BREEDING: to develop new or improved organisms, chiefly by controlled mating and selection of offspring for desirable qualities


NATURAL SELECTION: a natural process by which offspring is produced with desirable characteristics best suited for their environment

Thomas Lecky (1904-1988)

Caribbean Icons in STI Vol 1

Dr. Thomas Lecky developed three breeds of cattle suited to the tropics- Jamaica Hope, Jamaica Red, and Jamaica Black. His particular cattle breeding technique forms the basis for breeding experiments worldwide.

Thomas Phillip Lecky was born on December 31st 1904 in Portland, Jamaica. He grew up on the slopes of the Blue Mountains and saw his neighbours struggle with poverty and poor farming practices. He knew he wanted to make a difference in his community.

At age 17, he attended the Government Farm School (Jamaica School of Agriculture) on scholarship. He worked as a bench chemist and then a livestock foreman at Hope Farm. He obtained a Diploma in Agriculture from MacDonald College, McGill University, Canada, and a Bachelor of Science from Ontario Agricultural College (University of Guelph).

In 1934, he set up his own farm in Jamaica, breeding pigs and poultry but felt he was not using the full potential of his scientific training. Later, as Inspector of Livestock, Lecky proposed that the cattle varieties in Jamaica- mainly bred for size and strength to work on farms- should be developed. He experimented to produce breeds of smaller size to suit the country’s hilly terrain and to meet its meat and milk production needs. He faced criticism that breeding would take generations and would not be completed in his lifetime. His pioneering efforts used accelerated natural selection, interbreeding only the best offspring from the most improved cattle. With this work, he obtained his PhD at Edinburgh University and became the first Jamaican to earn both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in agriculture.

In 1952, he produced the significant dairy breed of cattle, Jamaica Hope, a symbol of hope for the poor Jamaica. His Jamaica Red became the principal producer of beef for the local and export markets. This breed suited steep terrain and farmers with small hilly plots of land. The Jamaica Black was bred to suit cooler areas. The main impact of these breeds, which were exported to other countries, was an improvement in farmers’ standard of living. Lecky also encouraged youth in agriculture.

He received the Order of the British Empire (1958) for his achivements and was the first recipient of the Norman Manley Award for Excellence (1970). He was bestowed an Honoris Causa degree from the University of the West Indies (1971) and Jamaica’s Order of Merit (1997) just prior to his death.