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development of the
JAMAICA HOPE breed of dairy cattle

by K.E. Wellington and P. Mahadevan

Apart from the Taylor breed of India, which was evolved a century ago as an interbreeding population of high producing crossbred cattle (Henderson, 1927), and the newly developed Australian Milking Zebu (Hayman, 1974), the only other tropical dairy breed that has been successfully produced from a Bos taurus X Bos indicus crossbred foundation is the Jamaica Hope. This breed, which is supported by a breed society, has some 6 000 registered females and is fairly widely distributed throughout Jamaica. The demand for Jamaica Hope animals from other tropical countries is growing. Some animals have been exported to countries within the Caribbean area as well as to Latin America, but the growing demand can only be met by the export of bulls and semen. This article is concerned with the origin and development of Jamaica Hope, its performance characteristics, the breeding policy currently adopted and the lessons to be learnt for new breed development elsewhere.

K.E. Wellington is Agricultural Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Grove Place, Mandeville P.O., Jamaica, W.I. P. Mahadevan is Animal Production Officer (Research and Education), Animal Production and Health Division, FAO, Rome, Italy.


The first phase of development of the Jamaica Hope breed began in 1910 with the testing of various European cattle and their grades under Jamaican conditions. The Government of Jamaica established a dairy herd at its Hope Farm, near Kingston, with Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein Friesian, Jersey and Red Poll cattle as well as crosses of these to cattle of mixed type (i.e., animals containing creole and zebu blood). This was followed in 1920 by the introduction of Sahiwal genes into the population through one bull imported from Pusa, India. There was insufficient evidence at that time to determine which of the European breeds was likely to contribute most successfully to the dairy industry of Jamaica. However, it soon became evident that the six imported European breeds could not all be tested on the same farm, and those with the poorest performance were eliminated at an early stage. The Ayrshire and Brown Swiss showed little promise over the Holstein Friesian and Jersey and were therefore removed in 1928. Red Poll breeding for milk stopped in 1938, although these animals continued to be used for beef breeding and contributed to the development of the Jamaica Red breed of beef cattle.

Group of Jamaica Hope cows

The second phase commenced in 1943, when it was decided to discontinue Guernsey breeding; the average age at first calving among Guernseys was 42.1 months and the mean calving interval was 14.9 months. The gene pool of the animals at the Hope farm was broadened through importation of more Jersey bulls, and considerable attention was also paid to the improvement of husbandry practices and to the testing of sires on the basis of progeny performance. The sires in service in 1943 were four imported purebred Jerseys and five Jersey-Sahiwal crosses ranging from 3/4 Jersey 1/4 Sahiwal to 1/8 Jersey 7/8 Sahiwal. The grade Jersey females varied in their inheritance from 1/4 Jersey 3/4 Sahiwal to the equivalent of four topcrosses of Jersey (Lecky, 1962). The average age at first calving among grade Jerseys was 38.3 months and that of purebred Jerseys 35.8 months. With improvements in feeding and management the overall mean was reduced to 32 months. Calving intervals averaged 14.2 months. The highest lactation yields were produced by grade Jerseys with 5/8 to 7/8 Jersey inheritance.

The breeding of Holstein Friesians was terminated at the end of the second phase in early 1952. The reasons for this were as follows. Although the half-bred Holstein Friesians gave higher milk yields than the Jersey crossbreds, there was a significant decline in yield as the level of Holstein Friesian blood increased. The culling rate was highest among animals of Holstein Friesian breeding, and this increased with the proportion of Holstein Friesian inheritance. The mean age at first calving was 42.1 months, and calving intervals increased in length from a mean of 15.2 months for all animals to 17.2 for three-quarter breds. Milk production per acre was also regraded as being lower among grade Holstein Friesians than among grade Jerseys.

high-producing cows could be selected as dams of herd sires for the genetic improvement of the breed

1. Sam's Nymbrook. Born June 1957. First lactation 3 922 kg milk in 305 days. Highest lactation 9 343 kg in 305 days. Total milk yield 48 279 kg in seven lactations.

2. Stalin's Victory Noris. Born November 1959. First lactation 5 449 kg milk in 305 days. Highest lactation 9 079 kg in 305 days. Total milk yield 56 704 kg in 10 lactations.

Elevation to breed status

In 1950, the cattle at Hope Farm were transferred to the Bodles Animal Research Station and thereafter bred as a closed herd. The commencement of the third phase, in 1952, was marked by an official ceremony at which all the animals at the Bodles Station and those of similar genotype on privately owned farms throughout Jamaica were elevated to breed status. The basic population then consisted of both purebred and grade Jerseys, as well as of selected animals from the Holstein Friesian breeding programme. The grade Jerseys were those that had acquired genes for adoptation to a tropical environment through the admixture of zebu blood during the period 1910 to 1952; their lower age at first calving, shorter calving intervals and smaller body size, as compared with other animals, were regarded as evidence that under Jamaican conditions they would be more economical producers of milk than the general run of Holstein Friesians and their derivatives. The few animals of Holstein Friesian breeding that were incorporated in the breed were those that were descendants of matings to the foundation family of Norbrook Jerseys.

