Different breeds of cow could be seen in Jersey’s fields for the first time in the island’s history. If a draft bull semen importation law goes through the States this month, the door will be open to breeders to cross Jersey cows with UK beef cattle.
At the moment, the only cows allowed to be reared for meat in the island are Jersey dairy cows, which are much smaller than beef cattle.
But orders for semen have already been placed in anticipation of the law being passed, which means that farmers would be able to inseminate Jersey cows with semen from bulls such as Aberdeen Angus, Belgian Blue, and Charolais, as early as this summer.
The debate over lifting the ban will take place on Tuesday 29 April, when chief minister Frank Walker will bring the proposition to the States. He has been supportive of importation since he was first asked by farmers to remove the existing restrictions in April 2007.
The issue has split opinion across Jersey’s farming community. Supporters of lifting the ban argue that Jersey farmers need access to better bulls, but opponents to the importation argue that the appearance and purity of the island breed of cows will be lost.
The possibility of importing beef cattle semen is worrying some sections of the industry.
Henry Walker, who is on the board of Island Genetics, said he was concerned because the larger animals could cause calving difficulties for Jersey cows. He added: “Politicians have not been made properly aware of the beef stock issue before this forthcoming debate. I also think that having cows and bulls that look different to Jersey cows grazing in fields will change the island’s image.”
However Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society chief executive James Godfrey said that imported semen for beef cattle posed no threat to the pedigree of the dairy herds in Jersey.
“There simply would not be a problem,” he said. “The beef stock is a different issue to the breeding of dairy cows. The DNA testing allows us to trace every animal, and there is no question of this affecting the purity of the Jersey cow in any way.”
Godfrey thinks that there would be some farmers interested in producing crossbreeds, but that it is not likely to develop into a large market. He is confident that the beef would be a superior product, and that this would be a good opportunity for farmers in Jersey.