Characteristics of the Holstein Cow

Written by rena sherwood
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Characteristics of the Holstein Cow
Most Holsteins are black and white. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

When people hear the word "cow," it is the Holstein that often comes to mind. Also called the Holstein-Friesian, this versatile breed is used for milk and meat production. The breed originated in the Netherlands but now can be found worldwide. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 93 per cent of all dairy cows in America are Holsteins.


Holsteins are mostly black and white but sometimes are red and white. Although called red, the "red" resembles the brown of a chestnut horse. Holstein colouration can range from predominately black with little white markings to predominately white. They get this colouration from their ancestors, a now extinct breed that lived with two nomadic tribes of Northern Europe, the Batvians and the Friesians.


Healthy Holstein calves weigh 40.8 Kilogram at birth. When fully mature at four years old, the average Holstein cow weighs 680 Kilogram and is 58 inches tall at the shoulder. Heifers, or juvenile cows, are bred when they weigh at least 363 Kilogram, which often occurs at 13 months of age. Holstein bulls can weigh up to 1179 Kilogram.

Milk and Meat Production

Holstein cows were bred specifically to produce far more milk than their calves would ever need. Holstein Association USA classifies excellent cows as those that produce over 32659 Kilogram of milk in one year. However, most Holstein cows produce considerably less. Holsteins also contribute to the meat industry. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2.35 million Holsteins are slaughtered annually just in America for beef and veal.


Holstein calves are allowed to nurse from their mothers only briefly and then sold when 2 to 5 days old. Holstein bulls often are slaughtered as calves for meat with only the best selected for breeding. Cows generally reach the end of their most productive milk-producing period at age six, according to Holstein Association, USA. Since they can no longer produce milk, they are slaughtered for meat. However, one Holstein cow from Maine named Nonny lived to be 21.

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