Holstein Cow Breed

The world’s most popular dairy breed, Holsteins produce most of the milk that humans enjoy every day. They are the stereotypical cow featured in commercials and children’s books, known for their familiar black and white colors. You may see it everywhere, but how much do you know about this most common cow? Keep reading to learn all about Holsteins, including whether they are a good choice of breed for small home farms!

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Quick Facts About Holstein

Race Name:Holstein
Place of Origin:Dutch
use:dairy products
Bull Size (Male):6 feet tall, 2500 pounds
Cow (Female) Size:58 inches tall, 1500 pounds
Color:Black and white, red and white
Lifetime:15-20 years
Climate Tolerance:Heat reduces milk production
Treatment Level:Easy
Production:9 gallons of milk/day, 2,674 gallons/year

Origin of Holstein

Holstein cattle were originally developed in the Netherlands. They are believed to be descended from cows raised by two immigrant tribes, the Friesian and the Batavian, who settled in the area some 2,000 years ago.

Holstein was first brought to America in 1852 by a Massachusetts dairy farmer. About 8,800 Holsteins were eventually imported from Europe before American farmers struck out on their own and created the first US breed association and breeding program.

holstein cow walking on long grass field

Holstein Characteristics

Holsteins are the largest breed of dairy cattle, regularly weighing 1,500 pounds or more. Females typically weigh around 800 pounds when first bred at 15 months of age. The calves weigh about 90 pounds when they are born about 9 months later.

Holstein calves are strong, grow fast, and are easy to care for. Overall, the breed is known for its adaptability, tolerating various living conditions. However, they are heat intolerant, which can affect their milk production and fertility. In the United States, a breeding program is underway to create more heat-resistant Holsteins.

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Temperament-wise, Holsteins are known for being easy to handle and good-natured cattle that are usually not stressed. They are farm animals by nature, happiest in the company of their fellow cows.

The hallmark of Holsteins is their high milk production, although their milk has less fat and protein than other dairy breeds. In fact, the cow that holds the world record for milk production is the Holstein cow. This mighty cow produced 78,170 pounds, or 9,090 gallons of milk in a single year in 2017.


Traditionally, Holsteins were used exclusively as a dairy cow. This breed makes up 90% of the dairy stock in the United States. However, Holsteins can also be used for meat, especially veal. Young Holsteins gain weight quickly, another plus for meat producers. Often, Holsteins are crossed with beef cattle breeds to improve the quality of their meat.

a holstein sitting on green grass

Appearance & Variety

Physically, the Holstein is one of the most easily recognized breeds of cattle. Most Holsteins are black and white, with varying amounts of each color present on their bodies. Cows can be mostly black, mostly white, or a mixture of both.

Red and white Holsteins are also possible, again with cows being mostly red, mostly white, or more of an even mix of colors. This coloring is caused by a recessive gene, meaning that the cow and bull must be carriers to produce red and white calves.


Of the more than 9 million dairy cows in the United States, about 90%, or 8.1 million, are Holstein cattle. Thanks to his adaptability, Holstein was raised in 150 countries around the world. There are approximately 250 million dairy cows worldwide, with the majority being Holstein cows.

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Holstein was raised in all types of climates. They thrive either placed full time in pasture or barns.

holstein cow in the meadow

Is Holstein Good for Small-Scale Farming?

Holstein is an excellent dairy breed for small farms and large industrial farms. Part of their early development as a breed focused on creating cows that would produce the most milk with the least amount of food possible. This efficiency allows small-scale farmers to get the most milk production out of their Holsteins at minimal cost.

Holsteins can also be kept either in the pasture or full time in the barn. They adapt well to either scenario, making them easy to scale up regardless of the amount of space available.

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The next time you give yourself a milk mustache, you’ll know more about the cows that make the experience possible. Holsteins are one of the most important breeds of cattle in existence and play an important role in the health and livelihoods of people around the world. Researchers and breeders are constantly working to improve the genetics and health of these animals to ensure they will be around to make milk for years to come!

Featured Image Credit: 127071, Pixabay