Jersey (Heritage) Cow

Once known for the richest of all milk, with the highest butterfat content, and highest protein content, the Jersey cow has fallen consistently in quality of milk, as farmers who could not leave well enough alone have crossed them with brown Holsteins, Brown Swiss, and other higher producers, losing much of the exceptional quality of the milk in the process. We purchase milk from a "Jersey Dairy", where the cream is no more than other cattle, and the color of the cream is pale and anemic (and this is all too common now). Nothing like the true Jersey milk we purchased previously in another location.

The Jersey cow is not an endangered species. But the old Heritage Jersey is a dying breed, having been corrupted by the impatience of factory farmers, intent on making the Jersey into a Holstein. They have all but succeeded, and Heritage Jerseys are difficult to find now.

A Heritage Jersey is a smaller cow, and the milk will have a yellow tint. The cream will rise thick on the top of the jar, and it will be the color of most good butter. Butter made from the cream will glow like sunflowers on a sunny day. If you have something less than that, then you have something less than a Heritage Jersey.

If you can find a Heritage Jersey, they are so very much in need of preservation. They were a well loved breed for small grass based dairies, and for small farms and homesteads. Somewhat temperamental, they definitely have a personality, but they are also fairly thrifty on pasture, and do not need grain to produce exceptional milk. They have a very long productive life, and are very adaptable to diverse climate conditions.

  • Type - Dairy
  • Size - Small (Medium and larger are NOT Heritage Jerseys)
  • Production Capacity - Excellent for their size, they produce at a lower cost per gallon than higher producing cattle.
  • Special Features - Longest production life of all dairy cattle.
  • Best for Farms - Excellent for small dairies, homesteads, and profit farms.
  • Eggs, Milk, Meat Features - True Heritage Jerseys produce the richest of all cow milk.
  • Other Products - Not applicable
  • Historic or Contemporary Significance - The Jersey was a traditional homestead milk cow.
  • Housing and Space Requirement - A little less than for larger cattle, but do not crowd them.
  • Regional Adaptations - Adaptable to a range of conditions.
  • Feed Requirement - They do best with a good varied forage diet.
  • Other Considerations - The only way you can know for sure that you have good bloodlines for Jerseys is by the color and richness of the milk. A gallon jug of milk should have several inches of cream on it (more than 2"), and the cream should be yellow, not off-white. Heritage Jerseys typically do NOT have white on their faces, and their face is curved inward (dished) from top knob to nose (curving in between the eyes). If the face is straight, or has white instead of brown, or if the cow has white patches, it is NOT a Heritage Jersey.



It seems that the Holstein is the bane of the Heritage Cattle world. Holsteins were bred for one purpose - to produce milk as fast as possible, and as much as possible, regardless of reduction in quality (which is significant, the cream is a washed out white color, and they have the lowest butterfat percentage and the lowest protein percentage of all cattle, and do not even produce enough butterfat for their milk to qualify as "whole milk" straight from the cow!). 

Historic breeds were adapted for various conditions, and as a result, came in many sizes, with higher quality milk than the Holstein. Some cows have twice the butterfat (this is a GOOD THING!), and quite a bit more protein than the Holstein, and whereas the milk of a Heritage cow generally has cream that rises yellow to the top of the jar, and is the same color as most butter in the stores, many breeds have lost the richness and high vitamin A content in the milk, to crossing with Holsteins to increase production (high vitamin A content is a combination of diet and genetics).

Honestly folks, if you are going to take a Jersey, or Guernsey cow, and turn it into a Holstein, why bother? Just use a Holstein and stop corrupting Heritage breeds and calling them purebreds!

We've lost much of the nutrition of whole milk, and we've lost the quality of meat produced by slower growing cattle. When cows are pushed to produce abnormally fast, or abnormal amounts of milk or meat, the body of the cattle takes shortcuts, resulting in meat that is more difficult for many people to digest, and milk that has lower nutritional value.

So, if we are going to get back to Heritage Cattle, we really need to make sure the cows we are preserving are those that do NOT have Holstein blood in them. 

Our preference for raising cattle is on pasture, but we realize that many small farms must compromise due to a lack of space. Especially those microfarms where cow's milk is needed, but space is very limited.

We really don't recommend having a milk or beef cow on a farm that is less than 5 acres. Goats, or even sheep, are more suited to smaller farms for milk production. Even so, sometimes it ends up being a necessity when cow's milk is better digested than goat milk, or when a family requires the ability to easily make butter.

One of the great misunderstandings about cattle is that they can only eat four things: Grass, Alfalfa, COB (Corn, Oats, and Barley), and Pelleted Feed. This is a great nutritional disservice to cows, who can eat a wide range of feeds, including much garden produce, many plants that grow in mixed pastures very well (not just grasses, but clovers, vetch, field peas, wildflowers, and much more). Mixed pastures are superior forage for cattle, providing a wider range of nutrition, lots of seed heads, and good mixed hay for winter. Providing good mixed pasture can reduce or eliminate the need for grain, and make pelleted feed completely unnecessary (we think it SHOULD be unnecessary). 

Cows come in a range of sizes, from miniature (such as the Dexter), up to those as large as the Holstein. In between we have the Jersey, the Brown Swiss, and other cattle of varying sizes. 

Miniature cows usually less than half the milk of a full sized cow, and will produce less than half the amount of beef as well - often only a quarter. They fit on far less pasture though, and can be raised on 2 acres or so, instead of 5-10 per cow (for good grazing, without excessive damage to the land). They may be a good choice for many people, in part because they may feel much easier to handle than larger cattle. 

One of the great losses in Heritage Cattle is the virtual disappearance of Dual Purpose cattle. Too often, Dual Purpose cattle breeds have been "preserved" only by up-breeding for beef production. The milking qualities have been lost to this. This is one reason why some breeds have split, with the Milking variety retaining the historic Dual Purpose traits, and being the more rare, and the Beef variety being the more common. With the majority of breeds though, milking traits have been entirely lost, and only beef traits remain, which has caused these breeds to lose much of their utility on small self-sufficient farms, where Dual Purpose cattle are of far more value than single purpose.

This change in historic breeds is one reason that many breeds which originally would have been excellent choices for our listings, are not found here. Honestly, one more beef breed that has nothing distinctive in performance over any other beef breed, and which is so rare as to be impossible to obtain, is not a practical option for small farms! 

The breeds we chose to list are those that we feel have the most value and are most worth preserving for homesteads, microfarms, small self-sufficiency farms, and small pasture based farms.

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