Fertility Farming

by Newman Turner

Part 4
The Livestock

Chapter 15
Which Breed?

With increased emphasis on pedigree to-day, and an increasing realization of its value among dairy farmers, many men who farm for a living are turning to the building of pedigree herds. But where is the necessary information which will enable them to decide which breed is the most suitable for the conditions under which they are farming?

The only statistics that are available, showing comparisons of the breeds under equal conditions, are those produced by farmers themselves, and these cannot be taken as authentic; few farmers have the cash or the scope to carry out the comparative costings that are required on a sufficiently large scale or over a sufficiently long period of time. This is surely a task for the County Farm Institutes or the new Ministry of Agriculture Experimental Farms.

If a farmer is growing wheat for the first time on a particular type of soil, and is doubtful regarding the most suitable variety to grow, all the information he requires will be supplied by his county agricultural organizer, backed by the results of experimental wheat plots which in most cases have been carried on for years. If such information can be provided for seed varieties, why not for breed varieties?

When I decided to change over from a mixed herd of non-pedigree animals to a pedigree herd of purely dairy breed, I could find no official information which would help in the choice of a breed best suited to my farm. So I had to set about sorting all the conflicting claims of the various breeders and breed societies, and finally landed nowhere. I was determined to be open-minded, but could find no one who could produce convincing evidence for the superiority of any one breed.

So my only course was to try out as many as possible on my farm. This I did long enough to satisfy myself as to the best breed for my circumstances.

Curiously, the breed which I finally chose, the Jersey, was the one against which I had been most prejudiced by the sources from which I gained information on the relative merits of the breeds.

But my experiments cannot claim to have any authenticity, and though I kept the best of three breeds, and continued the costings over an extended period before I reached my own decision, there is need for extensive and official trials of this kind.

At the present time the only guides for would-be pedigree breeders are milk yield and butterfat records. The average farmer to-day, failing authoritative comparative costings, tends to choose the breed which shows most consistently the highest milk records. But total yield means nothing unless it is related to cost of production.

It is surely better farming to keep two 750-gallon cows producing milk at a cost of 1s. a gallon than one 1,500 cow producing milk at a cost of 1s. 6d. a gallon. The difference in profit on milk alone would be considerable, to say nothing of the value of the extra calf in a pedigree herd. It is only on evidence such as this, of which there seems to be remarkably little available, that anyone can claim superiority for any single breed.

What we need are demonstration farms, at least one in each county, where the accepted dairy breeds -- Ayrshire, Friesian, Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey, and possibly introductions from other countries such as the Brown Swiss -- are kept side by side and costed in every detail, from birth through the producing life to death, generation after generation. The information we require should not be confined to the producing life of the cow, but should include: the cost of rearing each animal from birth to her first calf (for in this respect the early maturing breeds would start producing milk with a nine-months' advantage), the amount and cost of production ration required to produce every gallon of milk, and the cost of maintenance in milk and while dry.

These items shown separately would help farmers in the choice of different breeds for different systems of farming. But the most important figures, and the only figures capable of showing the true cost per gallon of milk production, would be the total cost of feeding the cows from birth to death, and the total lifetime production.

But even if such trials are started at once, it will be years before the authorities could issue really convincing results. What is the farmer, particularly the young enthusiast, of which fortunately there are an increasing number to-day, to do in the meantime?

Many herds are in the position from which I started to build my pedigree herd; that is, with a mixed herd of one or two breeds and the crosses of these breeds.

It is my experience that there are considerable differences in the cost per gallon of milk production by the various breeds. Every farmer, then, who has not sunk himself too deeply into one breed, and who wishes to be satisfied that he is farming to the best of his farm's ability, would gain valuable information from small-scale costings on his dairy herd.

Why I Chose the Jersey

I was reared on North Country dairy Shorthorns and started farming with a good commercial herd of Shorthorns. It is natural, then, that I should have had a strong prejudice against the Jersey breed until the purchase of two cheap first-calf heifers for the house demonstrated to me the amazing ability of these little animals to convert food into milk at a remarkably low cost.

I bought a few more and proceeded to keep careful records of food consumption in relation to milk production of the three breeds which I then had -- Shorthorn, Friesian, and the crosses of these two -- compared with the Jersey.

As the following figures indicate, I needed nothing more to convince me that I should be a fool to continue with breeds which put flesh on their ribs instead of milk into the bucket while milk production was my business.

Name of Cow
Cost per gallon
s. d.
Annabelle Shorthorn
Prosperous 2nd Shorthorn x Friesian
Beauty Shorthorn x Friesian
Fair Aldan Jersey
June Rose (heifer) Jersey
Poppy (heifer) Jersey
Yetanother (heifer) Jersey

It should be noted that these costs were calculated in 1945 when costs were considerably lower than they are today.

