Dairy cow spotlight: Popular and rare breeds

January 11 is National Milk Day in the United States, commemorating what many believe is the day home milk deliveries first kicked off in the country. (If one day of milk-related joy isn’t enough for you, World Milk Day happens on June 1 each year.) Before you pour yourself a celebratory glass, check out these facts on the cows that produce the nutritious drink we know and love.

Some big names

Holsteins are without a doubt the most famous breed of dairy cattle. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you most likely recognize their iconic black splotches on white bodies — though some Holsteins have red markings. The breed comes from the Netherlands, and has the highest milk production of any breed.

Jerseys produce milk that is rich in protein and butterfat, making it a great option for butter and cheese production. Jerseys themselves are commonly a golden, light brown color or sometimes a dusty gray, and get their name from the small island of Jersey between Britain and France.

Guernseys, like Jerseys, take their name from a small island in the English Channel. Their milk has a rich, golden color from the high amounts of beta carotene it contains. Most are primarily yellow or reddish brown, with a spattering of white markings.

Lesser-known breeds

Canadienne cattle are a rare breed, and can mostly be found in certain parts of the Canadian province of Quebec. They were first bred from cows brought to the province from the French regions of Brittany and Normandy during the 16th century. The breed is rather small and typically dark-colored, and is well suited for the harsh winters of Canada.

Dexters, the smallest breed of European cattle — just a third the size of Holsteins, with mature cows reaching 600–700 pounds — are making a comeback from very rare to very trendy. Due to their high productivity in relation to their small size, they’ve become popular options for small, organic farms in the United States and United Kingdom.

Irish Moiled, as the name suggests, come from Ireland. Though mainly a dairy breed, the Irish Moiled is also used for beef. Despite its versatility, the breed was replaced by more specialized varieties, and in the 1970s fewer than 30 females still lived. Today, that number has increased substantially, but this brown-and-white speckled breed is still quite uncommon.

For more information about these breeds and many others, check out The Cattle Site’s list of pedigree dairy breeds.

Neogen offers extensive product lines that help dairy producers care for their animals, including products to help with mastitis and cold weather conditions. See our website for more information.

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