In the United Kingdom and Ireland, Holstein Friesian cattle were used for dairy production. They originated from the Dutch provinces of North Holland and Friesland and Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany. This breed is widely regarded as one of the world’s highest-production dairy animals. The Netherlands and Germany bred and developed the breed to cultivate animals that could best utilize grass, the area’s most abundant resource.

There are more than 150 countries that have the Holstein-Friesian breed of cattle. As the New World expanded, markets for milk developed in North America and South America, and dairy breeders turned to the Netherlands for their livestock. Disease problems in Europe cause the halt of exports to international markets after about 8,800 Friesians were imported.

In modern usage, the term “Holstein” is used to describe North or South American stock and its use in Europe, particularly in the North. Breeders imported specialized dairy Holsteins from the United States for cross-crossing with black and whites. “Friesian” animals come from traditional European ancestry, bred both for dairy and beef production. Animals crossed with them are referred to as “Holstein-Friesian”.

Healthy calves weigh approximately 40 to 50 kilograms (75–110 pounds) at birth while the height of a mature Holstein cow typically reaches 147 cm (63 in) at the shoulder, and averages 680–770 kilograms (1500–1700 pounds). Generally, breeders anticipate bred Holstein heifers to calve for the first time between 21 and 24 months of age when they weigh 317–340 kg or 700–750 lb, or 55% of their adult weight. The gestation period is nine months.

It has been used in the Northern European countries for milk, and in the South for meat. European national development has developed this breed into a more regional-driven breed. Most of the dairy product is in the north of a line connecting Bordeaux and Venice, where more than 60% of the total cattle is also located. This change led to the need for specialized animals for dairy and beef production. Until recently, milk and beef were originally produced by dual-purpose animals. These breeds, which were national derivations of the Dutch Friesian, were very different from those that had been produced by breeders in America who mainly used Holsteins for producing dairy products.

There are distinctive markings on Holsteins, which are typically black and white, or red and white in colour, typically showing a piebald pattern. On rare occasions, some have both black and red coloration with white. This distinct colouring is caused by a combination of white and black hairs with a bluish tint, making the cow or sheep known as ‘blue roan’. Their dairy production averages 22,530 pounds (10,220 kg) of milk per year. Of this milk, 858 pounds (3.7% fat) and 719 pounds (3.1% protein) are butterfat.

Famous Holsteins

  1. Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief, a bull with good genetics for milk production: More than 2.4 million units of Toystory’s semen have been sold worldwide and it is estimated that nearly 500,000 offspring have been produced by him.
  2. Knickers, an exceptionally large bull from Western Australia, which made worldwide news in November 2018 when it was discovered that it was too large to be processed at the local abattoirs.
  3. Missy, a prize winner from Canada: The “unofficial mascot” assigned to the Archives and Historical Collections at Michigan State University, Belle Sarcastic
  4. Pauline Wayne, US president Taft’s “pet” cow
  5. RORA Elevation, a prize-winning bull
  6. Lulubelle III, pictured on the cover of Atom Heart Mother from English rock band Pink Floyd

The first red Holstein bull whose semen has sold more than one million units worldwide is Kian (1997-2013).

The expression of red colour in Holsteins replaces the black colour. It is due to recessive genes in the cows. According to this scenario, cattle with the allele ‘B’ would be black and white, while cattle with the paired genes ‘Bb’ or ‘bb’ would be red and white.

Existence and Popularity in New Zealand/Milk Production

Mr John CH Grigg, a Canterbury breeder, introduced Dutch-Friesian cattle to New Zealand for the first time in 1884. Throughout the following four years, ‘Holstein-Friesian’ cattle were imported from America to the U.K. via a herd established in the Wairarapa.

Further imports from the U.S. were made in 1902-03. It was not until 1910 that the breeding and importing of black and white cows in New Zealand became more popular. Early efforts by breeders to keep an accurate pedigree were instrumental in establishing the New Zealand Holstein Friesian Association in 1910.

The Holstein Friesian cattle is farmed across New Zealand, in all areas, and under all dairy farming systems. It has proven that they are highly adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions, and this has created an export market for our New Zealand Holstein Friesian genetics. Whether this sector is disrupted due to the outbreak of Mycoplasma Bovis remains to be seen.

Since New Zealand is climatically friendly, the average dairy cow in New Zealand is typically bred outside on ryegrass-clover pasture all year round, supplemented with some feed supplements such as PKE when necessary. Typically, it will feed on forage crops such as kale, fodder beets, and swedes, as well as hay and silage.

The Holstein Friesian cow represents 35% of the national herd. Typically, it has a black and white striped pattern, but a red and white striped pattern may also be seen as a result of a red factor in its genetic makeup. The cows are large, immobile, with many of them weighing as much as 650 – 700 kgs. When crossed with a popular beef breed, such as the Hereford, the Friesian cow produces offspring that are exceptionally fast-growing and placid.

Furthermore, Holstein cows produce more milk than any other dairy breed in the United States. The average Holstein cow produces about 23,000 pounds of milk per lactation or 2,674 gallons. The average milk production by a Holstein farmer is 32,740 kg in 365 days. A Holstein cow gives 45 litres of milk per day.

Many Friesian cows are particularly well known for lactating frequently. A typical Friesian cow has about 3.2 lactations in her lifetime, but some are reported to have had up to a staggering 15 lactations from grazing from both upland and lowland pastures. Friesian cows produce around 26,000 litres of milk in their lifetime; however, it must be noted that the butterfat content is usually quite low. Herd protein levels of about 3.4% are often reported, making them an attractive breed for many dairy farmers. 

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