In general it would seem that the now-extinct Alderney was fairly similar to todays`s Guernsey but smaller (in 1800 bulls stood at 119 cm, cows 112 cm and oxen 140 cm) and with short, crumpled (curled) horns, fine bondes, a long, thin neck and protruding, raised hips. Its coat was light red or dun mottled with white. No doubt the Alderney and the Guernsey had a shared ancestry: both islands were colonised by Normandy monks in theeleventh century.
There is a rare Brittany breed which is very similar to the Guernsey and possibly formed the ancestral stock. It is the slender, wheat-coloured, lyre-horned Froment du Léon, which looks very like the old dun Shetlands cows of the early twentieht century and almost identical to the modern Guernsey in conformation but not in horn. This French breed, which produces high-fat milk, was probably not distinguished from other breeds of northwest France until the nineteenth century, including the Contentin type (later absorbed by the Normandy breed), which probably also came to the islands, and the now-extinct brindled Isigny draught breed of Normandy, which was also a famous buttermaker but much lager than the Léon and with horns which curved forward and inward rather than outward and backward. The Guernsey`s horns today are more commonly like those of the Isigny but perhaps the smaller Alderney owed little to the Isigny and more to the Léon.
At one stage the Guernsey was used as a draught animal and later for beef, but its prime role was always as a milk producer. By the end of the nineteenth century the Guernsey was described as native to Alderney, Sark and Herm as well as Guernsey and was still kept pure by restrictions on imports. Pure herds were also found in the Isle of Wight and Guernseys also spread to several English and Scottish counties to decorate parkland or supply house milk and butter. They had come to England during the eighteenth century through the southwestern ports and an English breed society was formed in 1884. The colour was described as rich orange-and-lemon with white patches, and yellow in the ear was deemed important as a sign of potential milk quality. The body was wedge-shaped, big of belly, narrow-chested, with a very large udder spreading the hindquarters apart and yielding large quantities of yellow,fat-rich milk for butter-making. The curving flesh-coloured horns were yellow at the base, those of the Alderney often brownish, and the skin and body fat were as golden as the milk.
By the mid-twentieth century the Guernsey was no longer a park decorator in England but in great demand as a commercial dairy cow. It also found favour in North America (with a polled strain in the USA), Australia, Egypt, eastern and southern Africa and, to disprove any lingerering doubts about its hardiness, it accompanied Admiral Byrd`s polar expedition. But, like so many other dairy breeds, the Guernsey suffered a sharp decline in the UK when Friesians became dominant.
The breed today has a fine head, typical dairy wedge-shaped conformation with a deep body, wide pelvis for easy calving and roomy absomen for roughage and carrying the calf. There is rich golden pigmentation in the ears and skin and around the eyes; the muzzle is buff, the hoofs amber and the coat shades of fawn with or without white markings over a thin, loose hide. It is a fast-growing breed and can produe a more accepteable calf for beef than the Jersey. Cows weigh up to 500 kg and average milk yields are 4,500 kg at 4,6 per cent butterfat.
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