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?!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.vachecanadienne.com/the_canadienne_cow.aspx
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, tend to be dual-purpose. http://americanlinebacks.tripod.com/
MINI-JERSEY: All Jerseys originate 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. Some are crossed with Dexter.
GOATS: are inexpensive to buy, raise, and milk. For those that like the taste of goats milk, goats are a very affordable option for a milk animal on your farm. 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. The cream, therefore the butter, are white (not yellow like cows).
SHEEP: Not generally recognized as a family milker (tiny teats!) but they do have the potential to milk and some are used for cheesemaking. The milk is very creamy. The Fresian breed is well known in America as milk sheep.
*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.