My wife, Virginia, and I just got back from a trip to the UK, which included a trip to the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey. During our visit to the Channel Islands, we visited 3 dairies, one on Guernsey (Organic) and two on Jersey (one conventional, one organic/producer handler). I just thought I would share some observations of our visits.
First we went to Guernsey. We visited the farm of Jim and Liz Naftel. They are milking 40 Guernseys and selling to "Guernsey Dairy", the one and only milk processor on the island. I think they said there are about 18 dairies on Guernsey with 2,500 cows total. They were actually approached by Guernsey Dairy to go organic because they had a demand for organic milk, and they didn't want to have to import milk to fill that demand. They are certified organic by the UK's Soil Association, and their standards are quite a bit different then the USDA's organic standards. One example is antibiotics. The USDA completely prohibits them, while in the UK, on an organic cow, you can treat with antibiotics. There are a couple of catches though… The antibiotics must be administered by a vet, and the withholding period must be tripled. Also, in the UK, the transition period for land is 2 years, vice 3 in the US, and in the UK, you can feed off of transitional land, as long as it isn't over a certain percentage of the ration.
The Naftel's farm is a collection of old stone buildings, with the main barn dated "1870". They have a newer barn with free stalls (they call them "cow cubicles") and a double 3 side opener parlor made by De Laval. It's actually a fairly updated parlor. It had auto-takeoffs and all the gates are pneumatically operated. They run their 40 milking (and additional 30 young stock/dry cows) on 50 acres. Of the 50 acres, 3/4 is rented. Being such a small island, nobody owns a lot of land. The rental agreements are anything from a handshake to a full written contract. All of the fields are small… I would guess +/- 2 acres each. and surrounded by a hedgerow. The hedgerows are protected by the government, so they can't be removed. Most are centuries old. Also, much of the rented land is not contiguous to the main farm. White clover and Ryegrass seems to be the predominate feed. Weeds of note are Dock and Thistle (Glad to know I'm not the only one with Thistle!) This farm used portable electric fencing to keep stock in, but at least one farm on Guernsey uses "tethering" to control stock. The dairy with the tethered stock are all horned. A chain goes around the poll, and the horns keep it from slipping off. A 25' piece of rope is used to connect the poll to a steel stake driven into the ground. It seems quite labor intensive as they must be lead back and forth for milking and watering, and the stakes must me moved regularly as an area is grazed down.
After Guernsey, it was off to Jersey. This is where we spent a bulk of our time. We stayed with Anne Perchard, a sweet lady who recently turned 80 and is a major advocate for the Jersey breed. She was instrumental in the recent ruling that now allows the importation of Jersey semen to the island, and is a past president of the World Jersey Cattle Bureau. Anyway, while still very involved in the farm, it is one of her son's and her grandson that run the day to day operations. They milk 240 Jerseys using Portuguese as hired labor. They farm 140 vergee (the unit of land area measurement on Jersey, about 62 acres). The milk cows are run in two strings, the low producers, who are pastured night and day, and the high producers who are pastured during the day, but kept in the barn at night and fed TMR. They feed grain in the parlor (a double 10 parallel, De Laval), but not a whole lot, as it must be imported to the island. They are probably one of the biggest dairies on the island (22 farms milking a total of 3,500 cows), yet, if you ask them, they would say their main farming enterprise is potatoes. Jersey is well known throughout the UK for their "Jersey Royal" potatoes, and it is one of the chief exports of the island. It is an early salad potato, and is highly sought after. Being an island of only 5 by 9 miles this leads to a unique double cropping system. The potatoes are planted early, and harvesting starts by mid-April and wraps up in June. The fields are then replanted into corn (they call it maize) or ryegrass, which will then be harvested in the fall as silage for winter feed. She told me that dairying was good for paying bills and buying groceries, but the potatoes allow them to buy new tractors and upgrade equipment (as a side note, the majority of tractors on Jersey are Massey-Furgeson and New Holland). Like everywhere else, milk prices are lower than they should be.
Like on Guernsey, there is a milk processor called "Jersey Dairy" that nearly everybody ships to. They are a co-op, and just recently opened a beautiful, brand new milk processing plant on the island. I say nearly because there is one organic dairy on Jersey and they are also a producer-handler. Darren and Julia Quenalt own and operate "Manor Farm." I must admit, it was quite gutsy to break the monopoly that Jersey Dairy had on the island, and as a result, a few farmers have shunned them. But, they are really nice people and were more than happy to show Virginia and I around their farm and answer all of our questions. They milk 60 Jerseys and process the milk into a bunch of different products: Fluid milk (skim, 1.5%, and whole), soft cheeses, yoghurts, butter, and ice cream. In their farm store they also sell meats, vegetables, and bakery items. They had a nice little operation.
We spent a lot of time just riding our rented bikes around the island. We saw Jerseys everywhere, but we also saw some little black cows. I had thought that the only cows allowed on Jersey were Jerseys… but they also allow Aberdeen Angus just for beef. Some dairyman use Aberdeen Angus bulls for breeding, but the resulting Jersey X Angus can't be milked and must be sold for beef. Like Guernsey, most of the fields were real small, and surrounded with a hedgerow. Also, many farmers use fields that aren't contiguous with the main farm. We saw a few cows tethered, but most fields used for cows are fenced with barb wire or a single strand of electric wire. We also saw one field that had wood posts about 20' apart and just had a single strand of regular old rope stretched between them. I guess it holds the cows in. The cattle have no predators on the island. Also, for watering cattle, the pastures have a small tanker trailer full of water connected to a trough or the trough itself was mounted to the trailer. Everything was portable. They also grow a lot of Mustard as a green manure which they claim help control certain potato nematodes.
When Anne started dairying in 1950, her and her late husband milked 6 cows on 7 acres. There were hundreds of small dairies on the island at the time, but like elsewhere, you had to grow or get out. Jersey was actually occupied by the Nazis in WWII. Anne was 7 when they came onto the island, and it wasn't until she was 13 that they were liberated. She remembers it quite well, and it was amazing listening to her stories of the occupation. The Nazis did bring some Normandie dairy cows onto the island during the occupation, but there was such a backlash from the islanders that they were all slaughtered (the cows, not the Nazis). Even the Nazis don't mess around with Jersey genetics!!!
All in all, we had a great time. Both islands are proud of their dairy heritage. While both islands are a possession of the Crown (Queen of England), they are in fact their own countries and have their own money. The Guernsey cow is proudly displayed on the Guernsey 2 pence coin, while all of Jersey's paper bills have a Jersey cow watermark. I think I covered most anything, but if anybody has any questions, I'll try and answer them the best I can.
"I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world."