Miniature Jerseys are not a new breed, nor a bred down replica of the Jersey cattle we see today. They are descendants of the original Jerseys imported from the Jersey islands and Britain many years ago with the same size and conformation of the original Jersey breed.
American Miniature Jerseys have also been known as the Rabbit-eyed Jersey, Guinea Jersey, Barnyard Jersey, and Island Jersey; names used in various geographical areas of the country. Early Jersey herds were all of this type. Now to give them an identity of their own and to differentiate them from the large modern-day Jerseys, they have been renamed the American Miniature Jersey. The American Miniature Jersey Association & Registry is where the stud book for them is maintained. They are few in number, with less than 100 foundations pure known at this time, all descendants of the original imports. It has only been in the last few years that these few small herds have been rediscovered.
The Jersey breed originated on the Channel Islands off the British coast. Early imports were also received from Britain and the Guernsey islands. The first registered Jerseys were imported into the U.S. in 1850 by John A. Tainter. Many other imports came over the following years, eventually establishing a large population across the country. On December 31st, 1956, the American Jersey Cattle Club had registered 2,737,259 head of Jersey cattle. The late 1940's and early 1950's saw the beginning of the decline of these small Jerseys and the evolving of the larger modern Jerseys we see today. Most of the small original type Jerseys left today trace back to an importation of a Mr. Snow of Dobson, North Carolina, and from stock he purchased from other importers. It is through the interest of people like you that these delightful little cattle will be preserved and restored.
The reason that so many of the older livestock breeds have become extinct or declined in numbers to the point of virtual extinction is due to the loss of their market niche with changing lifestyles and the development of refrigeration. After the Second World War the "bigger is better" movement in livestock took hold.
In the earlier years all livestock breeds were much smaller than they are today for economic reasons. Refrigeration was not generally available in homes or stores until the Second World War. Fresh farm products were not available in stores in smaller communities. Also, the smaller livestock that were mainly under the care of the housewife and children required less feed, during a time when hay and grain was either hand harvested or harvested by horse teams. Smaller livestock required less fencing and could easily be tethered out for grazing. Less barn space was needed and the barn cleanings went out in the garden. Most importantly, a small cow did not produce more milk than the family could use and at butchering time the smaller carcass was not overwhelming to preserve by salting, brining, and canning.
In small towns and in larger cities all over the country these small cows were to be seen tethered out on roadsides and in vacant lots during the day and taken to a small backyard shed at night for the evening milking. In those days families produced what they needed for their table, and any excess could readily be sold or traded; or they went without. Affordable refrigeration replaced the ice-chest and the spring-house: and fresh farm products could be purchased at the grocery store. The small livestock began to disappear all across the country as the market niche was lost, replaced by mega-dairies. But the wheel always turns (sometimes slowly) and we are back to so many people returning to small acreage, many of whom wish to have a more pastoral lifestyle and to produce some of their food free of antibiotics, pesticides and all the other products that make their way into the modern food chain. The time and the need for smaller livestock have returned for exactly the same reasons that they were kept in the beginning.