Nine months ago, Paul Rovey purchased a truckload of Jersey springing heifers. At the time, the Glendale, Ariz., producer thought the $1,150 price per head he paid was too high. But now he wishes he'd bought more. "The guy who was here the other day was offering Jerseys at $1,500," he says.

Like many producers, Rovey has expanded the Jersey population on his dairy. He is currently milking 1,450 Jerseys and 450 Holsteins. While the dairy once was split 50:50 with Holsteins, recent expansions have been filled with just Jerseys. The breed attracts producers like Rovey with the rewards of high-component milk. But other characteristics, such as good feet and legs and strong udders, satisfies other management needs on the dairy.

The demand for Jerseys stems from changes in how milk is priced, which has closed the gap on the economic advantage the Holstein breed has enjoyed for decades. Milk pricing, coupled with reproductive, feed and environmental benefits, could result in significant growth in the Jersey population.

Holsteins still the majority
With Holsteins dominating the U.S. cow population, it's hard to imagine Jerseys being considered as a contender. However, some signals of growth in the Jersey breed merit notice.

The Holstein Association estimated that it had 90 percent to 95 percent of the U.S. cow herd in 1997, or about 8.8 million cows. Calvin Covington, executive secretary of the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA), estimated the Jersey population at approximately 325,446 cows in 1997, or about 3.5 percent of the U.S. cow herd. Unfortunately, no one tracks the U.S. cow herd by breed, so exact numbers are not available to document growth. Instead, breed association officials estimate the breed population based on the number of cows on Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) test, the amount of semen sold in the U.S., and the overall USDA herd estimates.

While the Jersey cow population has declined from the breed's highest numbers of 359,168 in 1989 (see chart "Estimate of the Jersey population"), Covington points out that the breed's "market share," or percent of the total population, increased, while total cow numbers declined.

"Between 1985 and 1997, the U.S. dairy cow population declined by 14 percent," says Covington. In the same time, the Jersey breed has only declined by 3.36 percent. The Holstein breed has declined by 13.24 percent.

The market share increase in the Jersey population is the only positive movement for non-Holstein breeds. The number of cows in the Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn breeds have all declined significantly.

Growth in semen sales
Among the signs that have peaked optimism about future growth in the Jersey breed is the increase in semen sales. In 1997, approximately 619,420 straws of Jersey semen were sold in the U.S. - an increase of nearly 13 percent from 1985.

"The amount of semen used is more than what we'd estimate is needed for the current Jersey cow population," says Cari Wolfe, director of research and program development at AJCA. Field data backs up the estimation. Jeff Ziegler, Jersey sire analyst at Select Sires, Plain City, Ohio, polled his national organization, finding the use of Jersey semen in non-Jersey cattle at between zero and 30 percent around the country. That signals to the AJCA that crossbreeding is occurring.

While Ziegler says there wasn't any significant patterns to the crossbreeding, he did see stronger use in cheese market areas. This trend has resulted in the AJCA widening its identification program to deal with animals being crossed to Jerseys. (For more information, see the related story, "The Jersey breed prepares to expand.")

Some people may wonder why the breed would be in high demand when Jersey milk production is lower than that of Holsteins. Indeed, the average milk per cow for Holsteins on DHI test in 1997 showed 19,892 pounds of milk being produced while the average Jersey produced just 14,049 pounds of milk. And, while Jerseys are known for their high milkfat and protein production, the average Holstein still produced a greater volume of components. In 1997, the average Holstein produced 639 pounds of protein and 733 pounds of fat, compared to 528 pounds of protein and 659 pounds of fat for the average Jersey.

Component pricing
However, the use of multiple component pricing in the federal order system has altered the price advantage of producing greater volumes of milk. With legislation to be implemented later this year, seven out of 11 newly-formed federal milk marketing orders will calculate pay prices based on milk composition - specifically, milkfat and protein.

A comparison of the average Holstein cow and the average Jersey cow on page 32 shows that the economic advantage of selling the additional pounds of milk produced by a Holstein has been lessened by multiple component pricing. In the example, the Holstein cow produced 5,843 pounds more milk, 111 pounds more protein and 74 pounds more milkfat than the Jersey cow.

To calculate the value of the milk produced, we used the average pay prices for 1997 for the New York/New Jersey federal order.

