Tuesday's Tutorial: Miniature Jerseys

As I indicated Monday in our Meet The Farmer Series, I knew very little about the Miniature Jersey breed of cattle when I bought my first trio of two, mature cows and a bull.  The information I found on the breed came from two official registries:  American Miniature Jersey Association  (AMJA) and International Miniature Cattle Breeders Society and Registry (IMCBS).  The information I found on those two sites, ten years ago, didn't answer all my questions.  I was curious to know more.  When I began searching for information by contacting what was then a small group of breeders,  I soon found out that there was A LOT of controversy.  Each registry seemed to have their own personal claims to the breed, and I sensed a strong dislike between the two groups. This was a definite "turn off" to me.
In some instances, their seemed to be some intentional deception regarding these animals by individual breeders regardless of registry (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, the high market price on these "rare" Jerseys sets the stage for dishonest breeders to try to profit from unsuspecting individuals.  Many people seem to gravitate toward the breed because they see potential for huge profits from the offspring.

It wasn't about any of that to me.  I soon found myself distancing myself from the political and backstabbing antics of some individuals involved in the world of Mini Jerseys.  I loved the smaller Jersey because it reminded me of that little cow that provided milk for our family when I was a child.  Because I was "blessed" with all bull calves for a little over two years, and because I needed heifers to grow my small dairy herd, I didn't have to try to market my Mini Jersey heifer calves.  This allowed me to distance myself from all of the contention.  While I register my animals, I do not participate in the drama that is often a part of discussions and groups regarding the Mini Jerseys.  (In addition to the various Mini Jersey groups attacking one another, I also found that some people who promote the standard size Jerseys didn't appreciate the Mini Jersey breeder's claims that these smaller cows had descended directly from the Isle of Jersey cows.  So there was that contention as well)  

From the beginning,  I knew that my involvement with the Mini Jerseys  would not be short lived. It was important to me to provide as accurate a pedigree as possible for those who might own my cattle or the descendants of my herd.  Since my cattle were already registered with AMJA, I decided to continue my registration with them.  ( I had considered a dual registration with IMCBS and a later registry, the  Miniature Jersey Herd Book and Registry and may go that route some day.)  With that said,  registries are only as honest as the people who participate in using them.    

My goal is to provide accurate information regarding the animals under my care; provide quality, healthy animals that have good temperaments; as well as to introduce some new blood into the gene pool.  (Upon beginning with this breed, it quickly became apparent to me that the gene pool  was entirely too small to be healthy.)  In my opinion, there is no "right" or "wrong" about the individual choices of Miniature Jersey breeders and what animals they choose to include in their breeding programs.  Integrity comes from correctly and honestly identifying those animals that are used for breeding so that buyers can access the information and make conscious choices about what they want to do with their own breeding programs.

While I am not currently a member of the Miniature Jersey Herd Book and Registry, I appreciate their take on the history of the breed and have borrowed their description because I think it most honestly describes the process by which we came to have Miniature Jersey Cattle.  From their ABOUT US section:

 ****Research into the history of these smaller dairy cows reminds us that the original old fashioned Jerseys were first imported into this country as "Old World" standard Jerseys around 1850 or so, from the British Isle of Jersey (Alderney) in the UK. Many people have taken credit for their existence here in America and importation into this country with much being unverifiable, so it will not be repeated here. However, we do know that the original imported Jerseys were not as tall as the typical standard Jersey we see in American commercial dairies today.

One man in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Ralph Martin (deceased), was a verifiable person who began collecting the smaller Jersey cows locally from obscure farms, sale barns or auctions and bringing their numbers to popularity. Mr. Martin himself, never once imported any cattle. Per Dorothy (Mrs. Martin) and others, there was no "Old Man Snow" who supposedly sold Mr. Martin his first miniature Jersey cattle. This is only a legend and repeated from site to site with no validation. Mr. Martin had a good eye for cattle and located his stock, from neighboring farms and sale barns, then began breeding them himself.

