DR. THE HON. THOMAS P. LECKY, PH.D., O.M., O. J., O.B.E. (1904-1994)
Dr. Rebecca Tortello
Young T.P. received a merit scholarship to attend the Farm School at Hope Gardens in St. Andrew (now part of the College of Arts and Sciences, CASE, Portland). From an early age T.P. was closely attuned to the challenges of small farming having watched his father lose his banana crop as a result of hurricanes three years in a row. Aware too that many of his friends and family members in Portland suffered from an unbalanced diet, he became particularly interested in cattle, convinced that milk and beef could help satisfy protein needs that were not being met. Livestock also seemed a wiser bet than a focus on crops alone.
After graduating, Lecky went to work for the government at Hope in 1925. He became closely involved with assessing the suitability of new breeds of cattle being introduced to Jamaica and testing their reaction to local conditions. Lecky learned that the cattle in Jamaica at that time were not well suited to life on hillsides where many small farmers had holdings. Hailing from a hilly region himself Lecky became one of Jamaica's earliest environmentalists, a strong advocate for conservation of hillsides. He believed that all small farmers should have cattle because besides producing milk, every year a young animal could be sold to help pay for school fees.
Bred for size and strength Jamaican cattle at the time were descendants of animals brought by the Spanish and the British hundreds of years before. In general, they were slow to mature, grew on grass and water, had a low milk production and a low proportion of meat around the haunches and ribs. They were, however, champion haulers of carts and resistant to tick fever and other tropical diseases. Lecky decided that what Jamaica needed was an animal that would produce enough milk for farmers as well as be light enough that they would move up and down steep hillsides.
BREEDS OF CATTLE
Lecky began to dream of a new breed of cattle, a Jamaican breed. He turned his attention to the study of animal genetics and earned degrees in Agriculture from McGill University and Animal Husbandry from Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph. At Guelph he focused on evaluating cross-breeding as a means of acclimatizing European cattle to Jamaica's environment. He concluded that the answer was not an acclimatized European breed but a new breed, a completely adapted tropical breed. He returned to Jamaica in 1935 and started to test his ideas. He used two lines of cattle and began to select bulls for breeding from the best producing cows in Jamaica. In 1949, Lecky gathered his documentation and traveled to the University of Edinburgh where he used this research as the basis for his doctorate. His dissertation, entitled "Genetic Improvement in Diary Cattle in the Tropics" presented his ideas for developing a tropical dairy breed and catapulted him to international acclaim. It considered the two main processes by which species or breeds adapt to new environments natural selection and mutation. Natural selection dates as far back as Charles Darwin and is essentially the idea of survival of the fittest. Those members of a breed with qualities most suited to a location will survive and dominate. Mutation is the idea that actual changes are made in genes themselves for many different reasons. After a period of time, the gene pool of a later generation may therefore differ from the original gene pool. Lecky noted this in animals he observed in Jamaica where some cattle showed significant improvements after a period of 20 years.
By the early 1950s, Lecky saw his ideas realized and the first examples of genetically bred cattle, named Jamaica Hope, were ready. They were a combination of the British Jersey cow (small, and light feeding) with the Holstein (heavy milk producers) and the Indian Sahiwal breed (disease resistant and adapted to the tropics). The Jamaica Hope could produce up to an average of 12 litres of milk a day 3 times that produced by other cattle on the island. Lecky's work revolutionized the Jamaican dairy industry and indeed the dairy industry around the world. Scientists from many different countries flocked to Jamaica to see what he had done. Lecky's work impacted on the development of cattle in many tropical countries.
Dr. Lecky retired from government service in 1965, but remained available as a consultant until close to his death in 1994. Indeed he was at work at his beloved Bodles Research Station until a week before his death, having dedicated over 60 years of his life to the development of Jamaican livestock. Prior to his passing, Dr. T.P. Lecky received Jamaica's highest civilian honour, the Order of Merit, for creating new breeds based on foreign cattle that reproduce on their own without acting like cross breeds or hybrids. He also received the Norman Manley Award for excellence. A countryman at heart, Lecky took greatest consolation from knowing he had helped small farmers like his parents improve their lot. He is remembered as the father of the Jamaican Dairy Industry.
Father of Jamaican Fish
He first came to
prominence in 1945, not for his scientific work but because he created
a new world record by catching the largest white marlin ever seen in Jamaica.
It weighed 80 kilos seven kilos more than the previous record holder.
In 1949, his fishing skills catapulted him further
NEW BREED OF FISH
A.J. Thomas died in 1988, at the age of 79.
Sources: Johnson, A. (2001). Great Jamaicans, Book II, Scientists. Kingston: TeeJay Ltd., Lumsden, V. (2003). "Dr. T. P. Lecky An Inspiration to youth" in A tapestry of Jamaica The best of skywritings. Kingston: Creative Communications Ltd., pp. 240-241. www.temos.net/Reference/quotations.htm, www.opha.on.ca/activities/awards/grant.html
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted July 23, 2003.
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