Dairy Cattle Come In Many Colors And Sizes
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
Not long ago, a friend who lives in town sent me an old picture on the computer of a cow because he wanted to know what breed she was. It was good to see his interest and to know that he knew there are different breeds of dairy cows in this country.
Looking at the picture, it was easy to tell this cow was a good looking Jersey that was taken a long time ago from the picture of the man who was holding her. His dress was from the 1930s or ‘40s and he was proud of that Jersey.
Jerseys are one of the popular breeds of dairy cattle in the United States, although not as common as the Holstein breed. Some may ask what is the difference?
Holsteins are bigger cows in varying shades and combinations of black and white. There is also a strain of red and white Holsteins. Jerseys, on the other hand, tend to be somewhat smaller and are shades of brown or chestnut with darker brown blended in. They are usually a more solid color.
Other differences also stand out. Holsteins give considerably more milk, but it is lower in butterfat and protein than the Jersey cows. Dairy farmers are paid for the butterfat and protein in the milk they ship, so they like the higher content. But, Holsteins give enough milk to make up the difference in the total fat and protein.
If one wants to enjoy a lively debate, get a couple of longtime Jersey and Holstein breeders together and listen to them explain why their breed is better than the other one. They believe in what they have been doing for years in breeding fine dairy cattle.
Temperament of the cows is also another difference. Jersey cows used to be a little more difficult to handle and were not as quiet as Holsteins. Over the years, much of that has been bred out of them through careful selection and breeding.
Other dairy breeds found in the area include some Guernsey, Ayrshire and Brown Swiss. They are all different in color and composition of the milk they produce. Guernsey cows produce a creamy milk higher in fat and protein much like Jersey cows, but with a little lower production. They are brown and white spotted cows, not quite as large as Holsteins.
Ayrshires are more red and white with milk slightly lower in fat and protein than Guernseys. They are a rugged breed know to be "easy keepers."
Brown Swiss is also a big rugged cow, usually easy to handle and produce a milk with fat and protein content similar to some Ayrshires, but with more milk production form each cow. They are various shades of brown with some black mixed in. One of the top producing Brown Swiss herds in Ohio exists right here in the local area.
Regardless of the breed, cows are somewhat like people. Within a herd, they can have different dispositions and temperaments. Some are much easier to handle than others. Then, there are the boss cows, those that want to rule the herd and are very aggressive. They are the bullies of the herd that will crowd the less aggressive away from the feed bunk. If they are too bad, they can be given a "new home."
Some cows are "easy keepers," quietly eating their feed and producing lots of milk. Others can tend to throw their feed out of the feed bunk and make more work for the herdsman.
Taking care of a dairy herd does present challenges to those working with them. Dairy farmers have done a good job of this because over the last 40 years, they have more than doubled the production from each cow in their herds.
So, what breed is best? I can't answer that, but generally the debate is between Holstein and Jersey breeders. Most dairy farmers today do an excellent job of caring for their cows.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer.