How to Identify Common Breeds of Dairy Cows

More than 250 cattle breeds are recognized worldwide. Some breeds are used for dairy production, while others are used for beef production.

Each cattle breed has its own strengths and weaknesses, making it better suited to certain climates, living conditions and production goals. Breeds can vary in coloration, size, presence or absence of horns, overall hardiness, and production uses. With so much to consider, we will focus on identifying the most common dairy breeds in the United States.

Ayrshire

Oklahoma State University.

Appearance

  • Color: White and a reddish-brown mahogany ranging in color from very light to very dark.
  • Markings: The markings vary from all red to all white. The spots are usually small and irregular around the edges, scattered all over the cow’s body.
  • Cut: Medium in size, weighs over 1,200 pounds at maturity.
  • Horns: Over a foot in length at maturity. However, they are frequently dehorned like calves.

Other Features

  • Region: Nationally, with the highest numbers in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Vermont.
  • Living conditions: Can feed on its own under adverse food and weather conditions.
  • Calves: Solid and easy to raise. Do not possess the characteristic of yellow tallow which reduces the value of the carcass.
  • Health and Temperament: Excels in udder conformation and does not have excessive foot and leg problems.

Story

Ayrshire cattle were introduced to the United States around 1822, meeting the need of New England farmers for a dairy cow that would graze the pastures of their rocky farms and tolerate cold winters. The cattle thrived as their new home was very much like their native Scotland.

Uses

Ayrshires were bred and developed to be profitable dairy cows. It is a moderate fat breed. According to Oklahoma State University, with good management and feeding practices, individual Ayrshire herds average 17,000 pounds of milk and 700 pounds of butterfat. The most productive Ayrshires can regularly exceed 20,000 pounds of milk during their lactations.

Brown Swiss

Brown Swiss Association.

Appearance

  • Color: Gray, dark brown, beige and sometimes almost white.
  • Markings: Solid color, with black muzzle and hooves.
  • Cut: Medium-sized cows weigh about 1,300 to 1,400 pounds.
  • Horns: Decorated.

Other Features

  • Region: Perhaps the most common dairy breed in the world, with a population of seven million. In the United States, the largest concentrations are found in Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio.
  • Living conditions: Brown Swiss cattle can thrive in both hot and cold climates, and in a variety of terrains and management systems.
  • Health and Temperament: Brown Swiss cattle are valued for their longevity, dairy strength, and exceptional feet and legs. They are also known for their docile and friendly disposition.

Story

Brown Swiss cattle are perhaps the oldest of all dairy breeds, originating in Switzerland. They were introduced to the United States in 1869 in Massachusetts. The Brown Swiss in the United States today are descended from 25 bulls and 140 females originally imported from Switzerland.

Uses

Brown Swiss produces large volumes of milk with a high percentage of fat and protein for cheese making. Brown Swiss producers often receive higher premiums than owners of other breeds. Brown Swiss herds average 22,452 pounds of milk, 919 pounds of fat, and 749 pounds of protein.

Guernsey

Oklahoma State University.

Appearance

  • Color: Fawn and white.
  • Markings: The markings vary from fawn with small white spots to fawn with large white spots.
  • Cut: Smaller, weighs over 1,000 pounds at maturity.
  • horns: dented.

Other Features

  • Region: Nationally, however, their numbers are declining as the total dairy cow population declines in the United States.
  • Living conditions: Excellent pastures, designed for dairy production on pasture. Require less feed per pound of milk produced than larger breeds. Adaptable to warmer climates.
  • Calves: They have a younger average age of first calf heifers and they are also known to have a shorter projected calving interval due to their smaller size.
  • Health and Temperament: Guernseys have no known adverse genetic recessivity. Additionally, Guernsey cows are known for their gentle character.

Story

Guernsey cattle were brought to the United States from the island of Guernsey in 1840, originally introduced to New York.

Uses

Guernseys are known for producing milk that is high in fat and protein with a high concentration of beta-carotene. Milk is known for its golden color due to high levels of beta-carotene. According to Oklahoma State University and data from herds enrolled in the American Guernsey Association’s Dairy Herd Improvement Register program in 1992, Guernsey herds averaged 14,667 pounds of milk, 659 pounds of butterfat, and 510 pounds of protein. .

Holstein

Holstein Association USA, Inc.

