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When most people think of a dairy cow, they often think of the black and white Holstein. Although the Holstein is the most popular breed, there are actually five other types of milking cows found in Dairy MAX land. While each breed is unique as far as personality goes, all dairy cow breeds share certain characteristics. Keep reading to meet the six breeds you’ll find on dairy farms.


Holsteins are the most common dairy breed because of their high milk production. This breed originated in what is now the Netherlands. Winthrop Chenery, a Massachusetts breeder, purchased a 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. Soon many other dairy farmers were buying this breed to establish Holsteins in America.

A Holstein is easily recognized by its distinctive black and white (sometimes red and white) coloring. Holsteins can weigh up to 1,500 pounds; eat nearly 100 pounds of nutritious feed; and drink 25-50 gallons, or nearly a bathtub full, of water each day.


The Jersey breed originated on the Island of Jersey, a small British island off the coast of France, and is one of the oldest dairy breeds. Jerseys arrived in the United States in the 1850s. The Jersey breed is highly adaptable to a number of climatic and geographical conditions, and are more tolerant of heat than larger breeds. 

Jersey, the smallest breed of dairy cows at approximately 900 pounds, are recognized by their fawn-colored coat and are known for their big eyes and docile natures. Although Jerseys don’t produce quite as much milk as Holsteins, their milk has higher percentages of protein and butterfat, which is perfect for making dairy foods such as cheese and ice cream. Most Jerseys produce far in excess of 13 times their body weight in milk each lactation period (about 300 days.)


Like the Jersey, the Guernsey is adaptable to warmer climates and hails from a tiny island off the coast of France named the Isle of Guernsey. Captain Belair of the Schooner Pilot brought three cows to the port of New York around September 1840. 

Guernseys are particularly renowned for the rich flavor of their milk. The Guernsey often is referred to as the “Royal Breed” because her milk is almost gold in color, producing high-butterfat, high-protein milk with a high concentration of betacarotene. About three-fifths the size of a Holstein, Guernseys produce high-quality milk, while consuming 20 to 30 percent less feed per pound of milk produced.


The Ayrshire breed originated in Scotland. It is believed to have been imported into the United States by Henry W. Hills, Windsor, Conn., around 1822. It is universally recognized as one of the most beautiful of the dairy breeds. Ayrshire’s color varies from light to deep cherry red, mahogany, brown, or a combination of these colors with white. 

Ayrshire cows are medium-sized at approximately 1,200 pounds, and are known as strong, hardy, vigorous, rugged cows that can easily adapt to the environment. Ayrshire milk works especially well in the production of butter and cheese. Ayrshires are heavy milk producers.

Milking Shorthorn

One of the oldest recognized breeds in the world is the Shorthorn, which originated in northeastern England. Throughout history, different Shorthorn breeders bred for either beef (Scotch) or milk (Milking). Milking Shorthorns were first imported to the United States to Virginia in 1783, and are found in nearly every area of the United States. Because Milking Shorthorns were originally bred for beef, they were very helpful in providing early settlers with not only milk, but also meat and strength to pull wagons and equipment. One of the breed’s greatest strengths is its versatility.

They are typically red, red and white, white or roan. Roan, a mixture of red and white, is unique to the Milking Shorthorn breed. Shorthorns are average-sized compared to other dairy cows, weighing around 1,400 pounds when mature. These docile cows efficiently produce large volumes of nutritious milk.

Brown Swiss

As the name suggests, the Brown Swiss breed originated in Switzerland. Because of the feudal system in the Middle Ages in the area the Brown Swiss originated, its history is not as well documented. Massachusetts dairyman Henry M. Clark imported Brown Swiss in 1869. 

While Brown Swiss aren’t known as being the most popular or the most beautiful, they are one of the older and wiser of the breeds. Brown Swiss cows are typically solid brown, varying from very light to dark and weighing approximately 1,500 pounds when mature. Brown Swiss cows produce nearly eight gallons of milk a day, and are the second-highest producer of milk among cow breeds. Brown Swiss are known for producing a higher-protein milk than some other breeds.

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