In one year, the average Holstein earned $600.79 more per cow than the average Jersey based on traditional pricing methods (that is, calculating the pay price and adding the value of the milkfat differential). When the same order information and price were calculated on multiple component pricing (MCP), the Holstein's advantage was 30 percent less. As most Jersey breeders have learned under MCP, the high concentration of protein and milkfat pays well. Yet, the advantage based on milk price still lies with the Holstein breed - $430 in this particular comparison.

However, Wolfe suggests that the Jersey cow becomes competitive with the Holstein when producers look at the cost of raising and managing Holsteins and Jerseys.

"Last year, I crunched the numbers and couldn't come up with any difference in the income potential between Jerseys and Holsteins," says Dana Rudgers, of Attica, N.Y. The 250-cow producer added 60 Jerseys to his dairy recently. He says factors such as reproduction, feed efficiency, stocking rate and the quality of available cattle gave Jerseys an advantage. "If you buy good cows, it doesn't matter whether they are black or brown," he says.

Management advantage
Calculations compiled by the AJCA show that many of these factors - reproduction, feed efficiency and stocking rate - make the income potential of a Jersey equal to that of a Holstein.

"Jerseys are a breeding machine compared to Holsteins," says veterinarian Steve Smalley, Chandler, Ariz. Indeed, statistics from Dairy Records Management Systems (DRMS), a dairy records processing center in Raleigh, N.C., that processes records for 1.7 million cows, supports Smalley's position. DRMS records show Holstein cows usually have 21 more days open than Jerseys. That results in an average Jersey calving interval of 13.4 months, while the Holstein average is 14 months.

On Paul Rovey's dairy, one of Smalley's clients, the days open average 106 for the Jerseys and 128 for the Holsteins. The Holstein conception rate is 10 percent to 15 percent less than the Jerseys, with the Jerseys' conception rate at 50 percent.

"We find the Jerseys just breed back better and more consistently," Smalley says.

However, placing an economic value on these differences is difficult. What's the value of a 13.4-month calving interval or one lasting 14 months? Pre-BST research showed that value ranging between $2 and $4 per day, but the loss is nearly undetectable on the farm. Most dairies remain profitable with more days open and longer calving intervals.

However, these statistics do indicate some measurable management costs, says Roy Ax, reproductive physiologist at the University of Arizona. What these statistics show is that the Jersey cow has fewer problems after calving, which results in her getting bred sooner. That can be measured by culling and fewer pre-fresh problems.

Statistics do show Jerseys reside in the herd longer. DRMS calculates the average productive life (the number of months a cow remains in the herd after her first calf) at 24.7 months in Holsteins and 27.8 months in Jerseys.

Rovey sees a lower cull rate in his Jersey herd. "Our Jerseys average about a 26 percent cull rate, while the Holsteins have a cull rate of 31 or 32 percent," he says. Smalley believes that the Jerseys also have fewer calving problems when compared to the Holsteins on the operation.

Perhaps a more tangible measure is the difference in feed cost between the breeds. Calculations by Bob James, dairy nutritionist at Virginia Tech, and his graduate student Patrick French, show the feed cost of a Jersey is about 15 cents less per day than a Holstein's feed cost. James says the Holstein cow's feed cost is 81 cents less than a Jersey on a per hundredweight basis, but the Jersey can produce a pound of protein and fat - for 8 cents and 10 cents less, respectively - than the Holstein.

(The ration estimates were based on a Jersey cow producing 15,203 pounds of milk, 699 pounds of milkfat and 569 pounds of protein, while the Holstein produced 21,861 pounds of milk, 794 of milkfat and 686 pounds of protein. The Holstein weighed 1,300 pounds and the Jersey 900 pounds.)

"The Jersey cow appears to be more feed efficient," says James. With a smaller body weight, the Jersey cow needs less energy (derived from feed) for body maintenance. "At our university dairy, our Jerseys eat about 4 percent of their bodyweight, while the Holsteins eat about 3.5 to 3.6 percent of their bodyweight," says James. That means the Jersey has extra energy after maintaining her body to produce milk components and build body reserves.

