polled strain in the USA), Australia, Egypt, eastern and southern Africa and, to disprove any lingerering doubts about its hardiness, it accompanied Admiral Byrd`s polar expedition. But, like so many other dairy breeds, the Guernsey sufferede a sharp decline in the UK when Friesians became dominant.
The breed today has a fine head, typical dairy wedge-shaped conformation with a deep body, wide pelvis for easy calving and roomy absomen for roughage and carrying the calf. There is rich golden pigmentation in the ears and skin and around the eyes; the muzzle is buff, the hoofs amber and the coat sahdes of fawn with or without white markings over a thin, loose hide. It is a fast-growing breed and can produe a more accepteable calf for beef than the Jersey. Cows weigh up to 500 kg and average milk yields are 4,500 kg at 4,6 per cent butterfat.
There are breed societies in
Guernsey 1842, herdbook 1878,
Australia, Brazil,
South Africa,
the USA
and Zimbabwe.

holt1884.jpgHolt: Jersey cattle, 1884

Various shades of fawn. Short-horned. Dairy.
This is a very special breed, the smallest of those of the Channel Islands, with some unusual features and a remarkable ability to adapt to extreme climates, especially those far hotter than it ever experienced on the island of its isolated development. The indirect link with Asian and African cattle by irtue of the possession of B-allele haemoglobin has already been mentioned but the Jersey seems to have more links with non-European cattle. Its heat tolerance is so exceptional for a temperate breed that many people have tried to prove a more direct relationship with the zebu, even detecting the slight trace of a hump. The Jersey is certainly ecognised in tropical countries as giving better results than other temperate breeds.
The face of the Jersey is noticeably dished (concave) and there is something about it that is strongly suggestive of the humpless shorthorned Iberian breeds of the Middle East, Egypt and the coast of North Africa. The dished face is also seen in Spanish cattle along with the typical mealy or deer muzzle - a pale halo surrounding the dark-skinned nose, found too in Alpine and humpless West African breeds and in the ancient aurochs itself.
The whole style of the Jersey is dainty, aristocratic and almost deerlike and very few of the world`s cattle have this quality or have calves that are so like fawns.
The Jersey`s ancestors were probably of the Celtic type (there is certainly a hint of a likeness with the dainty dairy Kerry of Ireland), coming to Europe from Asia and North Afric. Some suggest a tropical orogin for the breed, probably Indian; some talk about a yellow Caspian type drifting through the Balkans and into Spain, and thence into France and the Channel Islands - bearing in mind that Jersey was directly linked with mainland France by landbridge or causeway until the year 709.
 Whatever the original stock, the breed has developed in isolation during the last two centuries. No French imports were allowed from 1763 and no imports of any kind, even English from 1789. However, from such a small island herd the exports have been phenomenal and it has spread from the tropics to the Arctic. The worldwide population of pure Jerseys is now huge and, apart from the Friesian group, is probably outnumbers any other single breed, even without taking into account the many breeds enriched with Jersey blood or created from Jersey crosses. In particular, the pretty, milky little Jersey seems to be successful in the tropics, especially if boosted with a small proportion of zebu blood, these zeby-Jerseys are described in the sections for the appropriate counties of origin such as India, Jamaica and Brazil. The tethered island milch cow and the deerlike beauty which decorated many of the great English estates is today a highly successful and adaptable commercial dairy breed.
The colours of the Jersey are far more varied than those of most European breeds and the full range spreads from almost black to the palest greys and biscuits, with all kinds of fawns, browns, chestnuts, golds and smokes in between, sometimes broken with white, sometimes broadly whole-coloured but never solid: there is shading over the body so that the tones are generally darker on face, neck and shoulders (especially in bulls), much darker on the front of the forelegs and much paler on the underparts in the typical manner of wild creatures such as deer. In 1815 the colours included cream, cream-and-white, red, red and white, black, black and white, and black with a dingy brownish red back stripe. The 1834 breed standards set up by the Royal Jersey Agricultural Soiety and drawn up by distinguished island breeders showed parti-coloured engravings of the breed but made no reference to the colour of the coat as no importance was attached to such a superficial factor; however, the ligt coloured muzzle ring was specified, and a deep orange colour within the ears, while the skin was of a "good" colour. In 1859 the favourite colours where light red and white, brown or fawn, but brindles were despised. By 1875 fashions in England and the USA decreed that coats should be whole coloured rather than broken and that the skin should be yellow, the muzzle dark and the tongue and tail switch black, but the revised breed standards still did not specify colours. In the late nineteenth century the Jersey colours included tawny red, yellow, pale fawn, lemon fawn, smoky fawn, grey fawn, silver to frosty grey, brown, dun or black and these could be wholecoloured or broken by separate patches of white, large or small.
Today the colours are more formally described as mostly fawn, mulberry or grey, often with a black pigmented skin. The point is that, whereas most British breeds are now basically black or red, with or without white, or roan mixtures of black or red hairs with white hairs, the Jersey has always accepted what might be termed a composite coat, with many more colours, and even then the colourcan change according to the season. This characteristic is shared with several breeds ight across Europe fom Spain to the Black Sea but especially the brown and grey Alpine and Iberian breeds, whose coats often shade gradually to darker and lighter areas on certain parts of the body. The same shading, but without such a range of hair colours, is seen in the Podolian greys of Italy and eastern Europe and also in the Indian Zebu.
The special characteristics of today`s Jersey are its extreme dairy conformation, the wedge shape accentuated by a characteristic sunken area before the hip bones and an natural tendency to show the lie of the ribs. It is a fine-boned animal, with small hoofs on slender but strong legs, and the very wide pelvis enables easy calving, even to large continental bulls such as the Charolais. The total milk yield might seem small in comparison with that of a Holstein at an average of more than 4,000 kg per lactation, but the solids content is very high, with an average 5,3 per cent butterfat, so that the total yield of solids compares favourably. (Who needs water?) The fat globules are large and the cream therefore rises quickly when setting.
It is a most precocious breed, commonly calving at two years old or earlier, and many individuals seem to be predisposed to fostering alien calves so that they are good multiple sucklers if the milk is not too rich. They are very friendly and docile with those they know and trust and respond readily to sympathetic handling (which, again, is characteristic of the zebu) but the bulls can be as vicious and spiteful as any Spanish fighting bull. They have proved themselves to be hardy  and disease resistant in a wide range of environments and are efficient food converters but perhaps not as thrifty as less productive breeds. They are particularly popular as a dairy breed in New Zealand and Denmark and are also widespread in many other countries all over the world. In Nepal, for example, the descendants of Jerseys imported by nineteenth century British residents are now used as draught animals in preference to the local hill cattle. There are breed societies in
Jersey 1844, herdbook 1866
Costa Rica
The Netherlands
New Zealand
South Africa
the UK
the USA
Cattle - a Handbook to the Breeds of the World by Valerie Porter. London 1991.

