Congleton, Cheshire, United Kingdom
Posted Oct 13, 2012
We've always had one or two cattle to milk for the house. These have tended to be Fresians or one of the Channel Island breeds, typically Jerseys. What we had depended on what calves happened to be sold in the local calf sales, though we always had one Channel Island breed as they tend to have more butterfat for butter production.
When our old Jersey was coming to the end of her milking days, we happened to be at a local sale when a Guernsey calf came up for auction. They were not particularly in vogue at the time an we managed to get her for a song.
Bucket-fed, she became very very calm and friendly, just what you need for a milk cow. We halter trained her from the beginning and got her used to being herded alone as soon as she grew out of the skittish, jumping, calf stage. For the first month she was fed on just milk, then concentrates were introduced and from eight weeks the milk was reduced and the concentrate increased until she was weaned.
At six months she was introduced to the rest of the heard, in a group with the old Jersey. When the Jersey was brought in for milking, she was brought in with her, to get her used to the byre and the milking stall. The first winter she was housed indoors all the time with the Jersey.
She was crossed with a Hereford by artificial insemination the first time she became receptive after 18 months of age to allow her to calve easily. When she calved, she was milked for the house alongside rearing her calf.
What strikes you first about Guernsey milk is just how yellow it is. That's because of the high beta-carotene content and it's why Guernsey milk is preferred for traditional ice-cream. It's also thick and unctuous due to the high butterfat content. Ideal for churning.
When raised by hand Guernseys are very calm and easy to handle. However, they are slightly easier to frighten than Jerseys and will tend to toss their heads at something approaching them from the front or side. This is not malicious, just part of their natural behaviour and something you need to be aware of.
Apart from that, they are a good milking cow for the house and the milk is rich and wonderful, particularly if you wish to make butter or yoghurt or use it for cooking (nothing compares to a Guernsey milk rice pudding).