Comparison of the Dairy Breeds

I encourage you to leave a comment about your dairy breed. Tell us what you like or what you would change about that breed of animal. How are they different from other breeds? What is their best quality?!

JERSEY

  • Probably the most common family cow these days.
  • Come from the Island of Jersey off the coast of France, but associated with Great Britain.
  • Longer average productive life than all other breeds.
  • Very heat-tolerant and excellent grazers.
  • Studies have shown the Jersey cow to be more efficient than the Holstein in converting feed to milk.
  • The smallest breed of dairy cattle. Adult cows weigh 800-1200 lb.
  • Small-statured animals. Average 48 inches tall.
  • “Fawn” color, can be from almost white to chocolate brown. Occasionally they will have “pinto” type coloring of white and reddish brown. Purebred Jerseys are not solid white or solid black. They are strongly noted for the white and black shading around their nose/eyes/feet.
  • The second most popular after Holstein (becoming popular as fossil fuel prices rise and haulers start charging farmers more per pound of milk).
  • Also known as Alderney (old term).
  • Highest butterfat and protein of all breeds.
  • Known as the most intelligent and most curious of all breeds. Sometimes too curious.
  • Steers not used much for meat except at the household level.
  • A wide variety of bulls are available for breeding selection.
  • http://usjersey.com/Reference/jerseycharacteristics.pdf
  • http://naj.usjersey.com/TheJerseyCow.aspx
  • www.jerseycanada.com

HOLSTEIN

  • The largest of all dairy breeds. Average 58 inches high.
  • Adult cows weigh 1100-1800 lb.
  • They make up about 90 percent of commercial dairy animals.
  • Cows give the most volume of milk (water) and the lowest components of all breeds.
  • Easily recognized for their black and white pattern. Some may be solid white or black. Some are red and white (called Red Holsteins).
  • Originated in Netherlands/Holland. Sometimes called Friesians or Holstein-Friesian in reference to their origin.
  • Pretty easygoing temperament, generally less intelligent, more of “herd followers”.
  • Many people keep Holstein bull calves as meat steers.
  • Modern dairies are crossing Holsteins with other breeds to improve components and reduce the size of the cows for easier management.
  • Huge selection of bulls available for a variety of genetics.
  • http://www.holsteinusa.com/holstein_breed/breedhistory.html
  • www.holstein.ca
  • http://www.redandwhitecattle.com/

AYRSHIRE

  • Second largest breed. Adult cows weigh 1000-1300 lb.
  • Better at grazing than Holstein.
  • Come from Scotland.
  • Color is a base white coat with dark red speckling or spotting. Some are nearly all white, whereas others are almost all brown.
  • Ayrshires rate between Jerseys and Holsteins in milk volume and components. Can be used on pasture-based dairies.
  • Some Ayrshires are being crossed with Red Holstein, so if you want a family cow, be sure to look for the smaller statured cows that give less milk and have more classic features.
  • More alert than Holsteins, Ayrshires are sometimes noted for contrary personalities.
  • http://www.usayrshire.com/whyayrshire.html

GUERNSEY

  • Come from the Island of Guernsey, next to Jersey. You might enjoy reading the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. No relation to the cow, but a fun book to read about the Island during German Occupation in WWII.
  • The closest relative to the Jersey cow.
  • Colored more like a red Holstein with more scattered spotting in general and tending toward lighter browns/reds.
  • Taller in stature than the Jersey. Many Guernsey breeders have been using other genetics in the past years to modernize the breed, so some Guernsey’s will look more like a Red Holstein or an Ayrshire.
  • Guernseys have an unusually long reproductive tract, which can make A.I. more difficult.
  • The Guernsey cow was prized as a milk cow in the early to mid 1900’s for her easy personality and creamy yellow “Golden Guernsey” milk.
  • Often have large teats, popular for hand-milking.
  • As dairies became more commercial, the Guernsey did not have the stamina to compete like other breeds did, and their numbers, proportionally, have drastically declined in dairy herds.
  • The Guernsey makes a good family cow and her history is that of being a good cow for a small herd.
  • They are few in number, only a few farms across the U.S. are still 100% Guernsey. As they are hard to come by, the price of Guernsey’s can be quite high as people compete to buy what few are available.
  • Very few bulls in A.I. for selection. Limits genetics.
  • http://www.usguernsey.com/history.htm
  • http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/cattle/guernsey/

