Historical Origin Of Jerseys

(Extract from “Jerseys of S.A. (1968)” by G. D. Nel)

Despite considerable research, nothing definite is known as to the actual origin of the cattle first brought to Jersey Island. Most research workers agree, that the Jersey probably originated from the adjacent coast of France, where in Normandy and Brittany cattle resembling Jerseys are found.

Whatever the correct phylogenetic form of the Jersey might be, it would appear, when analysing the available data, that the domesticated fore-father of the Jersey came from Asia, belonged in all probability to Bos brachyceros, was probably tamed during the Stone Age, some 10 000 years ago or more and migrated to Europe through Central and Southern Europe and North Africa to Switzerland and France. In Northern France some cross-breeding undoubtedly took place between the pure Bos brachyceros and Bos primigenius herds (which mostly came down the North Coast of Europe to as far down as Northern France).

Jersey Island being joined to France until about A.D. 709 by a narrow isthmus, it stands to reason that cattle from Normandy and Brittany were brought over regularly in the early days to Jersey Island and must have played a very important role in the origin and development of the present day Jersey.

All honour and praise must, however, go to the breeders on Jersey Island for having bred and developed this wonderful and outstanding dairy cow on their small island.

Jersey Island

It might be of interest to those Jersey breeders, who have not had the privilege yet of visiting Jersey Island, to give a short description of this interesting and lovely island, where the Jersey breed originated and was developed by master breeders, who knew what they wanted in their cows, and consolidated these qualities in the Jersey cow through very careful selective breeding. According to Gow (1936): “The earliest inhabitants of Jersey Island were of Celtic origin.” The mother tongue of the Jersey people is Jersey-French, a mixture of the old Norman French and gallicized English words, but the majority of Islanders are fluent in English.

It is the largest and most southerly of the group of Channel Islands, 15 miles from the French (Normandy) coast and 130 miles from Southampton. These islands were known as Les Iles Normandes by the French and include Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou and a few minor rocks.

It is nearly kidney-shaped with the greatest elevation above sea level 500 feet on the north side and sloping gradually to the south. The surface of the island is composed of ridges with narrow valleys down which small streams flow. Picturesque little bays, lying between high jutting headlands, render it very pretty and attractive. It is undoubtedly, scenically, a most interesting island. According to Gow (1936): “The size of the Island is 39,580 acres or 61.9 square miles”, with the maximum length 12 miles and the maximum breadth 7 miles. Much of this area is sea beach. The difference between ebb and tide can be as much as 50 feet with an average of 25 feet.

The Jersey unit of land measurement is vergeè (2¼ vergeès equal 1 acre). We have quite a number of single farms in Southern Africa bigger than the whole Island. The Island is divided into 12 parishes with St. Heilier the biggest town and most important port.

Purity Of The Breed

The Jersey is undoubtedly today genetically one of the purest modern dairy breeds having been isolated to a certain extent since 709 A.D. on the island, protected for more than 200 years by restrictive import legislation and developed by means of linebreeding on selected animals during all these years.

The Islanders early realised the value of the breed and the need for keeping it pure and therefore improving it within itself. Col. Le Couteur refers to the Jersey cattle as “the ancient race” and wrote in 1869 to Col. Waring in America: “In the year 1789 the Jersey cow was already considered so good, so superior to any then known, than an Act was passed, by which the importation into Jersey of any cow, heifer, calf or bull was prohibited.”

Restrictive legislation, prohibiting under severe penalties the importation of cattle from France (where the cattle closely resembled those of Jersey Island) was first introduced in 1763. This restriction did not apply to the other island of the Channel Island group or to England, but importations from these places did not find favour with the Islanders, consequently very few animals were imported from those places. There is little doubt that for many years before this law was enacted many herds had been kept pure.

In 1789, as a precaution against the introduction of bovine diseases into the herds of the Island and to safeguard the purity of the breed, the importation of live cattle from any source whatso-ever, except for immediate slaughter, was prohibited by legislation.

The Importation Of Jerseys Into Southern Africa And Their Progress

Unfortunately no irrefutable records are available as to the correct date the first Jersey was imported into South Africa. It is, however, generally accepted that the first Jerseys were imported by Mr. Adrian van der Byl of Roodebloem Estate, Woodstock, Cape, from Jersey Island, in the early 1880’s, with 1881 as the most probable date.

