Tue | Nov 28, 2023

Karl Wellington | The Jamaica Red Poll at 70 years

Published:Tuesday | September 19, 2023 | 12:05 AM
In this 2015 photo, handler Ruth Simpson is seen with a Red Poll at Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show.
In this 2015 photo, handler Ruth Simpson is seen with a Red Poll at Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show.
Karl Wellington
Karl Wellington

The Jamaica Red Poll Cattle breed is a successful joint product of the public and private sectors of Jamaica, with the public sector having contributed through a critical mass of professional and technical personnel, as well as policy directives, while institutional support for the development was maintained by the Jamaica Livestock Association and its affiliate, the Jamaica Red Poll Cattle Breeders Society.

During the last decade, the Cattle Breeders Society of Jamaica succeeded the Jamaica Livestock Association, and the Red Poll Cattle Breeders Association is the nomenclature of the former society.

A lot has been written about the development of the Jamaica Red Poll Breed as a tropical breed of beef cattle. Some of the more comprehensive documents are:

The Many Stages in Developing Jamaica’s Breeds of Cattle (1973)

• Development of the Jamaican Red Poll Breed (1979)

• The Jamaica Red Poll 50th Anniversary Commemorative Herd Book (2003)

• The Jamaica Red Poll 60th Anniversary Commemorative Herd Book (2012)

The commemorative edition marking 60 years, provides a valuable introduction to the 250-page publication which highlights pedigrees and photographs of representative animals from the 62,101 animals – 44,043 females and 18,058 males registered to that date. A list of relevant references is contained in that herd book and other relevant material relating to the breed society constitution and by-laws; membership, service records of chairmen and secretaries are also included.

In terms of international affairs, Jamaica has been a prominent member of the World Red Poll Congress and was host to that organisation in 1991 and 2009.

It was on October 29, 2022 that the Jamaica Red Poll breed attained its 70th anniversary. This landmark is of particular significance since not many newly established cattle breeds celebrate a 70th anniversary.


During the most recent decade, the breed maintained its dominance as the most popular cattle breed in Jamaica, with dominance being expressed in both pedigree and commercial herds. The pedigree herds relate to some 18 male lines and demand for herd sires of these lines is buoyant. Infusion of new animal genetic material has occurred through importation of semen from Australia and progeny of two new bloodlines have been produced. Plans are to import additional genetic material through semen and embryos, for the judicious introduction and broadening of the genetic base of the breed.

These are early days yet for such a venture. Calf registration of 3,954 during the decade were 2,807 females and 787 males, taking the total registered population to 65,695, of which 46,850 are females and 18,645 males. Two new members were added to the Cattle Breeders Association during this period, and the total membership in 2022 was 21.

It must be remembered that survival of a cattle breed depends upon the size of the effective female population and the number of active male lines.

A highlight for the decade was the donation of a semen bank with 1,380 straws of semen from 15 bulls representing 11 sire lines of the Jamaica Red Poll breed by the Breed Association to the Cattle Breeders Society of Jamaica, in an effort to act as a catalyst in the conservation of Jamaica’s cattle breeds, the intention being for continued collection from Jamaica Red Poll bulls in addition to initiation of collection from bulls of Jamaica Hope, Jamaica Black and Jamaica Brahman, for use locally and promotion of semen export.

Participation of Jamaica Red Polls continues to dominate exhibits in parochial and national show rings while publications of the Jamaica Red Poll Newsletter were regular except for an interference because of COVID-19. Important articles of local, national and international subject matter kept our membership informed.

On the negative side, the breeders association bemoans the loss or inactivity of some nucleus herds and the absence of participation in programmes designed for the improvement of the breed. These include performance testing, carcass evaluation and estimation of breeding values. The levels of achievement have not been consistent with the bold intention of the Ministry of Agriculture publication of 2019, titled Conservation of Jamaica’s Cattle Breeds. At the same time, the offerings of semen from bulls of the Jamaica Red Poll breed remain underutilised, and greater effort is required for the effort of conservation to succeed.


Progress has been recorded over the past 70 years but the Cattle Breeders Association cannot afford to stand still because, in doing so, the breed would be moving backward relative to others that are making progress. The valuable contribution of nucleus herds has improved the general appearance of animals registered and visually appraised. The need, therefore, is for increasing the technical co-efficients of production and market demands for Jamaica Red Poll cattle.

Participation in a National Performance Testing Programme, which began as early as the 1970s, should be mandatory for our stock. Performance testing done at the Minard Estate Farm as early as the 1980s and 1990s included bulls of all our breeds but the infrastructure for this project is underutilised. Individual farmers have elected to do on-farm tests, which should also be encouraged.

At an international level, the Red Poll breed has been exposed to evaluation for Carcass Quality. It is past due for our cattle to be subject to Carcass Competitions in order to include these traits in the Estimates of Breeding Value for the progress of our breeds. The Jamaica Red Poll has a population and, hopefully, the interest to lead the way in performance testing and carcass competitions.

The current depleted national level of our cattle population should be addressed with a preferred method being through a heifer rescue programme, to prevent the slaughter of normal, fertile females and to increase the national herd rather than giving precedence to cattle importation of exotic breeds at this time. Work in embryo-transfer technology, which began in Jamaica during the 1980s, is yet to achieve the level of local competence that was projected at that time. Other countries have progressed and are utilising this technology for the increase in progeny of outstanding females. Our delinquency in this regard has proven regressive to our breed growth projections. The Jamaica Red Poll breed, having survived 70 years, is not immune to the vagaries of cost and returns. Therefore, it is now the prerogative of its successful partners to ensure that progress continues in the years ahead.

Karl Wellington, PhD, is a animal geneticist and livestock development researcher. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com