Jersey. Marleen Felius. 1995

Origin: authentic breed. Status: national/global
Size: small. Purpose: dairy/beef

The origin of Channel Island cattle has been the cause of much speculation. Due to their tolerance for hot climates and their coat colour, some authorities have been led to suggest a North African origin for Jersey cattle. North African cattle, during the Neolithic migration may have reached the Channel Islands by way of Spain and France. The Jersey could thus be related to the French south western blond breeds (Blonde du Sud-Quest) and the north Spanish Portuguese cattle: As the B-allele haemoglobin factor in the blood of most West European (pied) cattle is low in Channel Island cattle as well as in the zebu, an Asiatic connection is suggested by others. Scandinavian influence dating back to Viking times has been mentioned, and a connection with French cattle from the nearby coast of Normandy and Brittany is certain. The language of the authentic inhabitans of Jersey is Patois, or Jersey French, which is closely related to the dialect which is spoken in Normandy. Because no English taxes had to be paid on cattle from Jersey large numbers of French cattle were traded through the island since early times. In order to stop this tax dodging in 1763 a law prohibiting imports of French breeding stock was proclaimed and in 1789 the transit of French oxen was banned as well. Thanks to these measures the cattle of Jersey were able to stay pure for over 200 years. The import restrictions are still in force and they also embrace embryos and semen. In the past the Jersey farmers were also fishermen, but Jersey cows and wool products had become the most important export products of the island in the last decades of the 18th century. Exports to England had taken place at least after 1724. Around 1775 about 900 Channel Island cattle - all called Alderney - of which two thirds came from Jersey (by Alderney island vessels) entered southern England each year. The main breeding area of Alderney cattle in England at the beginning of the 19th century was located near Southampton