Mr. G Harcourt Vernon, Keble, Clocolan, O.F.S. in a letter to me dated October 4, 1968 quoted information obtained from the dairy of his father the late Rev. Harcourt Vernon: “My father bought some Jersey females from Mr.. Adrian van der Byl in 1893. Amongst them was the cow Buttercup born in 1889, whose great-granddam was the cow Eva imported by Adrian van der Byl in 1877.” I can, unfortunately, find no further reference to this date 1877, but this date is not out of the question if we take into consideration that Bridesmaid born on August 27, 1891, was the great-great-granddaughter of Eva.

Lawrence Green writes in Grow Lovely, Growing Old: “Dr Jonas Michiel Hiddingh died in 1888 and his nephew Michiel became heir to a great deal of valuable property and a very large income. Michiel Hiddingh cared for none of this. He liked the doctor’s Jersey cattle and attended personally to their ailments.” No mention is, however, made of the year Dr Hiddingh started with Jerseys. It might have been any date between 1859, when he bought Newlands House and the large surrounding estate and 1888. No mention is also made of the origin of the animals.

The possibility that Jersey cows might have been landed as “ship cows” in S.A. before 1881, cannot be excluded in view of the fact that records are available in the Archives in Cape Town make mention of Friesland cows which were brought as “ship cows” to S.A. and landed in Cape Town. It stands to reason that the possibility cannot be excluded that Jersey cows might also have been used as “ship cows” by the British ships.

As a result of insufficient authentic proof of the actual date of the importation of the first Jersey into S.A., it would appear that 1881 might, under these circumstances, be the most acceptable date and that Adrian van der Byl be considered the first importer of Jerseys.

Development And Progress Of The Jersey Breed In Southern Africa

The development and progress of the Jersey breed have gone through most interesting phases and periods in Southern Africa, rather closely associated with the intensification of farming on more progressive and scientific principles and systems.

1905: In 1905 the South African Stud Book Association was formed with its main object the encouragement of stud breeding of cattle, sheep and all other domestic animals in S.A. and the registration of these animals.

On November 18, 1920, a general meeting of breeders and owners of Jersey cattle was held in the Town Halll, Pietermaritzburg, Natal and attended by the Rev. James Scott, M Sackville West, Miss J O Stalker, J H Sutherland, T M Dawson and E Newmarch.

Letters of congratulations and good wishes for the success of the Society, were read from the following Jersey breeders who could not attend the meeting. Col W A Vanderplank (Eshowe, Zululand), Douglas Alexander (Heilbron, O.F.S.), Sidney Brisker (Durban, Natal), W Elton Galliers (Escombe, Natal), Mr.s Constance Wood (Plumstead, Cape) and Dr Matthew Hewat (Du Toit Station, Cape).

After a discussion the formation of the Jersey Cattle Breeder’s Society of South Africa was affirmed, with its main objects the encouragement of Jersey breeding in South Africa and maintain unimpaired the purity of the breed. According to minutes of the meeting the following council was elected: Rev. James Scott (President), M Sackville West (Vice-President), J H Sutherland (Honorary Secretary-Treasurer), with Miss J O Stalker, E Newmarch, Col W A Vanderplank, T M Dawson, W E Elton Galliers. The committee was empowered to add additional members from representatives in the Cape Province, Orange Free State and Transvaal and so to make the Council representative of all four provinces. The first annual subscription for the year ending December 31, 1921, was fixed at one guinea.

Mr. J H Sutherland only acted for a short time as honorary secretary of the Society. Mr. R H Mason succeeded him, and served the Society splendidly, as part-time secretary and treasurer from 8/7/1921 to 2/3/1922 and then without a break from 10/5/1922 to 29/2/1944 and established a sound foundation on which to build.

March 1, 1944: On March 1, 1944, Dr Ir. G D Nel was appointed as the full-time Secretary and Technical Advisor of the society. The appointment of a full-time secretary and qualified animal husbandry man eventually proved a step in the right direction.

May 1, 1944: The office of the Society moved on May 1, 1944, from Pietermaritzburg, Natal, where it had been ever since 1920, to Bloemfontein, O.F.S. The office was now much more centrally situated and this resulted in the speeding up of registrations and transfers by the S.A.S.B.A. (responsible for the registration of all pedigreed cattle in S.A.), which was also situated in Bloemfontein..

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