The BreedCast - innovative dairy breeding in your ears

Episode 03 - Jersey cows - the cattle breed for the future?

April 08, 2021 VikingGenetics Season 1 Episode 3
The BreedCast - innovative dairy breeding in your ears
Episode 03 - Jersey cows - the cattle breed for the future?
Show Notes Transcript

The number of Jersey cows are growing around the world. But why are modern dairy farmers switching to Jersey? And why should you consider this smaller breed for your farm?

We've invited a leading Jersey expert to share from his 30+ years of experience of working with Jersey famers around the world. Peter Larson gives you his best tips on how to breed healthy and profitable Jersey cows. A setup that can be a solution to new climate regulations and sustainability goals.



Peter Larson, Senior Breeding Manager VikingJersey, VikingGenetics, and Executive Secretary of the European Jersey Association.



Louise Rønn Svane

How to breed healthy, profitable Jersey cows.

 Jersey cows are becoming increasingly popular amongst dairy farmers around the world.

 It's one of only a few cattle breeds that are actually on the rise in terms of number of cows being bred.

 But why are modern dairy farmers embracing the Jersey cow?

What needs to be in place in order to have healthy and profitable Jersey herd that will also be sustainable long term?

 To give us the best tips on how to breed Jersey cows for the future, I've invited a leading Jersey expert to join me in the studio.

 Peter Larson is the Senior Breeding Manager for VikingJersey and also the Executive Secretary of the European Jersey Association.

 This is the Breed Cast produced by VikingGenetics.

I'm your host Louise Roenn Svane


Hi Peter and welcome.


Thank you very much.


Nice to see you and thanks for joining us.


Peter, we're seeing that more and more farmers around the world are looking to breed Jersey cows. Why do you think that is?


I think it is because this see an alternative to what they traditionally been using.

The Jersey breed is a quite new breed.


All the Jersey origin from the Jersey island in the channel between France and England.


And they've spread all over the world but slowly.

The reason for having Jerseys is that Jersey are different than other breeds, size wise and also on different traits.

And that makes the cow interesting.


When we started the breeding Jerseys in Denmark, it was shortly after we start milk recording.

And just all of a sudden farmers realized here is a breed that actually milks milk with higher levels of butterfat. 

We were not able to determine that exactly until we had the milk recording system.

But shortly after - when having this information - the interest in Jerseys increased rapidly.

That started 125 years ago.


Why do you think we're seeing a similar movement and similar trends in other parts of the world today?


It is because of the special traits that characterizes the Jerseys.


So it's not only that they are a bit smaller.

They are more efficient. They have the high solids. They have better fertility than the bigger breeds.

Not only in numbers but also in size and they are more healthy and long-living.


So it fits well into this future sustainable breeding that all strive to breed for.


What kind of reputation has Jersey cows had historically?


They've been blamed for being too small and some have called them goats.

And I remember when I was a child and we were the only ones - my parents had Jerseys – and we were the only ones in the village having Jersey.

And when I went to agriculture school and university, I was bullied because we were working with goats.


But they were efficient goats and they were profitable goats so I live with it.


Now we're seeing this trend around the world.

From your perspective, what problems out there could potentially be solved by switching to or increasing the number of Jersey cows?


If you focus on efficiency and then of course here is a smaller very highly efficient cow, but then not all determine or measure efficiency at this stage.

So often it's because of fertility - poor fertility.


It can be health problems.

The Jerseys have stronger feet and legs.

They do not weigh as much as a big Holstein cow so do you do not put that much weight on the feet of the cows.

And then longevity as well.

So, there are some advantages breeding with a smaller cow.

And the in the end, the profitability of the cow is just as good as with a big cow.


There's a lot of talk about climate and sustainability.

Where is Jersey in terms of that?


We've done some trials in Denmark on the emissions.

It can be nitrogen and phosphorus.

We have realized that the Jersey are approximately 20% better than the big breeds on that.

It can be methane, CO2 - we've done some trials on that as well from milking robots where we measured the breath of the cows showing again approximately 20% less greenhouse gases per kilogram of milk produced for the Jerseys.


Then again the feed efficiency where the cows produce approximately 20% more per kilogram of dry matter intake of the cows.


So both that they are more efficient in converting feed to milk and give you higher efficiency - also in that way indirectly affect the climate.






Let's try and look at what I need to do if I want to breed healthy and as you said profitable Jersey cows.

Peter, you grew up with Jersey cows as you mentioned.

And you've ended up spending actually great parts of your career working with Jerseys.

What made you - other than the fact that you grew up with them - what made you stay with them?


Of course, it matters quite a lot that I grew up with them.

My grandparents on both sides were all milking Jersey. 

But when I was younger, I actually had farming education.

I was working in several different farms and also farms with big cows of all the breeds.

And I realized that the personality of the Jerseys, I liked that a lot.

They have more off personality. They are more individuals.

But also the fact that they're 200 kilograms smaller or weigh less.

