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Jerseys don't look good any more.

 
Jeremey Weeks
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Livestock selection is something I'm discussing offline and also paying for advice. I thought it might be good to talk about why I'm doing this. Most likely, it will become a blog post later, but I could use your thoughts.

I want milk for various purposes. I despise goats (personal history with them) but I need something that will graze efficiently on limited acreage. The holstein is out--they tend to be big and big grazers. I can't find Guernseys (a little big anyway). I thought about the Jersey and started shopping.

I'm not sure if it's location or what, but the Jerseys look awful. Awful conformation, hanging heads, bony, dull eyes, and there seems to be some real color variation. I've been shopping since August and only found a couple heifers that looked good (I'm not paying $1,600 for a heifer though).

I used to be around Jerseys back in the late 80s as a kid. I remember beautiful animals, sleek coats, doe eyes that sparkled. They were pretty.

So is it my imagination or has something happened?

My suspicion is that the Jersey has been a hobby cow and hasn't been managed (no culling the bad ones, etc.).

I'm hearing about milk fever in Jerseys and that they're not great at calving as well.

Thoughts?
 
R Scott
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Very possible, at least in your location. We have friends with a small dairy that run them for raw milk and cheese, for the same reasons as you. They do have a hard time finding good stock, too.

We have enough pasture so we run Brown Swiss, which are much easier to find because commercial dairies here run them for their cream production. We still have a hard time finding stock that will do well on pasture without large inputs.

We have gotten lucky with a few random crosses--we have a holstein/swiss/jersey mix that gave 6 gallons a day her first calving and kept condition through winter and drought on straight pasture. But her milk tastes Holstein, so she is the nurse cow.

We are now trying Swiss-Highland and Jersey-Highland cross. Our bull threw 6 heifers out of 6 this year so we hope it works!
 
Jeremey Weeks
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Do you think you're using about an acre a head?

I laughed when I read your statement about the milk tasting Holstein. That brought back a memory or two.
 
John Polk
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I laughed when I read your statement about the milk tasting Holstein.


Reminds me of what I heard years ago:

"Flip a coin into a full milk bucket. If you can tell whether it's heads or tails, that's Holstein milk."

 
Jeremey Weeks
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jersey heifers
 
Amedean Messan
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I like miniature cattle for the fact that they are easier to confine, I am told the feed ratio is better which makes sense and if you are trying to maintain a herd you can have more cattle with less land (good to manage inbreeding). Below are pictures of mini-Jerseys.

 
Adam Klaus
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I do not think miniature cattle are commercially viable for production purposes. As an exotic animal breeder, if you can sell the Kool Aid, I bet there is good money to be had.

They are darn cute though.

Problem is that when you breed for something as radical as minature size in bovines, you end up having to ignore traits of productivity in pursuit of conformation. You end up with nice show animals, but not production animals. Certainly there are some exceptions, but it is a very consistent rule of animal breeding that when you select for one trait, you lose something else. The more radical your objective, the more this is the case.

When looking at dairy animals, the cost of the labor of milking is a significant factor. If you have to milk two small animals to get the same milk yield as milking one large animal, that will be negative economy of scale. This is the reason why cows are so much more profitable on a small farm than goats. It is so much easier and faster to milk one cow than four goats. IMHO, the only reason to milk goats over cows is if your land cannot support cows. A similar arguement could be made for the miniature cows. They are no match from a production standpoint, due to their weaker genetic dairy quality, and the increased labor requirements. Miniature cows are a novelty. Dairy cows are a small farm powerhouse.
 
R Scott
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You want a small frame cow, but not a miniature.

There is an AWESOME series of videos on youtube about profitable grazing and how to select herd characteristics for productivity on grass.



It is a LONG video series, and unfortunately I don't remember where this topic was in the whole stack--but it was fairly early and from the South African rancher.
 
Amedean Messan
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Wow Scott, excellent video! I understood that smaller cattle had more potential for a better return investment but it was never explained in such a way or detail. I had to watch the second part of the video to have my belief confirmed though some of the information and assumptions which provided me the means to justify this belief he argues are wrong surprisingly.



So I will have to follow the video several times before I completely understand the language and analysis, particularly understanding the mathematical constant called "body condition" which is better in smaller cattle. This is a summary of what I believe he was communicating.

  • Higher density yields better (still trying to understand the limit which is dependent on cattle size).
  • Smaller cattle create much higher return investment overall.
  • Smaller cattle have much better calving rates.
  • Smaller cattle have slightly better conversion rates (previously I assumed more).
  • Larger cattle have to maintain much higher calving rates to compete economically when compared to smaller cattle.
  • Smaller cattle will have much higher direct costs (more medical costs like vaccines I am assuming because more cattle).
  • The benefits to downsizing cattle is not linear so smaller size has a benefit threshhold (seems 600ish lb is ideal?).


  • So in summary from what I understand, smaller cattle (to what limit?) are better at specific high grazing densities. I guess the message he is pounding is to get away from the conventional mindset of breeding to larger size and that the academics in this field are all wrong naturally.
     
    Dale Hodgins
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    Around here, small cattle are taken by cougars and bears. Many on the fringe of wilderness use highland cattle because the bulls stand and fight. Predators, particularly cougars, don't want to risk injury. There are larger breeds that scatter at the first sign of a predator. Calves are easy prey when a herd takes flight.
     
    Amedean Messan
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    Dale Hodgins wrote:Around here, small cattle are taken by cougars and bears. Many on the fringe of wilderness use highland cattle because the bulls stand and fight. Predators, particularly cougars, don't want to risk injury. There are larger breeds that scatter at the first sign of a predator. Calves are easy prey when a herd takes flight.


