Of all the common breeds of dairy cattle, the milk of the Jersey boasts the highest milk fat content. This high fat content means the milk is often used for making ice cream and cheeses. According to the American Jersey Cattle Association, Jerseys are found on 20 percent of all US dairy farms and are the primary breed on about 4 percent of dairies.
From Britain with Love
Named for Britain's Isle of Jersey, this breed is among the oldest of all purebred cattle. These bloodlines date back to the 15th century. Jerseys, also known as Alderneys, were imported to the British mainland in the late 18th century and came to the United States before the Civil War. They arrived in Canada in 1868.
The Femine Touch
Among the smallest of the dairy breeds, the average Jersey cow matures at approximately 900 pounds, with a typical weight range between 800 and 1,200 pounds. The Jersey cow's head is notable for its refinement, with an obviously feminine appearance. The body should appear well-balanced. Colors range from fawn to buckskin, with some turning quite dark when the winter coat comes in. They might sport white markings on the face. Many have dark tails and tongues.
High in Protein and Fat
According to North Dakota State University, the fat content of the Jersey cow is nearly 5 percent -- 4.9 percent, to be exact. It's also the highest in protein, at 3.8 percent. The milk fat content of the Holstein, the most common dairy cow, is 3.7 percent, with a 3.2 percent protein level. The Jersey's closest competitor in milk fat content is the Guernsey, with 4.7 percent and 3.6 percent protein content. The relatively rare brown Swiss produces a fat content of 4.1 percent, and a protein content of 3.5 percent. The milk of the Ayrshire, another uncommon breed, has a fat content of 4 percent and a protein content of 3.3 percent.
Productive and Adaptable
Other qualities make the Jersey an attractive cow not only for commercial dairies but for the small farmer. Because they're heat and cold tolerant, Jerseys do well in various climates. The average Jersey produces more milk per pound of body weight than other breeds. Their productive lives exceed that of other dairy cows. Known for easy calving, Jersey cows also mature earlier. They can be bred and put into the milking herd at a relatively younger age than comparable breeds.
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.