And when you're stepped on your toes by a big Holstein, it hurts quite a lot and it can actually be difficult to push her away.

A small Jersey cow you can always push away and you will not get that hurt.


When you go and meet with Jersey farmers around the world because you do.

You've traveled for the past 30 years advising on Jersey. You’re recognized at a leading expert on the matter and you do work with farmers in just over 50 countries now.

What’s some of the first things that you recommend looking at when a farmer comes and tells you: “I’d like healthier and more profitable Jersey cows”?


I'm looking at the genetics that the farmer has been working with so far.

I'm looking at the conditions he's working under.

And then try to determine whether this is an optimal fit what he has been doing so far.

And then try to identify where we can do better or help him do better in selection of genetics that fits well for his milk pricing system, for the cost levels that he's working under.

The environmental restrictions he might have and climatical conditions.

So, I try to sum up under these conditions what would be optimal genetics to use for you.

And that's very important to make the farmer realize.

Sometimes we experience that farmers have not really set exact goals and strategies for their breeding in the herd.


What kind of environment and conditions are Jersey cows particularly suited for?


I think they are suited for nearly all. They are hardy animals. They have a good climate resistance and heat tolerance.

And they work under very harsh conditions.

You’ll see them downunder in the Australian heat and they keep on grazing. Whereas big cows stop grazing in the middle of the day.

You can see them under cold conditions up north where we're coming from. 

They are really hardy animals.

It also relates to the size of the cow – the small cows. The strong hooves, the health genetics in them.

They work well under all kinds of conditions.


In for instance the US and New Zealand and I believe in Denmark as well, roughly around 13% of the total cow population are Jerseys.

When the US, New Zealand, Australia and other countries around the world, they come to see you, why are they interested in the VikingJersey bulls?


I think the main reason today is fertility.

We have put a lot of emphasis on breeding the fertile animals.

We are in the lead but when you look at the genetic levels compared across populations and that's the main reason.

But it is also for other reasons, we have always been breeding for high percentages of fat and protein in milk and that can be another reason.

And then health, we have been able to breed very healthy animals.

This trend in those other countries as well.

In this I do not say that we're in the lead in all traits.

We're not. We're striving to be in the lead but constantly we check what bulls could we actually benefit from enrolling in our breeding program.

We have sires of sons from specially the US but also from Canada and New Zealand and we have a good tradition for combining these genetics from other parts of the world.

I can mention three examples; way back we imported semen from New Zealand.

Especially one bull called Glenmore Royal Guide resulted in a bull called FYN Tved - one of the leading bulls in our population.

Lester from the US – the sire of FYN Lemvig. And Imperial from Canada – the grand sire of Q Impuls.

Bulls that are well-known worldwide actually origin from those leading populations.

So, we are a mix but still 2/3 of the genetics in our population is Danish.

And then a little more than 30% is North American and then little New Zealand. 

So, we benefit. It's good that we breed in different directions and then we can benefit from good genes from other populations.


They're still purebred right - all the VikingJersey bulls? 


Yes, and that’s special with our Jerseys.

Back in 2009, we made a decision when we started genomic selection.

We made a decision that the Danish Jersey – the VikingJerseys - should be purebred. 

It was a tough decision to make but it was right decision to make.

So that we avoid getting problems with what we call monogenetic traits or defects from other populations.

So, all the bulls that we market, they're 100% pure Jerseys for seven generations back.


You mentioned earlier that this data collection tracking started taking place.

Can you tell me a bit more? About how did that start with the Jerseys and where is that today?


Well, we are actually able to estimate breeding values for all of economic importance and it's due to the fact that there is good tradition for registering everything in the Nordic countries.

We'll see that a Danish farmer registers all what he can register on his herd.

And the same does the veterinarian coming in the herd and the same does the AI technician. The slaughterhouse does, the dairy company does.

So, we gather from a lot of different sources and that enables us to estimate those breeding values

We've been doing that for 40 years on those traits that there are the most important today; fertility, health and longevity. 


And all this data is available now to Jersey farmers all countries around the world?


Yes it is and those data is available if you use our genetics - if you use bulls from VikingGenetics.

It can also be available on your females out there no matter where you come from if you genomically test your animals in our system. 

Then just all of a sudden, you will get access to the same traits and information as what we have on ours.


What are some of the areas where VikingJerseys are a breed leaders?


We are breed leaders in health, fertility and on longevity as well.

We are on butterfat production.

So, on a lot of the new traits, we are breed leaders, and I'm sure that when we start to evaluate the genetic levels for feed efficiency and for greenhouse gas emissions, we will be breed leaders as well but we can't document that today because we are forerunners in that area but it'll come in other countries as well and I'm sure we will show that we're there.


Now, another trend happening right now is crossbreeding and I know that Jersey plays a role in at least one of the crossbreeding programs that you're involved with.

What does Jersey bring to the mix in crossbreeding and why is it a popular breed for crossing?


The reason for considering or including Jerseys in the crossbreeding program is mainly that the cows have become too big.