    Good points, because of the impact of man we don't have a threat of larger prey here in the Peidment of NC.
     
    R Scott
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    Dale Hodgins wrote:Many on the fringe of wilderness use highland cattle because the bulls stand and fight.


    and the cows will simply gore them, those horns will reach a long way. They are probably the only cattle that can scratch their own @$$
     
    Jeremy Hutchins
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    My uncle has a small dairy farm of about 50 head of Jerseys and I'd describe them much more the way you feel they "used" to be. So I'm guessing it might be confined more to your area or how those particular farms treated them. My uncle has about 300 ac that he lets them browse on when not milking and they seem very happy and healthy when I visit them.
     
    Kathleen Sanderson
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    I've got a five-month-old Jersey heifer -- she looks a lot like those six-month-olds in the post above (mine is reddish like the first one pictured). I paid $250 for her when she was three days old, and raised her on goat milk from my own goats. I suspect poor feeding in the ones the OP looked at. And the prices are definitely high. The lady I got Rosie from has a bunch of Jersey cows that she uses to raise replacement heifers for one of the large Holstein dairies in our area; she was using sexed semen on her Jersey cows for about 90% heifers out of them, and said she had sold around 30 Jersey heifer calves (all less than a week old) last summer. I know I had seen her ad on Craigslist about three times before I was finally able to get one of her calves. We are guessing that Rosie will probably be a high-producer for a Jersey, as (presumably) only semen from the best bulls will be sold sexed.

    I don't know about the color variation -- my calf is quite reddish; the other one the lady had with her when I bought Rosie was a little less reddish. I had always thought of Jerseys as being more brownish, like a Brown Swiss (we had a Swiss when I was a kid). So I don't know what has happened to the breed to get the red color in there.

    When my goats freshen this spring, I'll probably sell two of the four does I have now, and possibly will only keep one. Later, when Rosie freshens, I still plan to keep one goat for our drinking milk. The Jersey is for cream, primarily for butter. I may eventually breed her to a Dexter, but will probably use the sexed semen for her first calf (so getting another purebred Jersey, unless I cross to a Guernsey bull).

    Jeremy Weeks, if you are still looking for a Jersey this summer, and don't mind raising a calf, I can put you in touch with the lady I got my calf from. I'm pretty sure she is again going to have a bunch of Jersey heifer calves to sell this year! You'd have to drive a ways to get one, but it might be worth it.

    Kathleen
     
    Jeremey Weeks
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    Thanks, Kathleen!

    I drive through Klamath Falls about once a month, so that might work for me.

    I heard a rumor that someone is raising tamworth pigs in that area. You wouldn't happen to know who that would be, would you?
     
    Kathleen Sanderson
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    Jeremey Weeks wrote:Thanks, Kathleen!

    I drive through Klamath Falls about once a month, so that might work for me.

    I heard a rumor that someone is raising tamworth pigs in that area. You wouldn't happen to know who that would be, would you?


    I haven't heard anything about the Tamworths -- if I do, I'll try to remember to post about it here. Will PM you Amy's e-mail address, maybe she'll start a waiting list!

    Kathleen
     
    Andy Reed
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    A 'working cow' is always going to look thinner then a beef cow that just eats all day. Body condition is more a function of management then breeding, though some breeds like Jersey 'look' thinner even when at exactly the same body condition score.
    Body Condition Scoring made easy http://www.dairynz.co.nz/page/pageid/2145864561?resourceId=40

    I would say that if you want a cow that can look good on a varied diet go for a mixed breed like Ayreshire or Shorthorn. I've seen Jerseys and Fresians lose condition while surrounded with grass, because the quality of the grass was poor. By poor I mean very long grass, lots of stalk, seed head, and going brown. Which is typical for many operations. Mixed breed cows do better in these conditions. I know nothing about minatures, but I can't see how they could be more efficient pound for pound.
     
    Adam Klaus
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    Andy Reed wrote:
    Body Condition Scoring made easy http://www.dairynz.co.nz/page/pageid/2145864561?resourceId=40

    Nice resource Andy, thanks!

    Andy Reed wrote: I would say that if you want a cow that can look good on a varied diet go for a mixed breed like Ayreshire or Shorthorn.

    I agree, 100%. Would also add Brown Swiss to this category.

    Andy Reed wrote:I've seen Jerseys and Fresians lose condition while surrounded with grass, because the quality of the grass was poor. By poor I mean very long grass, lots of stalk, seed head, and going brown. Which is typical for many operations. Mixed breed cows do better in these conditions. I know nothing about minatures, but I can't see how they could be more efficient pound for pound.

    To me, this is a really key point. The poor grass that you describe is simply not 'dairy quality'. The nutritional demands on a dairy cow are tremendous, and providing for their nutrition exclusively from pasture feeding is a huge management challenge. Dairy quality pasture is very different than what will pass for a beef operation.
     
    Michael Cox
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    Great videos so far - I'm on number 4 in the series this evening.
     
    Emil Spoerri
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    Jerseys were originally "miniature". Well bred miniatures will make more milk per pound of cow. Most places I go the cows look like crud. They didn't quite look like crud, but my cows on poor fescue pastures without grain or hay looked better and fatter than most of the jerseys at the Ohio State Fair in the middle of that drought we had the summer before last. I think it's partly poor practices, partly jerseys high nutritional requirements, partly the high production of a jersey and partly the GMO feed most people buy.
     
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