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The Guernsey is a breed of cattle used in dairy farming. It is fawn in colour with white markings, and is particularly renowned for the rich flavour of its milk, as well as its hardiness and docile disposition.
The milk has a golden colour due to a high content of beta carotene. Beta-carotene is a source of Vitamin A, which has been touted to help reduce the risks of certain cancers. The milk also has a high butterfat content of 5% and a high protein content of 3.7%. Guernsey cows produce around 6000 litres per cow per annum. In the US Guernsey cows average 16,200 pounds of milk per year with 4.5% fat and 3.2% protein. Guernsey cattle are known to produce the highest percentage of A2 milk of all breeds of dairy cattle.
From the 1950s to the early 1970s, Golden Guernsey trademark milk was sold in the US and Canada as a premium product. The golden color produced by beta carotene bound to the fat in the milk was the main marketing point and the source of the brand name. Only milk from Guernsey cows could be marketed under the Golden Guernsey trademark. The advent of homogenisation and various changes to the way milk was priced and marketed spelled the end of Golden Guernsey branded milk. The trademark is still maintained today by the American Guernsey Association and is in use by various small-scale dairies around the country. GG Golden Guernsey Dairy of Milwaukee, WI, originally owned by Foremost Farms (and now Dean Foods), retained the Golden Guernsey name long after they discontinued selling 100% Guernsey milk. The milk they sell today is produced primarily by Holstein cattle.
As its name implies, the Guernsey was bred on the British Channel Island of Guernsey. It is believed to be descended from two breeds brought over from nearby France, Isigny cattle from Normandy and the Froment du Léon from Brittany. The Guernsey was first recorded as a separate breed around 1700. In 1789, imports of foreign cattle into Guernsey were forbidden by law to maintain the purity of the breed although some cattle evacuated from Alderney during World War II were merged into the breed.
Exports of cattle and semen were for a while an important economic resource for the island and in the early 20th century a large number of Guernsey cattle were exported to the United States. The Guernsey breed is on the watch list maintained by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, with fewer than 2,500 annual registrations in the U.S. and an estimated global population of less than 10,000 animals.
The cow weighs 450 to 500 kg, slightly more than the average weight of the Jersey cow which is around 450 kg (1000 pounds). The bull weighs 600 to 700 kg which is small by standards of domestic cattle, and they can be surprisingly aggressive. The Guernsey cow has many notable advantages for the dairy farmer over other breeds. These include high efficiency of milk production, low incidence of calving difficulty and longevity. However, inbreeding is becoming a concern due to the small gene pool in a given area, and may be solved in most cases by exchanging cows with no overlap in lineage from other farms. Guernsey cows are also sometimes regarded as somewhat more fragile than comparably sized breeds. They are orange/red and white in color.
The islanders of Guernsey are proud of their local cows and celebrating them with the 2012 Guernsey Cow Parade inspired by the international CowParade. Each cow form is decorated by a local artist, school, community group etc. and auctioned to raise money for local causes.
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