"He is remembered as the father of the Jamaican Diary Industry."
- Dr. Rebecca Tortello, Professor of Education
Dr Thomas Lecky’s interest in cattle farming and his concern for the poor people of Jamaica led to the development of three new breeds of cattle suited to a tropical environment - the Jamaica Hope, Jamaica Red and Jamaica Black. His technique has influenced cattle-breeding practices around the world.
Thomas Phillip Lecky was born on December 31, 1904 in Portland, Jamaica. He
grew up on the slopes of the Blue Mountains where he watched his neighbours’
struggle with poverty and poor farming practices, an experience which made
him determined to change his community for the better. He began his
education at the Swift River Primary School and when he was 17, he attended
on a scholarship the Government Farm School (now the Jamaica School of
Agriculture which is part of the College of Arts and Sciences [CASE]).
Afterwards, he worked as a bench chemist and then became a Livestock Foreman
at the Hope Farm in 1925, where he assessed the suitability of imported
breeds of cattle and tested their reaction to local conditions. Lecky
learned that the cattle available in Jamaica were not well suited to life on
the hillsides where many small farmers had holdings. He saw this as a
problem that should be overcome, since he believed that all small farmers
should own cattle. Cattle owners could sell milk frequently and have a young
calf every year to help pay for their children’s school fees and other
Lecky travelled to Canada, where he obtained a Diploma in Agriculture from MacDonald College of McGill University. Soon afterwards, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Husbandry at Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Guelph in 1934. During this time, Lecky realized that Jamaican cattle were descended from breeds that had been developed for their size and strength but were not well suited as meat or milk producers. At Guelph, he evaluated the merits of cross-breeding to acclimatize European cattle but concluded that the true solution to the problem was a new tropical breed, rather than a modified temperate one.
After completing his studies, Lecky returned home in 1935. He managed his own farm, raising poultry and pigs and also taught at Holmwood Vocational School to support himself until 1938, when he was offered a job as Inspector of Livestock. He conducted experiments during this time, breeding cattle in order to produce animals which were smaller in size, better suited for Jamaica’s mountainous terrain and good at meat and milk production. Lecky faced criticisms that the breeding and selection programme that he proposed could take many generations and might not be completed in his lifetime. However, his method involved accelerated natural selection- the selective interbreeding of cattle with desirable dominant traits and the most dramatically improved offspring. He would soon prove the critics wrong.
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, making him the first Jamaican to earn degrees in agriculture at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
By 1951, Dr Lecky’s breeding programme had resulted in the first breed of indigenous Jamaican cattle– a milk-producing cow called the Jamaica Hope, which was intended to symbolize hope for the people of Jamaica who were starving and impoverished. The Hope revolutionized the Jamaican dairy industry and scientists from around the world came to observe Dr Lecky’s work. He went on to develop other breeds through further research. The Jamaica Red would be the principal producer of beef for the local and export market and was suited for the mountainous terrain of Jamaica. This breed could be raised by poor farmers with small, hilly plots of farmland. The Jamaica Black was suited for Jamaica’s cooler areas and some considered its beef to be the best on the island.
Dr Lecky retired from government service in 1965, but remained available as a consultant until 1994. Even after his retirement, he remained active in other ways. He encouraged young Jamaicans to become involved in agriculture. He coached small farmers on good farming techniques and helped them to find ways to improve soil and instil proper animal care. Aside from authoring several research papers, Lecky published an autobiography in 1994, entitled Cattle and I.
Lecky worked faithfully at his research at the Bodles Research Station up to a week before his death.
Dr Thomas Lecky, father of the Jamaican Dairy Industry, died in 1994, having dedicated 60 years of his life to the development of Jamaican livestock. His perseverance and insistence on excellence have inspired the animal geneticists who followed in his footsteps. Lecky himself admitted that he found his greatest satisfaction in knowing that he had helped small farmers like his parents improve their lot through his exemplary research.
This Icon is also featured in the Caribbean Icons in Science, Technology and Innovation Volume I:
Lecky, T. P. (1995)
Cattle and I. Ian Randle Publishers. Kingston, Jamaica.
Irvine, Dennis H. (2002) Profiles of some eminent Jamaican scientists. Pelican Publishers Limited. Mona, Jamaica.
Famous Jamaican Scientists: Dreamers among us – The father of Jamaican cattle.
Lecky, T. P. (1995) Cattle and I. Ian Randle Publishers. Kingston, Jamaica.
Lecky, T. P. (1962) The development of the Jamaica Hope as a tropical adapted dairy breed. Jamaica. W. I. Ministry of Agriculture, Division of Animal Husbandry.
Lecky, T. P. (1962) The development of the Jamaica Red Poll breed. Jamaica, W. I. Ministry of Agriculture, Division of Animal Husbandry.
Lecky, T. P.
(1960) Fifty years of dairy cattle breeding. In "Fifty Years of Cattle
Breeding and Development". pp. 4-6. Government Printery. Kingston,
Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), 1958
Norman Manley Award for Excellence, Government of Jamaica, 1970
Doctor of Science (DSc) Honoris causa, University of the West Indies, 1971
Order of Merit, Government of Jamaica, 1978
Outstanding Achievement Award, Mutual Security Foundation, 1987
Fellow of the Jamaican Society for Agricultural Sciences, 1989
Membership in the Professional Societies Association in Jamaica, 1992
National Medal For Science and Technology (posthumous), Government of Jamaica, 2003
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