A final advantage Jerseys have over Holsteins is a smaller size. DRMS records show the average Holstein weighs 1,300 pounds, while the average Jersey weighs 900 pounds. For dairies that are planning to expand, that means 1.4 Jerseys can fit in the same area as one Holstein, says Wolfe. Or, a pen with 100 Holsteins could contain 140 Jerseys.

With environmental concerns increasing in some geographic areas, increasing the stocking rate in facilities may be the most viable way to expand.

What to expect
When you hear about expansion plans in the dairy industry, many include milking Jerseys. All indications - from milk pricing to management - show that milking Jerseys can be a competitive alternative to milking Holsteins.

But, will Jerseys become a force in milk production in the 21st Century? For now, the industry should probably adapt the philosophy of Chris Berman, football analyst on the ESPN sports channel. As he often says about a football team that suddenly starts winning: "If it happens once, it is a fluke. If it happens twice, it is a coincidence. But, if it happens three times, it is a trend."

For the dairy industry, changes in the cow population in the next decade should determine if a trend is occurring.

The Jersey breed prepares to expand

With more Jersey semen being sold in the U.S. than there is domestic Jersey cows to be bred, Jersey officials suspect crossbreeding. "The idea is to breed systematically to registered Jersey sires to develop a herd that can produce high solids," says Cari Wolfe, director of research and program development at American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA).

But as dairy producers breed Holstein cows to Jersey sires, officials at AJCA find themselves in an interesting identification predicament. Should genetic and production information on these cows be recorded? And, if so, how?

The AJCA has offered the "Jersey Expansion" program as a solution. The program specifically marks and identifies Holsteins that have been crossed with Jerseys. This allows them to track the animals, yet noting that they are crossbred. If a Holstein cow and subsequent offspring are bred to Jersey sires for five generations or more, geneticists say they have predominately Jersey traits - 96.9 percent. "After six generation that value increases to 98.4 percent and after seven generations the value is 99.2 percent," says Wolfe. For commercial breeders, these animals are Jerseys. Information on these animals will be valuable in sire summaries and breed statistics.

For more information on the Jersey Expansion program, contact the AJCA at (614) 861-3636.

Holstein vs. Jersey

The following tables compare the average milk production of two cows, "Holly" Holstein and "Judy" Jersey. We used the average 1997 production figures for each breed, according to the NDHIA, to formulate our example. In the example, each animal's milk will be sold in federal order #2, the New York/New Jersey order. The example will value each animal's milk in both a multiple-component pricing (MCP) system and a non-MCP system. The price in order two is currently set on a traditional, non-MCP system, but will likely switch to MCP later this year.

In our comparison, Holly and Judy's yearly milk production were marketed at the average monthly price for 1998. And, no bonuses for somatic cell were calculated.

Holly Holstein Judy Jersey
Yearly milk production (pounds) 19,892 14,049
Yearly protein production (pounds) 639 528
Yearly fat production (pounds) 733 659
Yearly solids production (pounds) 1,094 780
Percent protein 3.2 3.75
Percent fat 3.66 4.69
Percent solids 5.5 5.55

Traditional or non-MCP system
Average 1997 monthly pay price: $14.73 per hundredweight + milkfat differential
Milkfat differential: +/- $0.192 per 0.1 percent above/below 3.5 percent

Holly Holstein 198.92 hundredweights x (($14.73) + (3.66-3.5)($0.192)) = $2,991.20 or $15.04 per hundredweight
Judy Jersey 140.49 hundredweights x (($14.73) + (4.69-3.5) ($0.192)) = $2,390.41 or $17.02 per hundredweight

MCP System

MCP system calculation Holly Holstein Judy Jersey
Producer price differential hundredweights x $0.53 (198.92 x $0.53)= $104.43 (140.49 x $0.53) = $73.76
Milkfat $ per pound. Milkfat pounds x $1.9751 (733 x $1.9751) = $1,437.97 (659 x$1.9751)= $1,301.39
Protein $ per pound. Protein pounds x $2.1309 (639 x $2.1309) = $1,356.41 (528 x $2.1309) = $1,122.64
Other solids $ per pound. Other solids pounds x $0.09277 (1094 x $0.09277)= $101.42 (815 x $0.0927) = $72.28
Total income $3,000.23 $2,570.06
Per hundredweight price $15.08 $18.29

Source: Cornell University "MCP farm" spreadsheet. Available at the Web site: http:\\