Conservation statusFAO (2007): not at risk[1]: 144 
Country of originGuernsey, Channel Islands
  • Male:
    600–700 kg or 2,000lbs[3]: 492 
  • Female:
    450–500 kg or 1,400lbs[3]: 492 
  • average 54"
Coatfawn or red and white
Horn statushorned
  • Cattle
  • Bos (primigenius) taurus
Guernsey heifers in Saint Saviour, Guernsey

The Guernsey is a breed of dairy cattle from the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. It is fawn or red and white in colour, and is hardy and docile. Its milk is rich in flavour, high in fat and protein, and has a golden-yellow tinge due to its high β-carotene content. The Guernsey is one of three Channel Island cattle breeds; the other two are the Alderney, which is now extinct, and the Jersey.


A Guernsey cow in the United States, c. 1941

The Guernsey was bred on the Channel Island of Guernsey; it is first documented in the nineteenth century, and its origins are unknown.[4]: 1  Cattle were brought to the island in the Middle Ages for draught work.[3]: 192  It has been suggested that the Guernsey derives from cattle imported from the French mainland – brindled cattle from Normandy, and wheaten stock similar to the Froment du Léon of Brittany. There may also have been some influence from Dutch cattle in the 18th century.[4]: 4  During that century large numbers of cattle were exported from the Channel Islands to England; some of them had previously been brought from France.[4]: 3  Imports of French cattle to Guernsey were forbidden by law in 1819, but some importation of British cattle continued until 1877.[3]: 192  Some cattle evacuated from Alderney during the Second World War were merged into the breed.[5]

Exports of cattle and semen were for a while an important economic resource for the island, and in the early 20th century, a large number of Guernsey cattle were exported to the United States.[5] The Guernsey breed is on the watch list maintained by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, with fewer than 2,500 annual registrations in the U.S. and an estimated global population less than 10,000 animals.[6]


The Guernsey is of medium size: cows weigh 450 to 500 kg, and bulls 600 to 700 kg. The coat is red or fawn (wheat-coloured), and may or may not be pied red-and-white or fawn-and-white.[3]: 192  The Guernsey produces rich and flavoursome milk. It traditionally had several other good qualities: it was long-lived, calved without difficulty, grazed well and – being relatively small-sized – was an efficient milk producer.[3]: 192  These advantages have been compromised by recent selective breeding strategies, which have led to larger animals, with longer legs. These no longer display the traditional qualities of the breed; this is particularly marked where there has been cross-breeding with Holstein-Friesian stock.[3]: 192 


The Guernsey is a dairy breed, and generally is reared for that purpose only. However, the cow is usually removed from the dairy herd around ages six to eight,[citation needed] and marketed for beef, and other processed meats. The milk has a golden-yellow tinge due to a high content of β-carotene, a provitamin for vitamin A.[3]: 192 [7] The milk also has a high butterfat content of 5% and a high protein content of 3.7%.[8] Guernsey cows produce around 6000 litres per cow per year.[9]


  1. ^ Barbara Rischkowsky, D. Pilling (eds.) (2007). List of breeds documented in the Global Databank for Animal Genetic Resources, annex to The State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 9789251057629. Accessed July 2017.
  2. ^ Transboundary breed: Guernsey. Domestic Animal Diversity Information System of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed August 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Valerie Porter, Lawrence Alderson, Stephen J.G. Hall, D. Phillip Sponenberg (2016). Mason's World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding (sixth edition). Wallingford: CABI. ISBN 9781780647944.
  4. ^ a b c W. G. de L. Luff (2004) A Short History of The Guernsey Breed. Guernsey: The World Guernsey Cattle Federation. Archived 30 August 2017.
  5. ^ a b Spahr, L. S.; Opperman, G. E. (1995). The Dairy Cow Today: U. S. Trends, Breeding & Progress Since 1980 (2nd ed. USA ed.). Hoard's Dairyman Books.
  6. ^ "American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Conservation Priority List, 2012"
  7. ^ "Advantages of the Guernsey". WGCF (The World Guernsey Cattle Federation). 2006. Retrieved 5 December 2006.
  8. ^ Anon (2004). "The Guernsey Cow – Background and History". Guernsey Cattle. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2006.
  9. ^ "South African Guernsey Breeders". Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2012.