Appearance

  • Color: Black and white or red and white.
  • Markings: Easily recognizable, with distinctive black and white or red and white color patterns.
  • Cut: A large breed, Holstein cows weigh around 1,500 pounds and measure 58 inches at the shoulder when they reach maturity.
  • Horns: Decorated.

Other Features

  • Region: Nationally, Holstein dairy cattle dominate the dairy farming industry in the United States. Nine out of 10 dairy farmers currently milk Holsteins.
  • Living conditions: Adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions.
  • Calves: A healthy Holstein calf weighs more than 90 pounds at birth. heifers can be bred when they weigh about 800 pounds, at about 15 months. However, it is best to calve Holstein heifers for the first time between 24 and 27 months. Gestation lasts about nine months.
  • Health and Temperament: According to Holstein Association USA, Inc., Holsteins have unmatched production, income above feed costs and unmatched genetic merit.

Story

The Holstein cow originated in Europe, before being imported to the United States in 1852. After settling in Massachusetts, the Holstein breed was sought after by many other breeders.

Uses

According to Holstein Association USA, Inc., the average 2015 production of Holstein herds enrolled in production testing programs and eligible for genetic evaluations was 24,958 pounds of milk, 920 pounds of butterfat, and 710 pounds of protein per year.

Jersey

American Jersey Cattle Association.

Appearance

  • Color: Can vary from a light gray or tan to a very dark fawn or a very dark, almost black shade.
  • Markings: Usually have unbroken color patterns, but are usually darker around the hips, head and shoulders.
  • Size: Jersey cows have an extreme weight range, varying between 800 and 1,200 pounds.
  • Horns: dehorned.

Other Features

  • Region: Worldwide, with exceptional herds found from Denmark to Australia and New Zealand, Canada to South America and South Africa to Japan.
  • Living conditions: Adaptable to a wide range of climatic and geographical conditions. More heat tolerant than larger breeds. Excellent grazers.
  • Calves: According to the American Jersey Cattle Association, Jerseys enjoy little to no calving problems, greater fertility, shorter calving interval and earlier maturity.
  • Health and Temperament: Jerseys produce more pounds of milk per pound of body weight than any other breed. Docile and easy to manage, despite a more nervous temperament. Differences in reproductive performance, lower incidence of clinical mastitis, less disease and injury, and fewer foot and leg problems make Jerseys favorable. Jersey bulls are smaller than other breeds but extremely muscular. Jersey bulls are the least docile of all common breeds of cattle.

Story

The Jersey is one of the oldest dairy breeds, being purebred for almost six centuries. He is from the island of Jersey in the English Channel. It was introduced to the United States in the late 1850s.

Uses

Jersey cows in the United States produce more than 17 times their body weight in milk each lactation. According to the American Jersey Cattle Association, the average 2015 production of Jersey herds enrolled in production testing programs and eligible for genetic evaluations was 18,040 pounds of milk, 868 pounds of butterfat, and 659 pounds of protein per year. .

Milking Shorthorns

Oklahoma State University.

Appearance

  • Color: Red, red and white, white or roan – a close mix of red and white, and not found in any other breed of cattle.
  • Markings: A color covering the majority of the body with a secondary color speckling its skin.
  • Cut: Larger breed, weighing 1,400 to 1,500 pounds and averaging 55 inches tall.
  • Horns: Yes.

Other Features

  • Region: Found all over the United States.
  • Living conditions: Milking Shorthorns are very hardy and adaptable to a wide range of environmental stressors. They are also efficient grazers.
  • Calves: Lactating Shorthorns are known for their high fertility and calving ease. Their healthy calves born every year at regular calving intervals are born brave and grow quickly.
  • Health and Temperament: Lactating Shorthorns are sought after due to their durability, longevity, calving ease and ability to adapt to a number of production environments. They are also known to be docile and efficient producers. Plus, they’re large enough to have salvage value at the end of their productive life.

Story

Milking Shorthorns originated in the North East of England. They were brought to the United States in 1783, in Virginia. They quickly became favorites for their ability to provide milk, meat and energy. They were then imported to New York, Kentucky, Ohio and the Midwest.

Uses

The Milking Shorthorn breed is one of the most improved in the last 15 years and further increases are expected. She further developed into a dairy breed and improved udder quality. The average production of Milking Shorthorns is about 15,000 pounds of milk, with 3.8% butterfat and 3.3% protein.

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