I’ve gotten so many questions since Sandy’s twin calves were born about their coloring. “How can a brown cow have black calves?” Well, it all comes down to genetics.
When it came time to breed Sandy (a cow has to have a calf in order to give milk so milk cows are generally bred once a year with 10 months lactation and a 2 month dry period just before the next calf is born), I had a decision to make: which breed of bull should I use?
I already had a heifer (Maude is 3/4 Jersey & 1/4 Dexter – Sandy is full Jersey and the bull was 1/2 Jersey & 1/2 Dexter) and wasn’t sure yet that I needed another milk cow. Plus – it’s never certain whether you’ll have a heifer calf (female) or a bull calf (male).
I wanted to choose a breed that would be good for milking (in case it was a heifer) or for beef (if it was a bull).
When I talked to our AI tech friend, he suggested Maine Anjou. I’d never heard of them, but he used to raise Maine Anjou for beef and had some bull semen on hand in his tank that we could use.
Side note: bull semen is kept frozen in a tank with liquid nitrogen. The nitrogen is refreshed every 6-8 weeks and the semen can stay frozen (and viable) almost indefinitely. This particular semen was several years old, but my AI friend recently purchased bull semen collected in the 1940s. Still viable. Pretty amazing, eh?
Maine Anjou Cattle
Maine Anjou are a dual-purpose French heritage breed, developed in the mid 1850s in northwestern France when Mancelle French cattle were crossed with Durham cattle from England. In the early 1900s, the breed name was changed to Maine Anjou after the two river valleys of the area.
Maine Anjou cattle breeders were mostly small farmers whose goals were to maximize the income from their small holdings and so the cattle were always intended as a dual purpose animal: cows for milking and bull calves to be raised for meat. In some herds, half the cows are milked while the other half raise two calves each.
In the US, the Maine Anjou genetics were selected primarily for beef production, and also for show cattle. In the 1970s, black cattle were prized in the show world and so though the French Maine Anjou are typically dark red with white markings, the American Maine Anjou have been bred and selected for black hides.
The bull we used to breed Sandy (pictured above) is an all-black Maine Anjou. His description is brief, but so interesting: “He is extremely hairy, structurally correct in his design and possesses muscle dimension from top to bottom in a stylish look.”*
Extremely hairy?! Apparently that’s a desirable trait – ha!
Why Maine Anjou?
There are several things I considered as I was deciding what kind of bull to use to breed my Jersey cow, and the Maine Anjou breed came up tops in each category.
First – Jersey cows are small. Mature cows average about 900lbs (whereas your typical Holstein cow averages 1200-1400lbs and mature Maine Anjou cows average 1500-1900lbs). It would tear her up to have a huge calf from a large breed like Limousin or Simmental. Even an Angus (if you don’t choose the bull carefully) could throw calves that are just too big (100lbs+ birth weight).
Maines on the other hand, (Maine Anjou cattle are typically known here in the US as “Maines”) are known for lower birth weight calves. This bull in particular has an average birth weight of about 75lbs. That’s good news for a Jersey and her small frame.
Sandy had twins so she was carrying more than 75lbs, but each calf turned out about 45-50lbs – a big, healthy size for twins, but small enough to not pose any problems at calving.
Second – you never know if you’ll get a bull or a heifer. But Maines are a dual purpose breed (originally raised for both beef and milk) so I figured that if Sandy gave us a heifer, I could still raise her as a milk cow and if we got a bull, he’d gain really well on grass and make great beef.
Just like the French farmers, we need to maximize our income on our plot of land and being able to use the calf either way was a huge incentive.
Third – we have a small farm and many kids. I wanted a calm, gentle breed to match Sandy’s temperament. Maines are a really docile, calm breed. They’re not flighty, spooky, wild, or aggressive.
Temperament is always at the top of the list of desirable traits for any animal on our farm. Raised alongside our Jersey milk cow with so many little kids in the mix, I knew the calm nature of the Maine Anjou would be a good fit.
Fourth – the calf’s growth potential. I didn’t wean Maude until she was 7 months old. She was big and fat, happy and healthy. So much so that everyone who visited thought she was a beef heifer!
Any calf raised on thick Jersey milk is going to grow well (which again maximizes our use of the calf since his growing potential will be boosted by such rich nutritious milk early on). Maine calves are vigorous and grow exceptionally well on pasture, but tend to be slow growers for the first 4-5 months so we figured that being raised by a Jersey cow would give a big boost to that growth potential and make for excellent eating later on.
Fifth – milking genetics and marbling. Breeds known for great milk production (be it cattle, sheep, or pigs) also produce some of the best marbling in their meat.
This is why many Jersey milk cow owners we know breed exclusively to Jersey bulls. Jersey steers may not grow as fast as a beef cross or get as big, but their meat is absolutely delicious and oh so tender because of the beautiful marbling. (Marbling describes the streaks of fat within the muscle/meat and fat = flavor.)
We hoped to get the best of both worlds by crossing our Jersey cow with a dual-purpose breed known for great growth potential so that we’d get the beefy, faster-maturing beef genetics alongside the milking breed meat marbling that makes for such delicious beef.
And there you have it – Maines are not a typical choice since they’re not all that well-known, but considering all the variables, it seemed like an excellent option and so far, so good!
*”Gucci.” SEK Genetics. http://sekgenetics.mybigcommerce.com/gucci/. Accessed June 27, 2021.
“Breeds of Livestock – Maine Anjou Cattle.” Oklahoma Sate University Division of Animal Science. http://afs.okstate.edu/breeds/cattle/maineanjou/index.html/. Accessed July 8, 2021.
American Maine Anjou Association. https://maine-anjou.org. Accessed July 8, 2021.