BROWN SWISS

  • Originated in Switzerland as grazing herds on the hillsides. The more beef-y variety is called Braunveih.
  • Grayish-brown in color (Called “brown” swiss, but most are much more “gray” in color).
  • A large breed. Adult cows weigh an average of 1200 lb. and have the most bone of the dairy breeds.
  • A slow maturing breed, first-calving age of 3 years is not uncommon.
  • Good personality in general, although they can be very stubborn. Calves are known for being hard to teach to nurse from a bottle and can be stubborn to teach to lead. (Not usually the easiest 4-H animal unless your child is determined!)
  • Also rate between Jersey and Holstein in milk.
  • http://browncow.ca/history-brownswiss.aspx
  • http://www.brownswissusa.com/history.asp

MILKING SHORTHORN

  • Shorthorns originated in England.
  • The first “milking” variety of shorthorn was called a “Durham” and first came to America in Virginia.
  • The classic milking Shorthorns are small and hearty, the most beef-like of the dairy breeds. Short statured (slightly larger than Jerseys), average milk production, good temperament.
  • A nice breed to cross with to get improved milk production for beef or as a family cow.
  • Along with Ayrshires, Milking Shorthorns are often being crossed with Red Holstein to improve dairy frame and udder conformation.
  • A hearty breed that does well in less than ideal feeding and living conditions.
  • Similar semen options to that of the lesser known breeds. Finding milking shorthorn dairies is difficult as there are not many.
  • http://www.milkingshorthorn.com/breed.html

 

 

DUAL PURPOSE BREEDS/OTHERS:

http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/wtchlist.html#cattle

SIMMENTAL: Sold in America as a beef breed, Simmental originated in Switzerland as milk cows. Also known as Fleckvieh. They are excellent producers from a beef perspective, as they produce a large calf and tend to milk more than the average beef breed, so calves grow fast. Very large frame (one of the largest beef breeds). Good personality. Colored red and white or black. http://simmental.org/site/ or http://www.fleckvieh.com/

FRENCH-CANADIAN/CANADIENNE: A Canadian version of a Channel Island type cow. Brought from northern France to Canada and developed there to withstand the more rugged climate. http://www.cfagrf.com/Canadienne_Cow.htm

DUTCH-BELTED: Oreo cookie cows, a fairly rare breed. Mother Noella, the “cheese nun” makes milk from a belted herd in Connecticut. A medium sized breed, average to low milk production, said to have a nervous temperament. Semen for A.I. can be found from the Taurus company. http://www.dutchbelted.com/About%20the%20Breed.html

KERRY: A rare breed from Ireland. Very small in stature, mostly black in coloring, and traditionally are raised with their horns left intact. Hearty grazers, they are not generally raised as milk producers. http://www.kerrycattlesociety.org/breed.html

DEXTER: A small breed of cattle from Ireland. Popular with hobby farmers because of their size (36-44″ and under 1000#). Color is black, red, or dun. Lower milk production (1-3 gal per day) and udder conformation much closer to that of a beef cow. Personality often referred to as wary/unfriendly. If you look to buy from within this breed, be sure to ask if they are tested for the bulldog gene. http://www.dextercattle.org/adca/adca_about_dexters.html

LINEBACK: Spotted black and white cattle with a white stripe across the top of their back. Can be from a variety of genetic lines. In the U.S., Holstein is a relative of the linebacks. http://americanlinebacks.tripod.com/

MINI-JERSEY: All Jerseys come from the Island of Jersey.  The Mini Jersey stock comes from animals bred by one man in the early 1900’s in America, bred based on stature attributes, breeding down generation after generation.

