When the history of the Jersey breed is written, Anne Perchard, of Jersey Island, one of the Channel islands, deserves a major part in that publication. At this year’s World Dairy Expo earlier this month in Madison, the rest of the dairy world found out why.
Ms. Perchard was born and raised on the Isle of Jersey and has spent all her life on that nine mile by five mile rock that is home to the Jersey cow. Her entire life has centered around farming and her beloved Jersey cows that she started working with as a child on her parents’ farm. Her parents were tenant farmers and had about 10 cows, but when she got married, she and her husband bought what she calls, “a huge farm of 30 acres”. Her family eventually included four sons and a daughter, none of whom wanted to be farmers. She told us the boys “all went off to school in the ‘60s and then traveled around Australia until the late ‘70s when they all came home to farm.” To provide for the boys coming home, Ms. Perchard said they had to get bigger so they started renting more farms and increased the size of the herd to where it is today at about 250 head of “some of the top Jerseys in production, type and genetic background on the island”, she told us proudly. To further help her family prosper on such a small island, the family now grows Jersey Royal potatoes from March to June. These select salad potatoes are then sold to the United Kingdom for use by top restaurants and hotels. She added “it’s been a very good addition to our farm economically.”
Her impact on the island and the Jersey breed expanded after her boys came home to farm she said. She became a leader of many Jersey groups including the president of the World Jersey Cattle Club where she says “we kind of broke up the good ol’ boys club there.” She is now a patron of that organization which does not include voting rights but she says it’s “good to be involved since I’m one of the only older ones left as they’ve all died on me.”
Ms. Perchard told us one of her most satisfying accomplishments was to get breed and government officials to open up the herd book for her island. After 200 years of a closed herd on the Isle of Jersey, the breeders have now been allowed to bring in semen from overseas, “thanks to our young, progressive breeders” she added. After just three years with the new policy she said island cattle are now again selling around the world after 20 years of little or no demand from breeders in other countries. In fact, she said, ”at this year’s island dairy show, the top five cows were all out of superior sires from the United States.”
Everything she has accomplished in her life, she says is mostly because of the Jersey cow. Her La Ferme Ltd. Ansom Jersey herd is recognized around the world for its quality while she is considered one of the best ambassadors for the Jersey breed and agriculture in the world. She has been honored for her work by the Queen of England and has judged cattle all over the world and visited and consulted with Jersey breeders in over 30 countries.
But all her accomplishments almost never happened because of World War II and the Nazi occupation of her island from 1943 to 1945. She explained that after D Day the Germans came to take over her island with no access to food from the outside. That meant they went around to the farms and demanded food. She said, “they started with horses since our farm horses were much fatter than their horses and horse meat was a delicacy to them.” Next, she said, “they wanted our Jersey cattle and since they had no idea about the quality, they just told us that if we had 10 cows, they’d be back in a month or so to get three of our cows.”
Ms. Perchard, who was just a child at the time, gives her dad credit for saving some of the families best cows that eventually became some of the foundation cows for the breed. She told us, “he (her dad) knew the Germans didn’t really know anything about cows or that they didn’t keep track of how many cows we had so when the island grapevine let us know the Germans were coming, he built a shelter or hiding place out in the trees to hide the cows. The Germans never found out and we saved many good cows that way”, she said. The same also held true for her family’s pigs. “If a sow had eight or ten pigs, we’d hide half of them in the bushes so the Germans wouldn’t take too many” she explained. “We just had to make sure they were well fed when we hid them so they wouldn’t squeal while the Germans were there” she added with a laugh.
She said it was a long two year occupation because the townspeople on the island were hungry and used almost like slave labor by the Germans who took whatever they wanted from anyone they pleased and only because they were farmers did her family have enough to eat.
Her life story includes many other examples of involvement and leadership in Jerseys and agriculture and she told us that while she has written a book on the German occupation of her island from her first hand observations, she is now involved in writing her memoirs. She was especially excited at this year’s World Dairy Expo when Expo officials approached her and said they would like to publish her life story and have it ready for the 50th anniversary of the show in 2017. She told us she plans to have it done on time.