So it will normally be farmers working with other breeds where they realize that the very tall cows – the very big cows - are not the most efficient.

And they're not the most healthy. They're not the most long-living. Combining a breed that in first generation – the F1 crosses will already be smaller and more healthy, more fertile. You can see that immediately.

But we recommend to use a rotational cross with three different breeds. One of the main reasons for that is that if you do a zigzag cross with only two breeds, Jersey and another, then you will see a huge variation in the size of the cows.

When you use three breeds it levels out more. You still obtain quite high level of heterosis: the extra you get when doing crossbreeding.


What two other breeds are good to combine with Jerseys?


Normally, you start crossing your Holsteins with Jersey but then to have another big breed then the red breed will be excellent.

So, it can be different sorts of red and here in the Nordic countries, we have what we call VikingRed. 

And VikingRed is actually a merge of three different red breeds in the Nordic countries.


How do Jersey farmers around the world feel about crossbreeding? Are they excited? What are the different opinions about using Jerseys in crossbreeding?


The most Jersey breeders around the world do not consider doing crossbreeding at all because they think they have the ideal breed for the future.

So, they're not considering that but they might be telling the neighbour milking another breed that he should consider to use a little Jersey and make life easier.


Peter, when you look ahead into the future, what are some of the coming trends that Jersey farmers should be aware of?


They should be aware to set strategies and follow their goals.

It's very important in future where I think the most farmers will be challenged more on the profitability, on restrictions from environmental issues and others.

And to optimize you have to follow your goals and to be very clear in defining those goals.

I think in the future most breeders will do genomic testing. To give yourself better tools, to select those that should breed the next generation of cows in your herd.

And if you don't need all the cows to breed next generation to have enough offspring to reproduce your herd or replace culled cows, you might only need 30-40% of your cows for that.

So, a strategy where you do genomic testing, get a better selection tool, find the 30-40% that should be models of next generation and then use beef on the rest of the cows.

That would be an optimal strategy; both speeding up genetic progress on those traits that you prioritize, but also profitability will be optimized in that sense because you will replace worthless Jersey bull calves with Jersey beef crosses having a higher value.


What about sexed semen? Because I saw numbers from 2020 and it was 70% of all Jersey doses sold around the world are sexed semen. 

Significantly higher than other breeds we see where it's now 25%.

Why is sexed semen an important tool for Jersey breeders?


It is to replace the purebred Jersey bull calves.

When I before said that 30-40% were enough to replace females in your herd, I mean that those are enough if you use sexed semen.

So, you should use sexed semen to breed the next generation and you could actually also use sexed semen when you use beef and that's coming more and more.

We expect that 90% of the Jersey semen sold in in Denmark and the Nordic countries by the end of this year will be sexed Jersey semen, and we expected that approximately 25% of the beef semen will be sexed as well.

And this is only for this year.

I expect next year 50% of the beef semen sold for Jersey breeders will be sexed.


What else can I do to be set up for the future with a healthy and profitable Jersey herd?


I think you should have a look at the effects of different strategies.

Give yourself the opportunity of checking whether what I'm doing today is the most profitable solution.

We have a tool called SimHerd where we do simulations on the different strategies in your herd.

You can have a sexed semen strategy, maybe only Jersey sexed semen, maybe both Jersey sexed semen and beef and then try and make these different scenarios that’ll fit well under your conditions and make a simulation on what will the economic result be.

How much sexed semen should I use? What type of what profile of bulls should I use? What will the end result be?

That's a very good tool to make use of when discussing future strategies and effects of those.


Are we going to continue to see a growth in numbers of Jersey cows around the world?


Of course, how could you ask a question like that?

Yes of course, we will. The Jersey breed is the breed of the future.

When we get more documentation on saved feed, feed efficiency, on greenhouse gas emissions, I'm sure it'll show that the Jersey is a breed of the future.

You don't need the world's largest cows too give you a good economic result in your herd, you can do with small cows.


Are the number of Jersey cows, is that going to continue to grow around the world?


Yes, definitely.

The reason for that is that Jerseys fit well in all types of production systems, under all types of management conditions around the world no matter if you are producing conventional products, organic products, if you produce designed products for special customers - like A2 milk - or different emphasis on different traits.

Jerseys fit well but Jerseys also fit well when your prioritized profitability help sustainability and I think it is the breed fitting the best so I see a great future for the Jerseys.





Thanks for joining the BreedCast produced by VikingGenetics.

If you'd like more management tips on Jersey cows or breeding tips, do visit the VikingGenetics website and social media Jersey area there.


Thank you, Peter Larson, for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.


Thank you.


And thank you everyone out there for listening.


If you have an idea for a topic in cattle breeding, you'd like us to focus on, please contact us at the VikingGenetics website or on our Facebook page.


My name is Louise Roenn Svane. 

Please join me for the next BreedCast where we'll talk about another current trend in cattle breeding: organic farming.

And more particularly how to avoid sick cows in your organic dairy business.


Thank you.