The Beautiful Jersey, The Story of the Jersey Cow
21 April 2006
Who is the patron saint of milkmaids,? How does the Jersey cow forecast the weather? What is the origin of the Jersey breed? These are just some of the questions answered in a new exhibition at Hamptonne. The Jersey Cow – The Rural Face of Jersey tells the story of the Jersey Cow, exploring the development of the breed and the many factors that have made it unique. It examines dairy production in the Island........"
When I have read this press release from The Jersey Heritage Trust, I planned a new trip to the Island just to see this exhibition.
Farmers cut their meadows late in the summer to provide hay for livestock through the winter.
The "mother of the Jersey breed is generally accepted to be Sultane bred by J.P. Marett in the late 19th century, which almost every Jersey in the world having one line traced back to her.
Development of the breed
In order to create the perfect cow, breeding became more important than just getting a cow in calf in order to produce milk. So, by trial, breeding principles were instituted.
In 1866 when the Herd Book was established to record pedigree and progeny, a foundation stock was nominated, and it is to these cattle that all Jerseys can trace their ancestry. All Jersey cattle are registered with the Breed Society in order to maintain the purity of the breed and to enable breeders to follow the progress of their animals. When a calf is registered it will be given its own herd book number and its name with the herd prefix. Some farmers maintain the cow family name over generations.
Today each cow has its identity number attached to the right ear on a yellow tag. Before this system was introduced, the number was tattooed onto the ear. Prior to this, when an animal was sold it had a chain and padlock attached around the horns. This ensured that the buyer would know that when the animal arrived it was the same one he had bought, as his key would be able to open the padlock.
For over 100 years a system of tests was used to determine a cow's quality. Examiner's would travel around by horse and carriage to examine animals and would award a white card for a "commended" cow and a red for a "highly commended". A scale of points for judging was introduced, which has been updated several times to comply with progressive aims. Through registration and comparison of animals, a selection of the best bloodlines was mode, which has allowed farmers to improve certain characteristics and remove defects.
In the years after the Occupation, the sale of bulls around the world was declining as shipping costs became prohibitive. Overseas breeders were able to use bulls within their own herds and farming methods were changing as they modernised and became more competitive. To combat this, the Jersey Artificial Insemination Centre was set up in 1968, and semen sales would soon take the place of exporting bulls.
The States Committee of Agriculture took over the running of the centre in 1974 and transferred its operations to the Howard Davis Farm complex, where today semen is collected, processed and stored to international standards. Responsibility for A.I. has recently been passed to a company called Jersey Island Genetics, which operates under the auspices of the Royal Jersey Agricultural Society. Every breeder can ask for semen from any bull he owns to be collected and stored for later use or export.
The question of importing semen has been raised over the years. Althugh studies have shown that there is no inbreeding to cause concern, recommendations were made to import semen from superior bulls for four years to allow a wider genetic base to develop. This did not go down well with many breeders and the scheme was thrown out. It would have meant changing a law passed well over 200 years ago. Today Island breeders are working closely together to improve the breed, but the debate goes on. Some breeder believe that after 150 years of exporting the best bloodlines from the Island the time has come to re-import some of them to improve the breed locally, while others eel that the tradition of the closed herd should be maintained..
Two examples of trophies awarded at the Island's Cattle shows
Shows became an important part of the RJA&HS calender, with the first being held on 31st March 1834 in the Cattle Market in Beresford Street in St. Helier (now the Minden Place car park). The Herd Book operated as a separate sections, within the RJA&HS, changing fees for registrations and handling their own accounts. In 1884, they contributed towards the purchase of Springfield (the Society developed it into a stadium), in St. Helier where, in years to come, two cattle shows were held, one in May and the other in October. Coloured ribbons were presented to the winners, as they are today, and over the years sponsors have provided trophies and prize money as an extra incentive to the breeders. This was the venue for over 100 years until States bought it in 1994. Today shows are held at the Society's headquarters in Trinity.
Rosettes awarded at the cattle shows by the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society
The milkmaid has featured prominently throughout Jersey's rural past, with many postcards featuring picturesque scenes of milkmaids and Jersey cows in the fields.
The Patron Saint of Milkmaids
St. Bridget was born in Leinster, Ireland, around 44AD. She was the daughter of Dubtech, prince of Leinster, and a maidservant named Broiccseach. Understandably, his wife, angered by this liaison, sold Broiccseach and her baby to a wealthy druid. However, Bridget returned to live with her father a few years later.
Her generosity and compassion led to her giving many valuable gifts to beggars, not always her own things. At one point her father tried to persuade the king to take Bridget because of the expense she was causing him.
As she grew older Bridget grew to be very beatiful and as legend has it, when an interested young suitor was encouraged by her father to seek her hand in marriage, she paryed to be made unsightly (having resolved to become a nun). Shortly afterwards she developed an eye disease, which made her appearance disagreeable to suitors, and her father quickly agreed to her becoming a nun. Thus, at the age of 14 she took the veil, her sight was restored and she grew more beautiful than before.
It was during her time as a nun that she founded the Abbey of Kildare around 490AD. It was the largest in Ireland at this time, and was a double monastery, having areas for monks and nuns. As its first Abbess in charge of the nuns, Bridget's stature grew, and because the abbey focused on dairy farming, she became the Patron Saint of Milkmaids.
Bridget died in around 523-525AD and was buried. Legend has it that the fire lit at her death kept burning continuously for hundreds of years.
In the past, cows would have been milked by hand into one of these traditional Jersey milk cans. These differed in shape from their English equivalent, which had straighter slanted sides
Yokes were often used to carry the milk cans from the field back to the farm
A cow peg and shackle used to tether cows
Show halter for a bull
A set of milk scales - Two metal milk measures
This is a butter churn used for turning creamy milk into butter. In the past before the dairies developed mechanised machinery for producing butter on a much larger scale, many people would make their own butter at home.
This could often involve as much as 5 or 6 hours of continuous churning before large globules of butter began appearing on the surface of the milk. Usually the creamier the milk the quicker it would turn, whilst the temperature in the room could also influence this. Once the butter was ready it could be salted and patted into shape.
Often butter making could become a social event with several family members and friends taking turns to churn the butter.
Have a go at turning the handle and try to imagine how much harder it was to get butter for our bread.
Legends and Supersitions
A Forecaster of Weather
One belief associated with the cow was that if she was seen licking the hoof of a back foot, then rain was on the way, whether she was wearing a coat or not.
It was also thought that if a whole herd of cows were seen to be lying on their right sides, then rain was imminent.
The Jersey Cow and the "Evil Eye"
There was a farmer whose herd were getting weaker by the day and their milk yields were becoming lower. Despite all his efforts, two of them became so weak that they died.
In despair he decided that someone must be casting a spell over his herd. He therefore decided to hid in his field overnight and keep watch on his cows. Late in the night a large black dog leapt over the hedge from a field belonging to a neighburing farmer, with whom he had recently fallen out. The dog proceeded to stand on its hind legs and dance from side to side. The cows appeared to become hypnotised and began to copy the dog, getting faster and faster till they collapsed exhausted.
The farmer took the shotgun he had brought with him and fired at the dog, wounding it on the leg. The next day he saw his neighbour with an arm in his sling-and had no more trouble with his cows.
The Soured Milk
Once upon a time there was a local lady whose cow was known throughout the parish for her rich milk. Many of her neighbours would visit her farm for milk, and amongst them was a man called Maitre Philip.
She became suspicious of this man because he always asked for a quart of milk, yet his jug appeared to hold more. She therefore asked him if she could take his jug to the dairy to be measured. Finding her suspicions correct, she was determined to only give him the quart he paid for.
However, when she went to milk her cow, it was dry, and the same occurred on the next day that Maitre Philip didn't visit her farm. When she came across him later on she asked why he hadn't visited. He told her it was because he was afraid she wouldn't have enough milk for herself. She then realised he was no ordinary man but a sorcerer and immediately told him to come as normal the next day with his own jug. From then on her cow began to give a plentiful supply of milk again.
Maureen Mannion - what a lady!
All text: Hamptonne Country Life Museum, St Lawrence