Healthy vs. Harmful: Should Jersey Cows Be Skinny?

Jersey cows are famous for their golden color and cute little looks. They are the main feature of the landscape on the island of Jersey where they grew up a long time ago. Its appearance is very striking, its small size, and prominent ribs appear clearly, whether in reality or even when you see them in their pictures or statues.

But what is the secret of her slim appearance and prominent ribs and what is good about them? Let us take you on an interesting tour of what Jersey cows look like, and take a deep look at it from the healthy side to gain valuable information which is of great importance when you raise a Jersey cow.

Are Jersey Cows Skinny?

Golden Jersey Cow

The Short Answer is No. While being skinny is normal, they aren’t always skinny. They are just small in size. However, they are known for being sturdy and macular. Keep in mind that Jersey cows are skinnier than other breeds, especially the meat producing ones.

They weigh around 350-400 kg and are around 115-120 cm tall at the withers, while bulls weigh about 600-700 kg. These weights are considered pretty low compared to other large breeds of cows.

Are Jersey Cows Supposed To Be Skinny?

Yes, because Jersey cows are mainly dairy cows, not meat cows. Yes, there is a difference between the breeds of cows. Although cows are animals belonging to the same animal species, the characteristics of dairy cows are very different from the characteristics of beef cows.

The type of cow’s production (milk or meat) has a great impact on its shape and external appearance. The characteristic thinness is a well-known character in dairy cows, and it appears in them at higher rates. From a physiological point of view, the bodies of dairy cows are prepared to put the calories that they obtain from their daily food in milk, not to store fat.

Jersey and other dairy cows do not convert the feed you give them into muscle at the same rate as beef breeds. Dairy cows do not only produce enough milk to feed their baby, but they also produce double what their baby needs.

As they genetically have the high genetic potential to convert the energy they derive from feed into milk by a large percentage, if not most of it, while leaving a little energy to carry out other body functions.

By body functions we mean other vital functions and reproduction, which do not include building a large muscular structure, as in beef cattle breeds.

You may be surprised when you know that dairy cows, especially jersey cows that we are talking about, produce very large quantities of milk after giving birth in their first few months of lactation.

As if their calf is left without being separated from it and left to feed completely on its milk as it pleases, and this certainly does not happen in most of the farms. The calf is fed on part of the cow’s milk, and supplement its diet with other nutritional alternatives at best, if it is not completely separated after birth.

The important thing is that even if it is completely left to drink its mother’s milk, it cannot drink all the milk, even if it mainly feeds on it!

You may be astonished, or perhaps even more amazed, when you know that one Jersey cow can easily nurse 4-5 calves and completely satisfy them! This huge production of milk has an effect on the percentage of fat and muscle in the cow’s body.

In exchange for abundant milk production, the percentage of fat in the cow’s body decreases and its muscle mass decreases. This explains why Jersey cows and other dairy cows appear skinny.

Genetics Affects How Skinny Jerseys Are

Yes, in most cases, Jersey cows should be skinny. The issue is not a general rule, but according to what we mentioned above about the nature of the bodies of Jersey cows and dairy cows in general, the nature of their bodies will not tend to be fat. Genetics also has a role in just as some people are heavy and some are thin, so are jersey cows.

There may be individual differences between Jersey cows, which makes some appear thinner or fatter than others. The presence of a fat dairy cow will in most cases be a non-typical indicator, the Dairy cows’ primary function is to make milk, not meat.

Is It Normal For All Dairy Cows To Be Skinny?

Yes, it is normal for dairy cows to be skinny as we mentioned before. The skinny milking cow’s appearance is not an indication of a problem in most cases, nor conclusive evidence of malnutrition.

Milking cows are fed in dairy farms in an intensive way to keep pace with the needs of their body to produce milk efficiently. Milking cows on most dairy farms are fed something called TMR (Total Mixed Ration) which ensures that the cow gets all the grain, hay, minerals, and vitamins they need in order to have a perfectly balanced diet.

However, dairy cows often appear skinny. Rather, milking cows may be overfed, to the point that this may cause them some health problems. If the share of milking cows is very high in grains, then this represents great pressure on the cows’ livers and may lead to liver failure.

Feeding more grains also leads to an imbalance in the pH balance in the stomach of cows. which is one of the most important components of the digestive system of cows. 

When To Worry About A Skinny Dairy Cow?

The matter is not left without limits. Although it may be usual for the appearance of skinny dairy cows, there is a standard that determines whether the condition of the cow is within the normal range or not. Extreme thinness may be a serious indication of health disorders suffered by the cow.

When dairy cows do not eat enough to meet their energy needs for milk production or when the cow feeds on poor-quality fodder. This will lead to significant weight loss especially the high-production dairy cows, as the cows will tend to burn their fat stores to obtain energy, which is very dangerous.

The cow may enter the state of ketosis and lose its life if its condition is not dealt with urgently. In the next section, there’s a body condition score that will help you identify if you Jersey cows thinness is normal or not.

Dairy Cows Body Condition Score

The cow’s body condition is evaluated through the so-called Body Condition Score, where the cow’s body condition is classified based on the evaluation of the important body parts by feeling the amount of fat covered.

Vertebral Column

  • Is it flat or is there a ridge you can see?
  • Do you see cracks or feel how far?

Long Ribs 

  • can you see or feel them and how far and how many ribs can you see and feel?

Short Ribs

  • Same, can you see the short ribs of the cow?
  • And to what extent are the edges of the ribs sharp or rounded?

Hip Bones 

  • round or angular?


  • Is the area between the pins and the hip bones completely flat, recessed, or hollow?


  • Are they pointed or rounded?

Head Of The Tail

  • Is there a cavity between the head of the tail and the pin bone or is it full?
  • Is it a pronounced V-shape or a slightly shallower U-shape?


  • Is the muscle structure defined?
  • Is the region indented, flat, or rounded?

Results are divided into levels from 1 to five. 1 means that the cow is too skinny to a harmful extent. while 5 means that the cow has over-adapted to the quantities of food that is provided to it, to the extent that it will negatively affect its health. The healthy range of Body Condition Score for dairy cows is always in the range of 2 to 4.

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Doaa Salah
The shy one (too shy to put her photo) and the only girl in our team! Doaa is a veterinarian who is passionate about writing content. She knows a lot about animals and birds, as she has been studying them for many years now. Her goal? She is researching and learning to convey to you all the knowledge she have and what's new about farming.