GOATS: Related to bovine, these critters have a playful personality but are very difficult to keep penned in. Inexpensive to buy, raise, and milk. If handled properly, the milk should not taste much different than cow’s milk. Goat milk is naturally homogenized, so you must buy a cream separator if you want cream byproducts of milk.

SHEEP: Not generally recognized as a family milker (tiny teats!) but they do have the potential to milk and some are used for cheesemaking.

COMPARISON CHARTS:

*In an attempt to give people an idea of each breed, I have included information on each breed, although I am more familiar with some over others.

**Information on ability to pasture and breed type is unavailable, but in general the less an animal is built genetically to produce milk, the more efficient (s)he should be at being raise on a pasture diet. Consider this when choosing bulls to breed your cow to.

29 Comments

29 thoughts on “Comparison of the Dairy Breeds

  1. Thank you for this page and all the rest of it! We just got a Jersey and a Guernsey both in milk – and LOVE them!

    For the contest – my favorite part of farming is the new adventure every day. No 2 days are even remotely alike :)

  2. I would love to see you flesh out the Dutch-Belted assessment and make reference to their high grass to milk conversion rate, making them a great cow if you’re looking to grass-feed exclusively. When we took our DB to the vet he said she was the mildest cow he’d worked with and that he wished they were all that easy. I loved our Jersey when we had her, but I’m thrilled with our DB.
    BTW, I’m sitting down tomorrow to spend quite a bit of time reading on your site. Thanks!

  3. I have just tamed my first Dexter for milking. We also have a wonderful Jersey. Our little Dexter is giving over a gallon of milk a day in her first gestation. But I really love our Jersey for milking.

  4. Jerseys are my favorite for looks and the cream is so lovely. I had more milking shorthorns, though, partly because the bull calves make great oxen!

  5. Don’t forget the Guernsey is known to be one of the highest A2/A2 beta casein producers! Something like 90% of Guernsey milk is A2. I’ve had a couple of Jerseys and a couple of Guernseys, and although the Jersery’s are just plain adorable with those big brown eyes, I gotta say I LOVE my Guernsey girls more! I get more milk and just as much thick, delicious cream without the ornery attitude! :)

  6. I have to throw in my vote for Guernsey. Wonderful delicious milk with tons of cream, not too big and not too small, good personality, and pretty to look at. Also most Guernseys are A2/A2 which is a plus. Second favorite breed is the Ayrshire. Wonderful milk and beautiful cows.

    • Lisa,

      Have you considered blending G and J milk to merge the best qualities into one glass? Or is it too problematic? I understand that G milk is better in some ways while J is better in other ways. Does that make sense?

      Thanks,

      Mike

      • Some say the reason Tillamook cheese is so good is because it’s mostly Jersey with a bit of Holstein to lower the butterfat just enough to make it perfect for a hard cheese!

        Probably not as realistic for a homesteader with just a few cows. But, if we need less cream, we can just skim it off! :)
        Between Jersey and Guernsey there should not be too noticeable of a difference, they are pretty comparable milks.

    • I have not studied that, but when things slow down on the farm this winter, I’ll check it out for you. :)

  7. My appreciation for the comparison article, and thanks Spirited Rose Farm.

    In my mind Jersey cow is a special breed, it is the breed of choice for my farm, and seems to be beneficial interms of feed intake, maturity and milk production.

    Thanks to Spirited Rose Farm, Iam empowered with great information given a choice which I made.

    God bless Spirited Rose Farm!

  8. It looks like I might be the only person to say so, but I really like Brown Swiss. I’ve worked with every breed save the Milking Shorthorn, and all the Brown Swiss cows I’ve worked with really seem to be the most interesting. Maybe I gravitated to the stubbornness of the ones we kept and keep, but I enjoy the clever glint I see in their eyes, and I’m almost certain that they understand a fair amount of vocabulary. :’)

    (although I must say, Jersey calves are very cute, and grow to be beautiful cows that give very rich milk~ They’re a close second!)