Another is Mr. Nathan Harris who is still breeding little dairy cows today at his farm in Virginia. He partnered with Martin on many occasions to search for and purchase these little dairy cows.  Together they both have multiplied and preserved the original small Jersey type dairy cows. These men would be known as the original godfathers of this breed.
Others have followed in their footsteps though, as interest increased. Mr. Martin and Mr. Harris located, bred and sold as many "Guinea Jerseys" (smaller Jerseys) as they could find and did some cross breeding with them as well. Some people considered Guinea Jerseys the original smaller Jerseys while others say that the Guinea's were "throwbacks" and survivors from the Depression Era. There is no evidence to document the story of the "Guinea" Jersey, even today.
Dorothy (Miss Dot, now deceased), Martin's wife, shared with me before her death that Ralph never once registered a single cow that he owned or sold. He rarely even named them, except for his favorites. So, some of his lineages were original smaller Guinea Jerseys from the 1940's to 1950's that were descendants from or survived the Depression Era. (Any of the Guinea Jersey descendants that we see today, came out of the Depression Era and were mostly smaller because of malnourishment. The ones that did survive this period of time, gave birth to scrawny, smaller calves. It is because of this lack of nutrition, that they remained smaller and were given the pen name "Guinea Jerseys' . )
For the most part, the original imported smaller or Guinea Jerseys are a thing of the past, yet a few still remain in the lineages of our cattle today. And since Mr. Martin never registered any cattle, it is hard to determine with certainty, the purity or lineage of any cattle claimed to have been his or sold by him, yet many will claim stock from his farm.. His son Ansley Sr. and Martin's wife both confirmed this to me directly. Many breeders today still lay claim to cattle purchased from or having "Martin" bloodlines in their stock, but again, there is no proof of any purity or lineages in most of these animals.
There are other breeders who later bred Jerseys to other naturally smaller dual purpose or beef breeds such as Dexter (called "Belmonts" or "Belfairs"), Lowline Angus. Galloway, British Whites and even Zebu's, etc., which brought the original medium size of the imported Jerseys down in some offspring, to what we now call the "miniature" version of Jersey cows. These very small sizes do not naturally appear in nature, but have on occasion happened as a fluke of nature, as with any breed. They were considered "runts" in the UK when born this small naturally and destroyed. This crossing also gave these little dairy cows their "polled" genetics as well as introduced "pink" noses in some cattle. True, original island Jersey cattle have black noses and horns, without exception! Polling in heritage Jersey Island bulls has only recently become popular there for exportation of semen.
So, most of the smaller sizes we have today in America are what I would call a "designer breed". These "miniature" cattle were never imported from anywhere...they were created and bred HERE in the USA about 30 years ago. This has also been documented by David Hambrook, President of the Royal Jersey Historical and Agricultural Society on the Isle of Jersey. There have always been smaller sized Jersey cattle since the original importation, but those were rarely, if ever, under 42" in height at maturity and certainly not 36" at maturity! Please do the research and you will find the truth, as I did.
When these miniature cattle were produced by crossbreeding smaller standard Jersey cows with a naturally small beef type or dual purpose bulls, the offspring were then bred to other smaller crossed Jersey cattle, and sometimes "line bred" or "inbred" to try to preserve the miniature characteristics while also maintaining the dairy qualities of the natural Jerseys. This process of crossing, then breeding back to others of higher purity, takes many, many years of producing to achieve a consistency in the breed. And this is also why today, that one can breed a miniature to another miniature yet get a mid-sized offspring. Genetics still play a huge part!  
Though perhaps not quite as small as some are now because of breeding with other small breeds of beef/dual purpose cattle to create even smaller cows, the original Jersey was not as tall as they are today in the typical commercial dairy operations and they still reign as the smallest of the dairy breeds…neither did they produce as much milk as the commercial sized cows, which made them perfect for home use. Our purebred standard Jerseys of today are typically about 2"-3" taller than they were when first imported in the 1800's. Once here, they were sometimes bred “up” with larger dairy breeds to produce more milk for commercialization of this industry.  The smaller cows produced just enough milk or meat for a small family to consume quickly. With the invention of refrigeration, the small Jersey cows became obsolete once again, yet  numbers of them have always remained scattered throughout our nation and descendants can still be found in dairies today. *****
 I have some Mini Jersey cattle that are papered as "directly descended" from some of the original cows registered with AMJA.  However, because I saw the necessity of including new blood into the gene pool, I have taken small, registered standard Jerseys and bred them to Miniature Jerseys for several generations, producing what is considered Native Pure by AMJA.  I have been fortunate enough to find registered, standard Jerseys (American Jersey Cattle Association) that meet the height requirements for AMJA Mini Jersey Status. Fortunately, when the registry changed hands, the new registrar for AMJA acknowledged  the need for new blood and allowed animals that were three years of age (meeting the height requirements specified) to be registered as Foundation Pure with this registry.  (Please note that these animals will clearly show the standard Jersey genetics in their background on their registrations so that buyers can make informed choices regarding their purchases.) Although I did experiment with crossing Mini Jerseys and non Jersey breeds of cattle for a while, I soon decided to sell those animals and discontinue crossing the Jerseys with the beef breeds.  It was important for me to breed in as much small, registered, standard Jersey blood as possible to improve conformation and milk lines and Jersey status. 

***From AMJA's page regarding the up breeding program:

The breeder can work with the percentage animals and gradually breed them up to the status known as Native Pure (bred in this country) when they reach 7/8 or more Miniature Jersey blood. This is known as the Miniature Jersey Upbreeding Program. ***

Depending on what registry you decide to use, the height on these small cows varies a bit.  Both registries break the cows down into two groups:  Mini and Mid Mini.  Both registries have set the height of 42 inches and under as standard for the Mini.  The difference lies in the maximum height on the mid mini cattle.  AMJA designates 46 inches as being the maximum height at three years of age, whereas IMCBS designates the maximum height as 48 inches.  

As you can see from this brief overview of the Mini Jersey Breed, there are differences in opinion on various issues.  I like to encourage people to educate themselves by reading the information from all three registries. (Links provided throughout this post)  It also doesn't hurt to join some of the group discussions (even simply as an observer) so as to familiarize yourself with some of the areas of contention/disagreement as well as gain knowledge.  In the end, the individual has to decide what is most important for their situation.  Many people are not really interested in fancy pedigrees and claims that their cattle are of great historical significance.  In fact, a lot of people, like me, are drawn to this breed because their smaller stature reminds them of little Jersey family cows they knew in their childhood, because they don't need more than two or three gallons of milk a day for their family's needs, or because they have limited acreage and can't house a larger cow.  In my biased opinion, the Miniature Jersey's superior temperament  and size make them the ideal family cow in most situations.  Unlike some breeders who sell these smaller, designer cattle for up to $5000 for a bred cow in milk with "excellent" pedigree, I seek to keep the cost of these animals more manageable so that we can see more of them on family homesteads throughout our country.  Sometimes, we "get what we pay for".  Other times, we can find prices grosses inflated.  My advice is to do your homework and determine your own personal priorities before buying a miniature Jersey.  If you are fortunate to own one of these little cows from an honest breeder, I cant' imagine your not being pleased.  

No comments: