Jamaica cattle breeds at risk of extinction
EVEN AS the country recognises and celebrates his skills, livestock geneticist, Dr Karl Wellington, who has done extensive work with all four Jamaican cattle breeds - the Jamaica Red Poll, Jamaica Brahman, Jamaica Black Poll, and Jamaica Hope, is concerned that the latter two are at serious risk of extinction, and it might already be too late for the Jamaica Black.
"I think the Jamaica Black is almost at the point of no return. The attributes of the breeds for quality, early maturity and so are still there, but you have less than 500 breeding females in the registered herd. You have the commercial herds, but they are not the effective numbers," the cattle breeder told The Gleaner.
He explained that while the very popular Jamaica Red and Jamaica Black are both beef cattle, they are from different genetic streams, with the Red Poll derived from the British Red Poll, crossed with the Devon and the Brahman, while the Blacks came from the Aberdeen Angus crossed with the Brahmans.
Rolls-Royce of beef
"The Aberdeen Angus is the Rolls-Royce of beef quality. The Red Poll was a dual-purpose animal - beef and milk, and the Jamaica Black in terms of Jamaica would be the animal that would produce the highest quality beef in terms of marbling and everything else. That is why the breed was developed, because it would give you this quality you wanted, but they don't have the numbers. You can't even open your mouth to try and advertise anything for the Jamaica Black because you don't have the numbers," Wellington lamented.
With only six members in the Jamaica Black Poll Cattle Breeders Society, the largest herd is at the Minard Estate in St Ann, one at Llanrumney Estate, St Mary, some at Bodles Research Station, St Catherine; and Windalco, Manchester, as well as private herds, Wellington said the overall number of the animals is still too small.
"They are not doing well at present. I think that we have passed the time when we should have rescued it," he disclosed recently.
Local beef production peaked at 18.4 million kilogrammes in 1992, but fell to 1.75 kilogrammes in 2004 due to the massive scale of importation and other policy measures, which continue to negatively impact the industry.
only dairy breed
Meanwhile, the Jamaica Hope, which is also under the microscope, is the only dairy breed in the group of four and is actually a dual-purpose animal (beef and milk) which evolved primarily from the colonial Jersey cows, the Indian draft cows of the Sahiwal breed and a tinge of the Holstein bloodline to enhance its milk-producing capacity.
Addressing the Jamaica Hope Breeders Society's 50th anniversary celebration at Bodles in 2002, Wellington described it as an asset of unique and intrinsic value, which represents the single most important contribution of local agricultural scientists.
Twelve years on, the breed is around, but just barely alive. "The Jamaica Hope numbers have gone to the extent that the breed is threatened because they're just about four or five reasonably large herds in the country and the amount of interest that is necessary, you don't find it among the membership."