Holsteins are the most common diary-cow breed in the United States, and produce nine-tenths of our milk supply. One Holstein cow produces about 9 gallons of milk per day. They are easily recognizable by their well-defined black and white spots, and are large in size, weighing up to 1500 pounds in maturity. Holsteins are found on farms all around the United States because of their ability to easily adjust to a wide range of environmental conditions.
The Holstein breed originated in Holland, and for 2000 years they have been valued for their milk-producing ability. Migrant Europeans that settled in the Netherlands wanted a high-producing dairy cow so they crossbred black cattle of the Batavians and white cattle of the Friesians, and these cows are now known as the Holstein-Friesian, just Holstein for short.
With the settlement in America, markets for milk began to develop. Winthrop Chenery, a Massachusetts breeder, was the first to bring a Holstein to America in 1852.
Jersey cattle are most known for the high butter fat content of their milk, and are the second most common dairy-cow breed in the United States. They are small in size, and weigh about 900 pounds at maturity, but they produce more pounds of milk per pound of body weight than any other breed. Jersey cows can be easily recognized by their tan color, black nose and black hooves. Just like Holsteins, Jerseys are easily adaptable to a wide range of climates.
The Jersey breed originated in Jersey, a small island off the coast of Normandy, France. Jerseys were common in England as early as 1771, but weren’t brought to the United States until the 1850’s.
Brown Swiss cattle are known for producing large volumes of milk, second to Holsteins, and particularly for the fat to protein ratio of their milk that is ideal for cheese making. Brown Swiss cows are often brown or gray in color, and have large, fuzzy ears, and weigh approximately 1300 – 1400 pounds at maturity. Known as a strongly built cow, they are extremely adaptive to different living conditions, terrain and climate.
Many people are in agreement that Brown Swiss cattle are the oldest of all dairy breeds, as they originated in Switzerland as far back as 4000 BC. In 1869, Henry M Clark of Massachusetts brought the first Brown Swiss cow to the United States by boat.
Guernsey cattle are also known as the “Golden Guernsey”. They produce rich, yellow colored milk that is high in butterfat and protein. The golden color comes from the milks high concentration of beta-carotene, which provides a great health benefit to those who drink it. This breed of cattle is also known for producing quality milk with 20-30% less feed per pound of milk than other breeds, making them a great fit for grass-fed dairy operations. Guernsey cows weigh about 1000 pounds at maturity, and are red/brown and white in color.
The Guernsey cow originated in the Isle of Guernsey of the coast of France in 1960 AD when Robert Duke of Normandy sent a group of monks to the island with two famous breeds of cattle - the Norman Brindles of France and the Froment du Leon of Brittany - and they developed the Guernsey. The original stock of Guernsey cattle was brought to the United States in 1840 by Captain Belair of the Schooner Pilot, with the cattle belonging to Captain Prince.
In more recent times, the number of Guernsey cattle in the world has been in decline, partially due to the fact that Holsteins have begun to dominate the world because of their high milk production and low cost. But, as consumers begin to see the value in quality milk again, modern dairy farmers may look to Guernsey cattle as a way of producing quality milk full of nutrients essential for babies and children.
Ayrshire cattle are reddish-brown and white in color, often with distinct spots that have very jagged edges, and weigh at least 1200 pounds at maturity. As very efficient grazer, they are able to rustle and forage for themselves in any feeding or climate conditions; therefore, they do better as pasture-raised cows than any other breed, and require less grain.
Prior to 1800, the Ayrshire breed originated in county of Ayr in Scotland, and was referred to as two other names – Cunningham and Dunlop – before settling on Ayrshire. It is believed that the first Ayrshire cattle made their appearance in the United States in 1822, as farmers in New England needed a cow that could graze their rough pastures and withstand the cool climate, in many way’s similar to the Ayrshire’s native land.
Milking Shorthorns are known for their high milk production and high-protein content, as well as their strength and self-reliance. They weight about 1400-1500 pounds, and are can be red, white or a mix of both colors.
Shorthorn cows are one of the oldest breeds, and originated in Northeastern England in the Valley of the Tees River. In 1783, ‘Milk Breed’ shorthorns were first imported to the United States by a Mr. Gough of Maryland and his partner.
Normande cattle are known for producing high volumes of milk, and are the ideal cow for dairy cross-breeding. They are white with red, and occasionally black or blonde, speckles, and weigh about 1500 – 1700 pounds. Traditionally, Normande cows are raised on grass, but easily adapt to other environments.
Normandy animals trace their ancestry to cattle brought to Western Europe by Vikings prior to 1000 A.D., but the breed wasn’t officially registered or formalized until the 1880s in France. Normande cattle were very popular in France, Great Britain and South America prior to their introduction to the United States in 1970s.