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Famous Jamaican Scientists
Dreamers Among Us - The Father of Jamaican Cattle

1970: Dr. Thomas Lecky (centre), pioneer in cattle breeding, receiving the first Noman Manley Award for Excellence, an illuminated scroll, from Mrs. Edna Manley. Prime Minister, the Hon. Hugh Shearer, applauds.
File Photo.

DR. THE HON. THOMAS P. LECKY, PH.D., O.M., O. J., O.B.E. (1904-1994)

By Dr. Rebecca Tortello
Thomas Lecky, was born on a small farm in Portland in 1904. The first Jamaican to receive a Ph.D. in agriculture, his work would revolutionize the Jamaican dairy industry and improve the lives of countless small farmers.

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.


1960: Dr. Lecky (centre) awards Mr. Sugar Brown Junior, owner of winning supreme champion bull at the Denbigh Agricultural Show.

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.

Not satisfied with the Jamaica Hope, mainly a producer of milk, Lecky turned his attention to creating a Jamaican breed able to produce meat. He worked with cattle farmers and looked carefully at Indian cattle. He selected from amongst a few breeds of Indian cattle that had been brought into the island and created a new breed known as the Jamaica Brahman, which has since become popular also in Latin America. Farmers had noted that the imported English Red cattle, which had not proved resistant to ticks and tropical disease, when bred with the Jamaica Brahman, produced cattle of top quality beef. This breed became known as the Jamaica Red ­ the main meat-producing cattle on the island.

Still not satisfied, Lecky decided to focus on cattle who could live in the cooler areas of the island where other breeds were unable to thrive. He bred the black Aberdeen Angus from Scotland, well adapted to cool temperatures, with the Jamaica Brahmans to produce a small, black cattle called the Jamaica Black. Yet, even though some claim it has the best quality of beef on the island, the Jamaica Black proved to be the most difficult breed to care for. Not surprisingly, it did not prove to be as popular as its two predecessors, the Jamaica Hope and the Jamaica Red, among cattle farmers.

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.

AJ Thomas

The Father of Jamaican Fish

AJ Thomas ­ 1909-1988
A self-educated scientist and international consultant, Austin James Thomas was born in 1909 in Westmoreland. A lifelong environmentalist, careful angler and longtime secretary of the Jamaica Angling Association, Thomas' love of fish led him to revitalize and mechanise Jamaica's fish industry.

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 ­
a fish he caught on the North Coast was determined to be of a new species, as yet unknown to science. It was
named Gobiosoma thomasi after him.

Mr. A.J. Thomas aids with fishing a small pond stocked with African perch. Pond fishing is said to have the potential to yield more and better fish that its salt water counterpart.

In that same year, Mr. Thomas was employed as the government fisheries officer. At that time, there was significant concern that given that fish is a staple of the Jamaican diet, more focus should be given to developing fish for local use, reducing reliance on imported fish. Mr. Thomas dreamed of a new breed of fish. When he was sent to Africa to study fish that thrived in that climate he was determined to find a fish that would adapt well to Jamaica. He returned with perch (tilapia mossambica) and carefully built ponds in which he measured their growth. Most of the fish did not develop and as a result were named "ticky-ticky." Yet, Mr. Thomas noted that the male perch when reared together grew larger. So began a period of monosex culture, or selection of fish of the same sex ­ an approach used on perch for the first time ever. It was immensely successful, allowing perch to reach a weight of half a pound in five months ­ the best of any commercial species. This discovery spawned successful industries in many countries including America, Africa (where he returned as a consultant to work on fishing cooperatives in the 1960s) and Israel.

As a fisherman himself, Mr. Thomas was also interested in boats. He is credited with being the first to introduce outboard motors on local canoes in the 1950s. This allowed fishermen to cover greater distances and catch larger amounts 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

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Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
Port Royal Earthquake : I Was There
June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
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The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
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All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
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A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
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Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
Captivated by Jamaica Pt II - Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming
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The Founding Of the People's National Party
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Claude McKay: Jamaica's First Poet Laureate
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Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists- Prof. Louis Grant 1913 - 1993 Part I
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists-Part II
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica
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Printing in Jamaica
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The First 500 years in Jamaica

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A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted July 23, 2003.
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