During the first decades of the 19th centurry the cattle of Jersey degenerated. Thanks to the efforts of the cattle dealer and promotor of the breed, Michael Fowler, the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society was established in 1833. The following year the first show was organized and a scale of points was proposed for judging the cows. In 1866, when the island numbered 12.037 cattle, the Jersey Island herdbook was established as a result of American purchases,, which had started some 15 years earlier. Englsih breeders in 1871 officially separated the Jersey from the cattle of Guernsey, while in 1879 the English Jersey Cattle Society was established.

By the turn of he century Jersey cattle were in great demand. In 1880 the first cow went to South Africa , in 1903 613 animals went to Denmark and in 1919, when the export to North America was at its peak, the bull Sybil`s Gamboge was sold for the top price of 65.000 dollars. During World War II the Jersey cattle population diminished due to the German demand for beef. But the less favoured animals always went to meet the Germans orders. Restrictions on numbers of export cattle were needed in order to rebuilt the Jersey herd after 1945. However, 1948 became a prime year for export. That year 2.041 animals left the island, while 248 bulls and 2.120 heifers were registered. In 1951 the World Jersey Cattle Bureau was established on the island.

The total global number of Jersey cattle was estimated at six million in 1989,making the breed the world`s second most widely distributed dairy breed (after the Holstein-Friesian). Currently the island numbers about 75 breeders with in 1991 a toal of 6.517 cows, of which 3.748 herdbook recorded. The Jersey population of England numbered about 6.000 cows and 500 bulls.

European Jersey populations which had been established in the 19th century in addition to those  of England and Jersey itself are those of France, Denmark and Sweden. Other populations are to be found in Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Italy.
Important Jersey populations outside Europe are those of Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. There are also breed societies in Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, in India and Japan; in Kenya and South Africa. Until fairly recent the Jersey was the most important dairy breed of New Zealand and because Jersey blod was used in the recent expnsion of the New Zealand Friesian, this breed now carries a proportion of Jersey genes. Jersey blood was also used in the development of the Black Pied Dairy Cattle of former East Germany and in the Hungarofries. The Jersey has contributed to the Italian Agerolese, the Bulgarian Improved Rodopi, the Iranian Nejdi and the Alma-Ata of Kazakhstan. In the USA and Australia new dairy breeds with Jersey x zebu breeds have been developed, of which the Jamaica Hope and the Australian Milking Zebu are the most important. Comparable zebu cross breeds are the Indian Taylor and Jersind and the Brazilian Jerdi. Imported into Darjeeling during the 19th century Jersey cattle have almost outcrossed the local Siri. A crossbreeding programme of Jersey x N`Dama cattle is practised in Ivory Coast.

During the first decades of the 19th century the cattle of Jersey were described as excellent dairy and cream producers, but of small and defective exterior, although the deer-like head with the elegant horns and beautiful, big eyes were mentioned as being charming. At that time not only brown, fawn, and grey coat colours were seen, but also red and black - solid as well as pied. Today the Jersey is regarded as a well balanced, refined, single purpose dairy breed of small stature. Cows stand 115-120 cm at the withers and weigh 350-425 kg; bulls are 127 cm i n height on average, weighing 500-600 kg. Characteristic is the head broad between the eyes, with a more or less hollow nose ridge and an upturned black muzzle surrounded by a white band, while the big, dark eyes are alert but friendly looking. The coat colour varies from light grey to yellowish, fawn and brownish to nearly black, sometimes with some white patches. As a rule the males are darker than the females. The bulls become very bad tempered and dangerous when they get older. On the island the average 305 days milk yield of 3.580 cows was 4.164 kg at 5.50% fat and 3.89% protein; in the UK the 18.047 controlled cows averaged 4.300 kg of milk at 6.56% fat, and 3.84% protein.
Marleen Felius: Cattle Breeds - an Encyclopedia, 1995] 

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