About a month ago, David and I did something we’ve never done before. We took the day off and went to a cattle sale – and we actually bought something! We’ve been to a handful of sales, but we’d never actually purchased cattle at auction. This sale was a dispersal, a farm family selling their whole herd. Unlike the Kuckelmans (whose entire herd we purchased four years ago), this farm was selling each animal individually to a variety of buyers. Heartland Jerseys was one of the top Jersey herds in the country, and they were located less than two hours north of us. We had never milked any breed other than Holsteins, but we had talked casually for some time about buying some good Jersey cows to see how we liked them, and how they measured up. When this sale was announced, we knew we needed to at least explore the opportunity.
The majority of dairy cattle in this country are Holsteins – you know, the black and white cows you see in advertising. In very general terms, Holsteins produce the most milk of all the dairy breeds, but they are also generally larger cattle who require more feed. Jerseys are smaller, brown cattle. They typically give less lbs of milk, but their milk is also higher in fat and protein, and they theoretically need less feed. With component pricing (we actually get paid based on what the milk contains, not just the quantity) and higher feed costs than previous generations, Jerseys are quickly gaining popularity. This is all in very general terms, and there are certainly exceptions to all of it, but these are all factors we have to consider when purchasing or breeding cows.
Of roughly 700 animals who sold, we selected a list of about 30 to watch and consider purchasing. We bid on a variety of animals, but in the end welcomed home a Jersey cow, a Jersey bred heifer and a Holstein heifer – a little bit of everything they had to offer.
The Holstein heifer has blended right in, but the Jerseys are different, in a very entertaining sort of way. They spend a little time alone, presumably because they know they’re different, but when they’re not alone, they’re constantly playing. Actually, when they are alone they are constantly playing. They will stand and play with their tongues or shake their tails for minutes if not hours. They’re mild tempered and easy to handle, and they’re plenty aggressive at the feed bunk. Time will tell how they fare in our herd, but personally at least, they’re very easy animals to like.
2020 Update: We’re still milking Fitz, the bred heifer we brought home from the Heartland Dispersal. She also has two daughters in the herd. Furthermore, we’ve purchased more Jerseys since and are milking 11 total. They’re still very easy animals to like!