When many people think of cows, the black and white Holstein cow is exactly what they have in mind. The Holstein cow makes up over 90 percent of the dairy herd in the United States. The Holstein is the highest producing dairy breed. In areas where high-concentrate feeds are abundant, the Holstein is the dairy farmer's first choice. Additionally, Holsteins are significant contributors to the beef industry, as most bull calves are sold for meat rather than for breeding.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Family - Bovidae
Subfamily - Bovinae
Genus - Bos
Species - B. taurus
Common Names - Holstein (North America), Friesans (U.K.), Holstein Friesan
Holsteins have eye-catching black and white splotched coats, although there are some red and white cows as well. They are tall, bony animals, and the females feature enormous white udders. Holstein calves can weigh 85-90 pounds at birth, and by the time she is fully grown, a Holstein cow will average around 1,500 pounds and be almost 6 feet tall at the shoulder. Holstein bulls grow until they are about 2,000 pounds and 6 feet or more in height.
Holstein heifers grow quickly and enter puberty early. They usually are cycling regularly by the time they are 11-12 months old. However, to allow the cow time to reach maturity, most farmers do not breed the cow until she is 15-18 months old. She will carry her calf for approximately 9 months and give birth at approximately 2 years of age. Bulls reach sexual maturity around a year of age.
Holstein cows are gentle and friendly with a calm, pleasant demeanor. They are one of the easiest cows with which to work. However, Holstein bulls can be notoriously aggressive and dangerous to handle. Because of the bad temperaments of Holstein bulls, many dairy farms prefer to breed their cows using artificial insemination.
The Holstein breed originated on continental Europe in the Netherlands. The original breeders chose animals from the black cattle and white cattle brought to Europe by the Batavians and the Friesans; these people had established colonies near the Rhine River around the time of Christ. The inhabitants of Holland selected cows that would do well on the abundant grass that is available in the Netherlands. Over the centuries, the Holstein became a sturdy, efficient, high-producing milk cow. In 1852, the first Holstein was brought to the New World on a sailing ship. Winthrop Chenery purchased the cow and was so happy with her performance that he imported more cows in 1857, 1859 and 1861. Other dairymen soon followed, and by the mid-1880s, there were enough breeders to establish the Holstein-Friesian Association of America.
The Holstein is found all across the world in almost every country. They are the most prominent breed of dairy cow worldwide with over 9 million of them in the United States alone.