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16 May 2022

Why is the Jersey tipped as the breed for the future?

The Jersey breed is on the up. Its qualities are increasingly being recognised by producers around the world who are seeking efficiency, health and high-quality milk production, all of which are driving an interest in its use. In fact, Jersey has now become one of the fastest growing dairy breeds in the world and is tipped as the breed for the future.

This comes as no surprise to Peter Larson, Senior Breeding Manager with VikingGenetics, who was not only brought up milking Jerseys but has been closely involved with the breed throughout his career.

He says dairy producers often turn to Jersey to improve their herd’s fertility and the quality of its milk. But they discover when she comes that she brings a range of further benefits, such as:

  • good health
  • long lifespans
  • excellent legs and feet

Overall ease of management also comes with the package, which is partly a result of her fertility, health and mobility, but also a function of her diminutive stature.

“When I was a child, my parents were the only farmers in the village milking Jerseys and, because the cows were small, I was ridiculed at school for milking goats,” he says.

“However, they were efficient goats and profitable goats, so I have stuck with the breed.”


Efficient, climate-friendly cows

Today, it is these efficiencies which are attracting more attention across the mainstream farming industry, where the efficiency of turning feed into milk solids is increasingly valued in the drive for environmental benefits and sustainability.

Research has shown that the Jersey cow produces approximately 20% more milk solids per kilogram of dry matter intake than the Holstein breed. This is, in part, due to her substantially lower costs for maintenance.

Trials to discover whether this is reflected, as would be expected, in lower greenhouse gas emissions have also been carried out.

“We measured the breath of different breeds and again found the Jersey had 20% lower greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of milk solids,” says Peter.

Amongst the Jerseys around the world, he expects the VikingJersey breed to be the most efficient. These animals rank highly on efficiency indexes in many countries, like in the Profitable Lifetime Index (£PLI) in the UK.  

“We already know VikingJerseys are leaders in health, fertility and longevity,” he says. “And when we start to evaluate genetic levels for feed efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, I am confident we will find the same.”


Breeding for health and efficiency

The VikingJersey’s lead in health and fertility stems from a long tradition of recording a wide cross-section of traits.

This started in Denmark with milk recording as long as 125 years ago, but for the past 40 years has also included a wide range of health and efficiency traits.

Today, Nordic farmers are very willing to record everything they can, while data from the vet, AI technician, hoof trimmer, dairy company and slaughterhouse, is all added to the mix in the calculation of genetic evaluations.

The result is a highly efficient animal which has been developed using Jersey bloodlines from around the world but with a unique Viking twist. She’s an animal which, in her pure form, holds her own on efficiency and sustainability against all other breeds and is also used increasingly in crossbreeding programmes.

Many farmers are choosing the breed to reduce the size of cows which have become too large and difficult to manage. And if used in a three-way rotation, with VikingHolstein and VikingRed, the benefits of hybrid vigour are retained while the size of the cows in the herd becomes more uniform than with a two-way cross.


Breed of the future

So, it is the health, efficiency and longevity of the Jersey, and its ability to produce milk of the highest quality, which all help explain a significant resurgence in interest for the breed.

But its versatility also comes into the equation, seen in the breed thriving around the world.

“The Jersey cow just fits into all types of production system, under all types of management and climatic conditions, from the heat of Australia to the cold of our Scandinavian countries,” he says. “And that’s no matter whether you’re producing conventional or organic products, or even designer products, such as A2 milk.”

Peter is completely confident the Jersey is the breed of the future and when we have more information on her feed efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, she’ll be valued even more highly than she is today.

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