The Isle of Jersey: Will the Real Jersey Cow Please Stand Up

August 1st, 2010 by Kim

After a glorious vacation in the UK, we’re finally back in our sweet Kentucky home and over the jet-lag (I think).  So now it’s time to share the fun, the photos, and what we learned.  There’s a lot to write about, so I’ll probably end up with weekly posts through this month.  Hope you enjoy!

A beautiful, welcoming front gate.

Where We Went

We flew to Jersey on Wednesday, July 14, and upon landing & procuring our little rental VW bug, we found our way to our B&B, Villa d’Oro.  It’s a lovely place with wonderful hostesses, Victoria & Sarah, and great food.

A pool and garden to enjoy out back.

Jeff called his contact at the Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society (commonly known by the locals as “the RJ”) to find out what he had planned for us.  We were given an immediate invitation: there was to be a group farm visit that evening at John & Sarah LeFeuvre’s.  Afterwards, the whole gang went out for drinks & dinner.  The following day, we went to the RJ and met David, who gave us a lot of great information and suggested a visit with Frank Cudlipp, which we were able to arrange for Friday.  Lastly, we also visited the Classic Herd Farm Store, owned & run by Darren & Julie Quenault.

A typical narrow Jersey road, with rock walls on both sides.

What We Saw

In between our Jersey cow visits, we tootled around the island, visiting St. Helier, St. Brelade and the Jersey Lavender farm. We also made time for a couple strolls along the beautiful beaches.  Since the entire island is only about 9 miles long by 5 miles wide, it’s not exactly easy to get lost.  The roads were terribly narrow, and in the towns usually have rock walls right on the edge – not much elbow room!  And, of course, they drive on the wrong side of the road, which took some getting used to.  We usually ended up back at Villa d’Oro in the afternoons for tea and some interesting conversations with Victoria about Jersey culture.

A field of lavender in bloom awaiting cutting.

Friday we had an interesting visit at Jersey Lavender.  We ate lunch in their little cafe then went on the tour of the distillery.

Sea wall at the beach.

They grow & cut their own lavender, and have two small units to distill the oil.  The oil is aged to develop the wonderful lavender scent we know (it smells hideous when it’s fresh!) then they use it to mix up their own products, which are mostly bottled & labeled right there on the farm.  And, of course, we saw lots of lovely Jersey cows, which was the whole point.

What We Learned

This part of the trip was probably the most educational of all.  With the American Miniature Jersey Association’s information about the breed saying that the miniature size was the original, I wanted to learn more about the breed in it’s original form.  And learn I did!

A curious cow with the LeFeuvre farm buildings in the background.

Upon finding John LeFeuvre’s farm and making introductions, Jeff & I gave each other a look that said, “Yes, we have just stepped into a James Herriot book!”  There was a whole group of breeders gathered to see their herd.  As we walked through the pasture & listened to Sarah tell about the cows, I became puzzled by what I was seeing.

Sarah pointing out a particular cow.

These cows were not mini-sized, they were uniformly between 44″-48″.  I eventually caught up with Derrick Frigot, who right from the start had seemed quite friendly, knowledgable & easy to talk to.  I asked him about it, mentioning the AMJAR propaganda that the mini is the original and the full size were bred up.  He gave me a response that was repeated by every single person we met & asked about it over the course of our stay on the Isle: scoffing, rolled eyes, and “That’s nonsense.”, “Rubbish!”, or “Oh, please!”.  These Island cows are what the original Jersey cow has always been.  They’ve had a protected, closed gene pool for over 200 years, so little has changed in the breed.

John LeFeuvre and a friendly cow.

Most of these guys have been to the States and have seen American Jersey cows.  They all seem to feel that the American “full size” cows are only a few inches taller than what they have on the Isle.  And they were all quite adamant that the Isle Jerseys were never as small as the Miniatures.  So now, I obviously wonder, where did that mini size actually come from?  And I’m rethinking my Jersey breeding plans.

Precious little Primrose: a couple fingers to suckle & she was ready to come home with me!

While talking with Derrick about some old imported Isle semen I bought, we found out that he was the one doing the semen collection at that time and he not only knew all those bulls, but actually owned Margarethe’s Dairyman.  These breeders all know all the bulls and the traits that they stamp on their offspring, so now I know what I have in my straw collection & can use it wisely.

Frank's cows are quite fond of him.

Our Friday morning visit with Frank & Valerie Cudlipp was an intriguing step into history.  He’s 80 years old & still doing things “the old way”.  He and daughter Sarah have about 20 cows, but he fusses that he only actually owns one of them.
He still keeps the cows tethered the way all of them on the Isle used to be, with a rope clipped onto a chain loop around their horns.  So, unlike the other breeders who disbud their calves, his cows all still have their horns.  He showed us how they used to get a cow’s horns to curve in nicely by cutting a few little chips off the back side of the horns a few times when they were young.

Cows were all kept tethered by their horns.

This brings me to another Miniature Jersey “myth” I’ve heard: that all mini Jerseys are polled.

Frank demonstrates trimming this heifer's horns to curve them.

 All the Isle of Jersey cows have always been horned – they had to be to be tethered.  The extremely rare, occassional naturally polled animal was looked askance at & suspected to be mixed breed.  I’ve seen mini Jerseys with horns, too, though, so I didn’t think that was true, but if they’re supposed to be the original, then how would any of them be polled?  

80 years old and still swinging strong!

Frank uses the traditional large homemade wooden mallets to hammer the metal spikes into the ground to anchor the rope.  He also still stitches together his own homemade blankets to keep his girls cozy in winter. 

Frank introduces me to this lovely spotted cow.

He told us that in the old days the skinnier, bonier cow was considered best, because “it all goes in the pail”.  But nowadays, they’re breeding better-fleshed cows, which he thinks is good because they do better in cold weather, even if they don’t produce quite as much milk.

What an experience!  Tune in next week for more!

One Response to “The Isle of Jersey: Will the Real Jersey Cow Please Stand Up”

  1. Susan Lea Says:

    What a wonderful trip! Glad you made it home safely. Don’t you just love the lavender fields? It makes me homesick for Provence! Your comment about the roads with rock walls reminds me of our trip to Cornwall where the narrow roads look like they’re lined with hedges–until you move your car too close to one and find out the hedges are hiding rock walls! The Jerseys are gorgeous! I ran into a herd of them at Nature’s Harmony Farm and became inspired by their cheese-making and the cows’ gorgeous doe-eyes. I put a mini-Jersey on my wish list–until I priced them at $5000! So I guess if I want a Jersey, I’ll have to find a small regular one. Maybe I could find one on the Isle of Jersey! 🙂