  9. I just enjoy it because Holstine are my favorite breeds because we own them and they provide much milk as compared to other breeds so they are rated high in my capacity, As farmer I just love it all because i learn a lot from this site as i view it.

  10. Holsteins are the best! I don’t care what anyone says, I have grown up on a farm with my family my whole life and Holsteins provide the most milk of any breed. And I don’t see the proof that says they are any less intelligent than any of the other breeds. They seem pretty smart to me, and they produce the most milk, so I love them! Don’t talk bad about my holsteins!

  11. My main worry in England is the drastic decline and the sheer awful predijudice to cattle in the Uk two so called experts on UK
    wrote about, even tempered even bad tempered Guernsey.One dreadful milker and herdsman had said the cows were vicious kickers. When I visited a farm a bully of a person on Herm Island; I misitakenly mistook pure bred Guernsey males for females because they are very feminine looking in both sexes. Not knowing I love cows the woman got cross just thinking about milking house cows for the island which very sadly had to get rid of its dairy herd because of the cost of exporting its pure Guernsey milk which could and should be made into all kinds of premium quality Guernsey milk products and all types of dairy cow products and most worst all a person was caught and was blacklisted. Anyone who imports cheap milk into Guernsey and on the island must and should only buy certified Guernsey products because gp doctors know that the milk has more good things to subdue symptomsd and help and maybe prevent autism. By the way I have Aspergers Syndrome. Get rid of people going only for quick profit d of to supply poundshops and supermarkets and also cross Guernseys with Ayshires and Jerseys Montbliardes Red Swiss Red Dane milking or Dairy Shorthorn on UK farms and Brown Swiss or American Brown Swiss.Finally a word about an obscure breed of cow most famous for being associated with the smallpox vaccine, Gloucester and Glamorgan cows are very unique and rare therefore they are often on telly but tragically mainly for thier expensive beef but despite small yields of milk to modest or a reasonable amount they must be providing milk forj authentic genuine gourmet Single Gloucester and Double Gloucester cheese as well as a cheese called Stinking BishopKeep dualpurposeor triple the dairy product dual purpose in all of these and stop beefing up our heritage and Channel Island breeds one farmer has rescued high quality butterfat milkiing qualities of South Devons who are normally just reared now for beef – what a hero and he sellsice cream from his crossbred and pure and mixed breeds herdvery sucessfully and has awards for it as well.

  12. I have both Jerseys and Brown Swiss. And on our farm, the Brown Swiss are the favorites. Sweet giants. They are the first cows to come over and greet visitors and never cranky. The only down side is they are also the first ones that try to snatch another cow’s calf…I guess that’s nurturing to an extreme. :)

  13. I have Dexters, dual purpose horned breed, beef & milk, (some people even train them as oxen).They are a rare breed and the smallest of all domesticated cattle and are very friendly! I can’t go outside with out them greeting me at the gate. Milk is thick & creamy,I made butter last week.

  14. Hi , love your site! We have a small hobby farm in BC, Canada. We ended up moving to a farm because of our old cow “NAN”. Long story! At any rate we love our Jersey (or Jersey girls as we call them). We allow them to keep their calves and give them an extra one as we don’t need all that milk and the extra calves give us $$ to buy winter feed. They are so friendly, and get along with all our other animals. when we introduced our new guardian livestock dog to them as a pup, they all had to come up and lick him. We also have one Brown Swiss but she tends to be abit aloof although she is slowly getting better, we are hoping for a calf from her next spring but she is a year and 4 months and still no sign of heat! We also have Nubian goats who are the Jerseys of the goat world and have the same personalities as the Jersey! If we could change one thing about the Jersey, its their predisposition to milk fever! We had a really bad experience lasting 2 weeks with our old girl, now she is retired and enjoying grazing with the others.

    • Yes, I hear that about Jerseys, tendency toward milk fever. Perhaps they just take different management, or perhaps it’s dependent on genetic lines. We’ve been lucky and have not had one case of milk fever in the past few years. :)

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