The third development phase, which is represented by the period 1952–64, involved considerable attention to breed development within the nucleus herd at Bodles. Sires were selected on the basis of dam and progeny performance and no attempt was made at fractional breeding.

Table 1. National milk records of Jamaica Hope cattle (1965–73) based on the Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme

YearAverage lactation milk yieldAverage lactation lengthNumber of herdsNumber of lactations

The breed stabilized at a level of about 80 percent inheritance from the Jersey, 15 percent from the Sahiwal and 5 percent from the Holstein Friesian. Impressive production records were achieved by individual animals; notable among these were Sam's Nymbrook (Figure 1) and Stalin's Victory Noris (Figure 2). The most outstanding cow was Stardust, which produced a lifetime record of over 70 000 kg milk in 12 lactations.

The period 1964–74 may be regarded as the fourth phase in the life of the breed. During this period, efforts to increase the population of Jamaica Hope cattle and the total amount of milk produced were not significantly successful. The breed recorded lower levels of production in the Bodles herd, but some breed society members who participate in the breeding and registration of Jamaica Hope cattle improved their levels of husbandry and achieved higher production than was possible at Bodles. Enthusiasm for the development of the breed was lacking and cattle of Holstein Friesian breeding were imported in an effort to meet the island's need for the fresh milk.

These importations likewise failed to make the impact envisaged and emphasized the need for improved husbandry, irrespective of breed.

Table 2. Production parameters of Jamaica Hope cattle at Bodles and in six farmer herds

TraitBodles (1950–64)Farmer herds (1960–66)
Number of recordsMeanNumber of recordsMean
Age at first calving90334.2 months36835.9 months
Length of lactation2 153322 days1 634324 days
Length of calving interval1 751439 days1 394405 days
305-day milk yield2 1533 218 kg1 6652 755 kg
Milk yield per day of lactation2 13110.9 kg38810.0 kg
Milk yield per day of calving interval1 6548.2 kg3088.2 kg
Butterfat content8794.88%  

Source: Wellington et al., 1970.

3. Nancy's Malan, the sire with the highest contemporary rating. Born November 1959 and used extensively.

Breed performance

National milk production recods covering the period 1965–73, computed through a locally based Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme, are set out in Table 1 for the Jamaica Hope breed. Selected herds of the breed in Jamaica were also recorded through the Dairy Herd Improvement Association of the United States Department of Agriculture, and the records processed in North Carolina. For 12 herds so recorded, the average 305-day milk yield based on 2158 records was 2737 kg, with a mean butterfat yield of 130 kg and a butterfat content of 5 percent. These figures are rather higher than the national average.

Earlier studies (Wellington et al., 1970) carried out at the Bodles herd and in six cooperating farmer herds provided the parameters set out in Table 2. The Bodles herd averaged 3218 kg milk in 305 days as compared with 2755 kg for the farmer herds. A larger sample of herds belonging to 34 breed society members was also recorded over the period March 1967 to February 1968 to determine the effect of variations in husbandry practices on milk production. The herds were first classified as good, mediocre or poor, according to level of management, and then recorded. Their 305-day milk yields averaged 2905, 2000 and 1623 kg respectively. These results confirmed the view that the breed had a reasonable potential for milk production under tropical conditions, but that good husbandry practices were essential for this potential to be realized.

Table 3. Relationship between age at calving and first lactation milk yield at Bodles (1950–64)

Age at first calvingNumber of recordsMean milk yield
Months Kg

Studies of individual herds showed considerable variation in age at first calving and in the length of the calving interval. The mean age at first calving ranged from 33.1 to 42.4 months and the calving interval varied from 371 to 466 days. The relatively late age at the first calving highlighted the need to improve the nutrition of heifers, the control of internal parasites during early life and conception rate. Research currently in progress aims at breeding heifers at 15–18 months of age to facilitate a mean first calving of 27 months. It is not expected that this will cause a significant decline in yield in the first lactation, as evidenced by the relationship between age at calving and first lactation milk yield in the Bodles herd (Table 3). Furthermore, with a mean birthweight of 24 kg for female calves and a demonstrated rate of liveweight gain of 0.45 kg per day to age at first service (McLaren, 1966), it should be possible for heifers to be successfully mated at a body weight of 225–250 kg for calving at 27 months, even if this requires two services per conception. The lowering of the mean calving interval to 400 days or less would call for concerted efforts to reduce the service period. Greater attention to the nutrition of animals in early lactation, mating at the first heat following 60 days after calving and improved heat detection are likely to pay the best dividends.

semen from Jamaica Hope bulls like the three pictured here is available for export

4. Wogloire. Born October 1961 and used extensively.

5. Golden Citation. Born August 1965 and used extensively.

From a disease standpoint, the Jamaica Hope has the advantage that it was exposed to tick infestation right through its formative stage and that all animals of the breed, both in the Bodles herd and elsewhere, were raised in an environment where anaplasmosis and piroplasmosis occurred. As a result, it has developed a remarkable degree of tolerance to these diseases.