Since I changed over completely to the Jersey, and have built up over the past nine years a self-contained herd which averages a yield of over 800 gallons of milk over 5.0 per cent butterfat each on mainly home-grown food, I have discovered the following undeniable reasons why the Jersey is the dairy farmer's best commercial proposition under any conditions.

The Jersey, unlike almost any other breed of dairy cow except perhaps the Kerry, has not suffered from exploitive methods of management. Until recently, that is, almost right up to 1939, with few exceptions, the Jersey farmer has practised a balanced system of farming and has fed his cows naturally with no attempt to extract excessive yields of milk. Only one or two of the larger herds concentrated on milk yield, and even then not at the expense of butterfat and type. Similarly, in this country, the Jersey was in the hands of breeders who considered high milk yields unimportant, for in view of the Jersey's inability to convert food to body fat she was always, in any case, an economical and efficient producer. Consequently, the majority of Jerseys have an inheritance of comparative health and sound constitution.

My animals live almost entirely out of doors, and under such conditions the Jersey grows a thick shaggy protective coat which retains body heat in winter.

The Jersey is early maturing and will produce a calf and 700 or so gallons of milk before most other breeds calve down, though it is wise not to stick too strictly to the recommended bulling age for the breed which is fifteen months (to calve the first calf at two years old). I have them bulled at from fifteen to twenty months old, according to growth and general condition.

Longevity is a valuable characteristic of the Jersey, and this again is due to the freedom from exploitation and artificial feeding almost right up to 1940, in the Jersey breed. Given a reasonably natural existence, especially with regard to rearing and feeding, the Jersey will produce economically and breed consistently up to the age of fourteen to twenty. I have a number of cattle between those ages, and one now aged twenty-one, that great cow Lockyers Verbena, bred by Mr. John G. Bell, which is the oldest living pedigree cow in this country. I expect all my home-bred cattle to serve me efficiently up to the age of twenty.

The Jersey is supreme as a producer of butterfat, a fact which I am convinced is due to the extensive use of seaweed in manuring the soil of Jersey, and the ability to convert all food to butterfat rather than body fat. The fact that I, and many other milk producers, foresaw the approaching era of consumer discrimination made me prepare for the day when only milk of high butterfat content will meet a ready sale. The time is near when it will be impossible to sell anything but Channel Island milk, except for manufacture at lower prices. The disqualifications at the London Dairy Show of 1950 is the writing on the wall. Seventeen Friesians, one Ayrshire, and one Red Poll were disqualified because their milk contained less than the legal requirement of fat or solids-not-fat. I asked the breed societies concerned how they explained this considerable decline in milk quality, and they had to admit it was due to the modern concentration on excessive yields regardless of quality.

If ever I had any doubt about the Jersey, the impressive account of her performances in competition with other breeds were enough finally to convince me. The two most important competitions in the dairy farming world are the Harold Jackson Trophy and the National Milk Cup. Each has, in the last twenty years, gone more often to the Jersey than to any other breed. The Jersey is the only breed to have won the Harold Jackson Trophy as many as five years in succession. The Harold Jackson Trophy is awarded to the cow of any breed gaining most points for milk and butterfat over a period of three years. The National Milk Cup is awarded to the cow of any breed yielding the most milk and butterfat in relation to body weight. It is the only National Trophy which gives a true test of efficient production, though I understand there is a trophy of similar nature shortly to be presented for international competition by that well-known cattle and poultry judge, and great champion of the Jersey cow, Mr. R. W. ('Bob') Carson. All other trophies are awarded for yield regardless of body weight, which, where cost of production is to be considered, means nothing. The real test of the breed is the efficiency of the cow as a converter of food into milk and butterfat, and in this respect, both in any costings that have been carried out and in open competition where the ratio of body weight is taken into account, the Jersey is supreme.

I am not in love with the idea of milk-production competitions, but there are times when one must stretch a point in order to establish its validity. My contention that organically bred, reared, and in particular organically fed, cattle will produce even more economically than the artificially forced animals of whatever the breed, and at the same time remain healthy is merely a statement of opinion without some practical demonstration. Consequently, in the summer of 1950 I entered two home-bred and reared 2nd calf Jerseys for the Milk and Butter Trials of the Royal Cornwall Show, and won the Seale Hayne Challenge Cup for the cow gaining most points in the Milk and Butter Tests and got 1st Prize in the Butter Tests, against 25 cows of all breeds. The same cow, Polden Dolly Daydream, also won the Reserve Supreme Championship on inspection, against all breeds. She has yielded to the time of writing, 1,200 gallons at 5.4% Butterfat in 290 days with her second calf and is still giving 3 gallons daily. 

Next: 16. Going Pedigree

Back to Contents

Back to Small Farms Library index

Community development | Rural development
City farms | Organic gardening | Composting | Small farms | Biofuel | Solar box cookers
Trees, soil and water | Seeds of the world | Appropriate technology | Project vehicles

Home | What people are saying about us | About Handmade Projects 
Projects | Internet | Schools projects | Sitemap | Site Search | Donations | Contact us