History of the Mini Jersey


The Mini Jersey Cow is not a new or down-sized version of the modern Jersey, they are the "original" Jersey -- original, as in unchanged from the animal that existed on the Isle of Jersey in the early to mid-1800's.  They are a true Heritage breed.

Please read the official "Mini Jersey History" from the American Miniature Jersey Association.

Then read on for some interesting tidbits that we have gleaned on Jersey/Mini Jersey history.

It's a misconception that Jerseys on the Isle were all polled -- they were not.  The polling gene does seem to have it's origin on the Isle, but it was not widespread in the early Jerseys.  Polled Jerseys were heavily selected for in the US for a short time.  Polling is rare now in the modern Jersey, but a higher percentage of Mini Jerseys are polled.  On the Isle of Jersey, the horns of the cow were used to lead and/or tether the animal, and champion animals often had their achievements branded on their horns.

There were many imports of Jerseys into the US, but the vast majority of Mini Jerseys are descended from one particular import -- that of a Mr Snow of North Carolina.  The descendants of the Snow import were acquired by the Martin family.  Upon animals purchased from the Martin family, the American Miniature Jersey Assocation was founded by Fonnie Thoman and Robert Mock.

There are reports of Jerseys coming to America as early as 1657, but the first of which there is documentation is of a Jersey cow imported into the US in 1815, by Maurice and William Wurtz.  She was described as "a small animal, supported by much less food than our ordinary stock".  She was reported to produce 8 lbs of butter per week as a 3 year old.  The Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society was formed in 1833, and the first recorded import of Registered Jerseys was in 1850.

Many works of the time describe 2 types of Jersey on the Isle, a small hardy animal in the Eastern district and a larger, coarser animal in the Western district.

These animals have been shaped by the island environment they came from.   When the small, hardy Eastern district animals were taken to the Western district, the offspring tended to be of the larger, coarser type.  When the larger, coarser Western district animals were taken to the Eastern district, the offspring tended to be of the small, hardy type.  Because of this, they do not breed "true".  Larger (mid-sized) animals can and do produce small (full-miniature) animals, and small (full-miniature) animals can and do produce larger (mid-sized) animals.  There are many factors involved other than genetics.  Overfeeding the cow while pregnant will increase the chances of having a larger (mid-sized) calf.  Feed additives that the calf might receive while growing can also affect size.

Over the years, by selectively breeding the larger animals to each other, particularly American and Canadian, but also Isle of Jersey breeders, have succeeded in producing an even larger animal, the modern Jersey. 

The Jersey used to show almost any color, solid or broken, from jet Black and Black & White, to a Silver so pale as to be almost White.  The most highly prized colors on the Isle were the light Red & White, the Brown, and the Fawn.  Brindles were even seen occasionally, although they weren't desired.  Then somebody decided that all Jerseys should be fawn-colored, so they worked to breed out many of the various colors that do still exist in the Mini Jersey today -- for example; Silver, Mulberry (Black with Red stripe down the back), Black, and Black & White.

Some modern Jersey breeders don't seem to want to believe that the large modern Jersey of today has it's origin in these little cows.  That these "runty" little cows were what were originally on the Isle of Jersey and were once known, and highly prized, around the world as the one and only, Jersey cow.

The following excerpts from "The Jersey, Alderney, and Guernsey Cow:  How to Choose, Manage, and Breed to the Most Profit" by Willis Hazard, published in 1872, discuss the original Jersey and the "improved" Jersey, as well as the advantages of the little Jersey.

In 1844, Col. Le Couteur wrote in an essay to the Royal Agricultural Society of England:

"The evil was, and still exists, that most Jersey farmers, like many others, never thought of crossing with a view to improvement, conscious of possessing a breed excellent for the production of rich milk and cream - milk so rich in some cows that it seems like what is sometimes called cream in cities -- and cream so much richer, that, from a verdant pasture in spring, it appears like clouted cream.  But the Jersey farmer sought no further.  He was content to possess an ugly, ill-formed animal, with flat sides, wide between the ribs and hips, cat-hammed, narrow and high hips, with a hollow back.

"She had always possessed the head of a fawn, a soft eye, an elegant crumpled horn, small ears, yellow within, a clean neck and throat, fine bones, a fine tail; above all, a well-formed, capacious udder, with large, swelling, milk veins.

"The Jersey cow is a singularly docile and gentle animal; the male, on the contrary, is apt to become fierce after two years of age.  In those bred on the heights of St. Ouen, St Brelade, and St. Mary, there is a hardness and sound constitution that enables them to meet even a Scotch winter without injury; those bred in the low grounds and rich pastures are of larger carcass, but are more delicate in constitution.

"Of the ancient race, it was stated, perhaps with truth, that it had no tendency to fatten; indeed, some cows of the old breed were so ungainly, high-boned, and ragged in form, that no attempt to fatten them might succeed -- the great quantities of milk and cream which they produce probably absorbing all their fattening properties.

"Yet careful attention to crossing has greatly remedied this defect.  By having studied the habits of a good cow with little more tendency to fatten than others, and crossing her with a fleshy, well-conditioned bull of a race that was also known to produce quality and quantity of butter, the next generation has proved of a rounder form, with a tendency to make fat, without having lost the butyraceous nature.

"Some of these improved animals have fattened so rapidly while being stall-fed, from the month of December to March, as to suffer in parturition, when both cow and calf have been lost."

Col. Geo. E. Waring, Jr., Secretary of the American Jersey Cattle Club wrote in 1871:

"It is apparent that there are two distinct classes of Jersey cattle within a region hardly larger than Staten Island, New York."

"Certain arguements in favor of the smaller size are worthy of consideration.  In the case of pure breeding, where calves have a high value, more calves will be produced with the consumption of a given amount of food in the case of small cows than of large ones;  that is a larger number of cows can be kept.  In a large herd of small animals, it is easier to keep up, throughout the year, a uniform supply of milk and it's products than where there are fewer animals of a larger size consuming the same amount of food.  One great source of the demand for Jersey cattle is the necessity for a few quarts of milk regularly supplied for the family use.  A (large cow) will produce an oversupply during one season, and go entirely dry at another.  She will consume as much food as would support two little Jerseys, one coming in in the spring and one in the autumn.  In perhaps a majority of instances, acommodation can be furnished for only one cow, and food for only a small one.  For such cases the smaller Jerseys are especially adapted, such as will give ten quarts of milk at their flush, and not fall below three quarts within six week of the next calving;  the cream increasing in proportion and becoming richer as the quantity of milk decreases, thus maintaining a satisfactory quantity for at least 10 months a year, and yielding enough for necessary use during the eleventh."

copied w/ permission from Ann Bledsoe, Arrowhead Ridge Miniatures