Breeding policy

At the inception of the breed, two criteria of selection were established: production performance and fertility. To date, no conscious selection for colour or type has been practised (see photo page 27). In recent years it has become evident that udder conformation and quality should be included in the overall criteria of selection.

Selection of female breeding stock on the basis of their production performance has been negligible among Jamaica Hope cattle since the time of breed formation (Roache et al., 1970). This is understandable in a situation where breed development continuos to be based on a relatively small population, where involuntary wastage is encountered and where the need to increase numbers is crucial. Voluntary selection among females would tend to be minimal in these circumstances. However, the selection of cows as dams of herd sires offers greater opportunities for the genetic improvement of the breed.

Thus, cows with a minimum production of 4 545 kg (10 000 lb) milk in a 305-day lactation are currently selected as dams of potential herd sires and these cows are usually mated to proven bulls. Selection between sires is then made on the basis of their own progeny tests.

Selection and testing

For many years, the entire population of Jamaica Hope cattle depended on the Bodles herd for sire service as well as for the evaluation of sire performance. The restriction of progeny testing to Bodles was found to hamper the further development of the breed (Mahadevan et al., 1970); the number of daughters per sire was often too low for an accurate assessment of its breeding value, and too few sires could be tested to give an adequate intensity of selection. It therefore became evident that all farmers should be involved in testing, by using young sires extensively through artificial insemination and milk-recording their daughters. Selection and testing of sires over a wider cross-section of the total population is now in progress, employing either natural service or artificial insemination and analysing the results using contemporary comparisons. The number of daughters per sire on test, however, continues to be small and the method is therefore used only as a screening device for culling the poorest of the young sires. Some of the sires that have been more extensively used are shown in Figures 3–5.

Although some 50 breed society members maintain Jamaica Hope cattle, the degree of enthusiasm required for the further development of the breed is lacking within the country.

The future

Most of the commercial cattle enterprises in the island do not participate in breed development; they change their breeds all too often and tend to vacillate between dairy and beef operations. In recent years, a large number of Holstein Friesian cattle have been imported into Jamaica from North America. Unless Jamaica Hope breeders are prepared to meet the demand for more breeding stock and improve their levels of efficiency, there is every prospect that this breed, line the Taylor breed of India, might be of only historical interest in the decades to come.

It would be relevant in this context to investigate the feasibility of an exchange of breeding stock between the recently developed Australian Milking Zebu and the Jamaica Hope, which have been evolved from similar foundation stock. If this could be organized, it would help provide a wider genetic base for both breeds. Several important lessons may be learnt from Jamaican experience for new breed development elsewhere, if such development is desired. The first relates to the initial problem of deciding which breed or breeds should be used for crossing. If the aim is to obtain not merely the highest yield of milk but the highest “overall dairy merit” and the highest market return under the prevailing local conditions, a single experimental herd would normally be inadequate for the testing of several breeds. Secondly, even after the choice of breed has been made, it would be unwise to confine the work on new breed development to one herd, except perhaps in the formative stages. A large number of sires (at least 10-15) of the chosen breed would need to be tested annually, and herd size thus becomes a limiting factor once again. It is therefore essential that the programme should be extended as early as possible to other herds; a large cow population is required for the effective progeny testing of a large number of sires and for the intense selection for traits of economic importance that must be practised. Jamaican experience also highlights the fact that unless the herds participating in the programme are efficiently milk recorded and become involved in the testing, by using young sires extensively through artificial insementation, their inclusion will not contribute materially to breed development. Indeed, in course of time, they should themselves be able to offer sires for testing and in this way broaden the scope for selection. Continued improvement from new breeds requires further selection within these populations. Without the Cooperative efforts of a number of participating farmers, a relatively small nucleus of animals of a new breed developed within a single herd is unlikely to make any significant impact in a time span of 20 to 25 years.


Hayman, R.H. 1974. The development of the Australian Milking Zebu. Wld Anim. Rev. (FAO), 11:31–35.

Henderson, G.S. 1927. Evidence of officers serving under the Government of India. Royal Commission on Agriculture in India. 1. Part II:327.

Lecky, T.P. 1962. The development of the Jamaica Hope as a tropical adopted dairy breed. U.N. Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the benefit of the less developed areas. Agenda Item C. 5.2, 18 p.

Mahadevan, P., Wellington, K.E. & Roache, K.L. 1970. An evaluation of Jamaica Hope bulls. J. Agric. Sci., 74:473–476.

Mclaren, L.E. 1966. Bodies Animal Production Research Station. Bull. No. 1. Jamaica, Livestock Research Division. 20 p.

Roache, K.L., Wellington, K.E. & Mahadevan, P. 1970. The extent of selection for milk yield among cows of the Jamaica Hope breed. J. Agric. Sci., 74:469–471.

Wellington, K.E., Mahadevan, P. & Roache, K.L. 1970. Production characteristics of the Jamaica Hope breed of dairy cattle. J. Agric, Sci., 74:463–468.

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