Guernsey or Jersey? You really have to choose. This exciting debate is one you may not be aware of, but small farmers and homesteaders get passionate about.
Guernsey and Jersey are two English islands of the coast of France. They also are the origins of two of the best milk cows for the family farm. Unlike the Holsteins of German origin, these two breeds don’t produce watery milk that almost looks blue. Instead their milk is almost golden due to the high concentration of beta carotene. Beta carotene is not digested by these cows so it passes into the milk and produces the wonderful golden color. Beta carotene is found in green vegetable matter like grass and gives protection against certain cancers and even aging, they say. You know it’s healthy to eat vegetables high in beta carotene, like carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach. But did you know you can get the same benefits from drinking Guernsey or Jersey milk? Drinking their milk is like having a serving of veggies.
And many folks who think they can’t digest milk, find Guernsey or Jersey milk suits them just fine. That’s because their milk proteins are the A2 protein which has been bred out of the most dairy cows in order to get high production of that watery substance passed off today as milk.
Whether Guernsey or Jersey milk tastes better is not an debate I want to enter. Both sides are just too passionate. Bringing up the topic is almost as bad as bringing up politics at Thanksgiving dinner. Some like Jerseys because they are smaller and produce more milk on less grass. Others like Guernseys because they have a little more A2. The rancor doesn’t last though. Unlike Democrats and Republicans, Jersey and Guernsey lovers have a whole lot in common. They love living on small farms and producing healthy food. No matter which of these English breeds you like the best, you know they are better than the German Holstein breed.
Jersey and Guernsey were also at the forefront of another English-German battle you may have heard of. The two islands were occupied by the Germans in the Second World War soon after they took over France. The English got early warning so the children were evacuated. The adults were left to cope with the German invaders.
The Germans confiscated nearly all the islands’ animals to feed their soldiers in France. About all they left the islanders was potatoes. They even invented potato peel pie which has no flour or sugar or fruit. Only potatoes.
A few animals did remain hidden. In defiance of curfew a few residents roasted a hog one night and consumed it along with some home brewed spirits. When confronted by German soldiers while heading home, they invented the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society since such literary society meetings were permitted by the Germans. Read about it in a book named after the Society or watch the movie based on it.
The Germans were defeated and left Guernsey and Jersey. But the modern Holstein milk cows still remain dominant worldwide. Modern people like the low fat Holstein milk, not realizing that wholesome natural fat is good for you. It’s only the artificial fats that hurt you.
After the war, back in the late 1940s, 50s and early 60s, there were still plenty of Jerseys and Guernseys supplying high quality milk to Americans. Efficient, industrial agriculture has made short shrift of them in the last 50 years. Modern attitudes have taken over. Relations between the sexes and races has changed for the better, but we may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.
In decrying the stifling attitudes of the past, we’ve abandoned a way of life which was much more resilient. We need to speak up for many of the attitudes of the 1950s. Everyone used to value working with your hands, being self-reliant, raising your own food. Some of us still do. My family still milks Jerseys on the family farm in Missouri. Three households raise their own eggs and meat on the farm where I grew up. I’m writing this in a small country in Eastern Europe where people still value the wholesome food produced on small farms.
Some in the US are waking up to the realization that some of the old ways were not so bad. We’d all be better off if we threw off the shackles of modernity and kept the old attitudes of the family farm. To be resilient, you have to innovate, but it must be conservative innovation. You must conserve the tried and true from the past. Conserving while innovating is tricky, but it’s the only way. Only the resilient survive.