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2007 Dairy Cattel Breeds: Holstein

What breeders say ...

Doug Maddox of Riverdale, California
5000-cow dairy with 5,000 registered Holstein cows at RuAnn Maddox Dairy

What makes this breed special?
For Holstein cattle, it is very simple. It comes down to a matter of profitability and genetics. For nearly all producers, money is based on hundredweight and no other breed can outproduce Holsteins for total milk volume.

In addition to milk production, no other breed of cattle has more genetics working for it today. Much of the success in the last several years related to increased milk production can be traced back to the power and diversity found in the Holstein breed. If it weren’t for Holsteins leading the way, we would still be stuck with limited production with a lot of cows.

How would you describe the temperament of the Holstein breed?
For any cattle breed, the cows behave in response to the way they have been treated. Most cattle breeds are considered docile and are easy to work with, if the animals are treated with respect and kindness. There is nothing more difficult about Holsteins over any other breed, if they are treated correctly. It is more a management style of the dairy workers and owners above the breed itself. There are a few daughters of some bulls that can be a little fidgety or flighty, but overall Holsteins are as docile as any other milking breed today.

In what ways could crossbreeding with a Holstein, help a commercial dairy producer?
As stated before, it all comes down to making your operation as profitable as possible. Holsteins are the only way to keep up the volume required on large dairies today. Without them in the mix, you are hoping to gain on the component end of things, and for most co-ops, that wouldn’t make up the difference to overall volume with Holsteins.

What producers say ...

Dan Monson of Broadhead, Wisconsin
1,600-cow Holstein & Brown Swiss herd at Spring Grove Dairy

What special considerations about the Holstein breed should a producer know before purchasing a Holstein?
In my mind, Holsteins are the most versatile breed in regards to forages and grains. And they can work in almost any type of weather condition and environment. They are certainly the breed with the most potential for highest dry matter intake consumption as well as highest fluid milk production.

I think with that being said, because of their ability to eat large amounts of feed and produce large amounts of milk, Holstein cows may have a slight disadvantage over other breeds in reproductive efficiency. That’s because their additional milk production may at times create a negative energy balance that gives them a slight disadvantage in reproductive efficiency, given the same conditions as other animals.

What advantages does the Holstein breed offer dairy producers that may be unique from other dairy breeds?
Their advantages would certainly be the flexibility of the breed and the ability to consume high-quality forages and grains and turn them into milk. They are the most versatile breed in regards to being able to do the whole deal – eat a lot of feed and make a lot of milk.

In the majority of our U.S. dairy economies, we are paid per hundred pounds of milk regardless of the incentives paid for protein, fat and milk quality. Our motivation and our incentive is still to produce as many hundredweights of milk with the resources we have. And the Holstein breed is the most capable of doing that.

Holstein CattelHistory
The Holstein cow originated in Europe. The major historical development of this breed occurred in what is now the Netherlands and more specifically in the two northern provinces of North Holland and Friesland. The original stock were the black animals and white animals of the Batavians and Friesians, migrant European tribes who settled in the Rhine Delta region about 2,000 years ago.

For many years, Holsteins were bred and strictly culled to obtain animals which would make best use of grass, the area’s most abundant resource. The intermingling of these animals evolved into an efficient, high-producing black-and-white dairy cow.
After the New World was settled and markets began to develop for milk in America, dairy breeders turned to Holland for their seed stock.

Winthrop Chenery, a Massachusetts breeder, purchased a Holland cow from a Dutch sailing master who landed cargo at Boston in 1852. The cow had furnished the ship’s crew with fresh milk during the voyage. She proved to be such a satisfactory producer, that Chenery made later importations of Holsteins in 1857, 1859 and 1861. Many other breeders soon joined the race to establish Holsteins in America.

In the late 1800s there was enough interest among Holstein breeders to form associations for the recording of pedigrees and maintenance of herdbooks. These associations merged in 1885 to found the Holstein-Friesian Association of America, the Holstein Association.

Holsteins are most quickly recognized by their distinctive color markings and outstanding milk production. They are large, stylish animals with color patterns of black and white or red and white.

A healthy Holstein calf weighs 90 pounds or more at birth. A mature Holstein cow weighs about 1500 pounds and stand 58 inches tall at the shoulder. Holstein heifers can be bred at 15 months of age, when they weigh about 800 pounds. It is desirable to have Holstein females calve for the first time between 24 and 27 months of age. Holstein gestation is approximately nine months. While some cows may live considerably longer, the normal productive life of a Holstein is six years. PD

—From Oklahoma State University Department of Animal Science website

U.S. Registered Holsteins
1 Holstein Place
Brattleboro, VT 05302
Phone: 802-254-4551

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