Brown cow now more popular than ever
New farmers say smaller Jerseys mean cutting feed costs and skipping barn retrofit
By Brandy Harrison
TAVISTOCK ó Holsteins are in his blood but now that Bryan Weldrick has owned Jerseys, his Tavistock barn will never be completely Jersey-free again.
"Iíll never get rid of my Jerseys. Iíve formed a passion for them and gained a lot of respect for the breed," says Weldrick, who sold a Holstein herd six years ago but started milking again with 40 cows ó two thirds of them Jerseys ó through the Dairy Farmers of Ontarioís (DFO) new producer program in January.
In his fatherís old barn, the smaller Jerseys were just right for cow comfort, but with both he and his wife Jennifer working off-farm one of the biggest advantages is calving ease.
"I donít worry about a Jersey cow calving. The calves are there when I get home," says Weldrick, who adds that Jersey calves also learn to drink from a pail 24 to 48 hours sooner than his Holstein calves.
Weldrick says parents with young children are attracted to the docile animal and while he admits theyíre a bit stubborn, theyíre also easy to work with.
"My nephew is just two-years-old and heíll go to the Jersey cows before the Holsteins," he says. "Theyíre so curious. Every morning I walk through the barn at four in the morning, flick on the lights and 30 heads turn and look at me."
Jim Huizenga started milking nearly 30 Jerseys in July 2011. Since then heís added more Holsteins, but is itching to swing back the other way.
"The more Holsteins you milk, the less money you make. I wasnít shipping more milk but getting less dollar value out of it," says the Roslin farmer.
But for Paul Mitchell, it isnít the milk cheque where the savings really add up.
"They eat less and poop less, which means it takes fewer acres to produce your feed and itís less manure to haul out to the field," says the Mitchell farmer, who relief milked with Jersey herds before starting out on his own last summer and liked how easily they calved.
Itís a difference Weldrick measured: he feeds 20 per cent more to his Holsteins per kilo of quota.
There is strong evidence that other dairy farmers are taking a second look at the brown cow.
Fourteen out of 62 ó 22.5 per cent ó of new farmers through the DFOís new producer and quota assistance programs since 2009 have included Jerseys in their herds.
From 2002 to 2011, the milk recorded herds in Ontario that include Jerseys jumped 10 per cent, and while Jerseys amount for a paltry four per cent of cows on test compared to Holsteins at 93.8 per cent, the breed gained 1,100 cows on test last year over 2009.
Jersey semen sales also climbed, with EastGen seeing a 25 to 30 per cent increase over 2011, although that could be chalked up to a popular sire.
Reproductive efficiency, higher milk fat content, and size are all big selling points, but a recent study in the Journal of Dairy Science hints the component advantage is not only evident in the milk cheque and feed costs. Using Jersey milk in cheese production lowers the carbon footprint by 20 per cent compared to Holstein milk, with the smaller cow requiring less land, water, and fuel use.
The gains may be small but Jersey Canadaís general manager says that efficiency factor may tilt the industry toward Jerseys.
"The pipedream is a brown cow in every barn," Kathryn Kyle says. "Once theyíve got one, itís not long before the number explodes. Itís the seeing is believing approach."
But Weldrick says there are also a few things to watch out for: Jerseys are susceptible to "milk fever" or calcium deficiency at calving; there arenít a lot of proven Jersey bulls; and Holsteins have the marketability edge that will bring in the income to help the Weldricks go full time.
But Russell Gammon, a 31-year Jersey industry veteran, says the breed is just at the beginning of a slow turnaround, recalling that in the mid-1960s farmers began abandoning Jerseys in favour of higher volume producing cows. The Jersey program manager at Semex says farmers are often pleasantly surprised by the breed.
"They didnít realize a little cow could milk that much. The success rate is 80 to 90 per cent ó if you buy them, you like them."