Different Breeds of Dairy Cattle

Written by helen fitzgerald
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Different Breeds of Dairy Cattle
Dairy cattle are the source of milk, butter, cheese and other related products. (BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Dairy cows are particular breeds of cattle that are kept for their milk rather than their meat. Some breeds produce larger amounts of milk than others, which is why they are considered particularly suitable. The nutritional content of all cow milk is not exactly the same. The proportions of protein and butterfat vary according to breed; for instance, Jersey cows produce the richest milk of all, with a butterfat content of 4.9 per cent.

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High Producers

No breed of cattle produces a larger quantity of milk than Holstein-Friesians. The large, black-and-white cows so often associated with the dairy industry were bred in northern Germany and the Netherlands before being brought to the United States in the 1850s. An average animal produces a whopping 3,260 gallons of milk (12701kg.) per 305-day cycle. Close behind them rank the Brown Swiss cows, so named for their colour and because they are thought to come from the Swiss Alps. They will put out 2,450 gallons (9.53kg.) on average.

Small, but Rich

Two breeds of dairy cow, Jersey and Guernsey, are well known for the high nutritional value of their milk. Both are small, brown animals bred on islands off the coasts of France and England, but they produce proportionally large amounts of milk with high levels of butterfat and protein. In addition to having the most butterfat, Jersey milk also has the most protein --- 3.7 per cent --- while Guernsey milk has 4.5 per cent butterfat and 3.5 per cent protein. Compare this with Holstein milk, which contains between 2.5 and 3.6 per cent butterfat, with 3.2 per cent protein.

Other Common Breeds

Two other breeds are in common use in the United States. Ayrshire cows are red and white and came originally from County Ayr in Scotland. They are known for being a hardy breed, vigorous grazers and able to stand up to harsh conditions. Milking or Dairy Shorthorns are one variant of Shorthorn cattle, originally valued equally for milk and meat. They can be red, white or red and white, and are docile, healthy and able to produce milk for a long time. The butterfat and protein ratio of their milk is ideal for making cheese.

Uncommon Breeds

There are many other breeds of dairy cattle which are in use in various parts of the world. Some of them are very old, rare breeds which are being carefully preserved. Typically they have been bred to be suitable the terrain and climate where they are found, as well as the local dairy needs. Some examples include the Busa cows of the Balkans, Montbeliarde in France, Illawarra in Australia and Sahiwal in India and Pakistan. Irish Moiled cows once became so rare that there were fewer than 30 females left, cared for by two breeders in Northern Ireland. Thanks to help from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, they are now being rebuilt.

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