The origins of the Miniature Jersey breed
Miniature Jerseys, as a breed, have been developing throughout the United States for the past several decades. They have been promoted by several enthusiasts and hobbyists who have selectively bred smaller-sized animals to achieve and maintain miniature size.
by Tracy Howe, CMJA Secretary
Much of the actual history and information with regard to the origin of the Miniature Jersey is largely unverifiable, with many people taking, or being given credit for, the development of the breed. However, what can be verified is that the original supporters of the Miniature Jersey breed were:
• Ralph Martin of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, who in the 40s and 50s began collecting and breeding the smaller-sized Jersey cattle, which were falling out of favour, from neighbouring farms and through auction barn purchases.
• Nathan Harris of Virginia partnered with Mr. Martin to seek out and purchase the smaller, less favourable Jerseys with a focus on preserving the smaller type.
• Fonnie Thoman, a breeder whose herd of Miniature Jerseys was once over 55 head in the early 2000s, before her illness in her later years.
The most well-known lines of Miniature Jersey are those of Riverview, Barnyard, Martin, Snow, Dexter Corner, and Sure Shot. These early lines and breeders focused on retaining the feed conversion and production abilities of what we consider 'typical' of the Jersey cow while also focusing on the hardiness traits of the original Isle cows.
Interesting to note is a statement made by Mr. David Hambrook, President of the Royal Jersey Historical Society on the Isle of Jersey, that there have always been smaller-sized Jersey cattle since the original importation. Still, these were rarely, if ever, under 42 inches in height at maturity and certainly not under 36 inches. This indicates that the miniature cattle were developed and not imported.
Mr. Hambrook has also been quoted as saying the US Miniature Jersey developed as a subset due to continually breeding small Jersey with small Jersey, in much the same way as the Canadians have bred a large Jersey. Furthermore, Mr. Hambrook has been said to have stated that the widely promoted assumption that the Miniature Jersey found in the US represents the animal once found and still to be found on the Isle to be incorrect.