Holstein Cows: Guide, Info & Facts

Initially called Holstein-Friesians, Holstein cattle have become synonymous with the dairy industry and entire cattle industry in over 150 countries worldwide. They are incredible milk producers that require milking 2 to 3 times daily over 4 to 6 years, with an expected yield of 40,000lbs per lactation period. 

This article explores why Holstein cows are so famous the world over, their origin, characteristics, and reasons why you should raise them on your farm.

Where Do Holstein Cows Come From?

Holstein cows have their origin in the Netherlands, Europe, about 2,000 years ago from the provinces of Friesland and North Holland.

The cows descended from the original stock of black animals of the Batavians and white cows of the Friesians—two tribes of migrant Europeans who came into the Rhine Delta area and occupied the land as far as the Holstein province in Germany.

Crossbreeding these two white and black animals led to the emergence of a high-producing dairy breed, characterized mainly by the black and white Holstein colors.

The name Holstein-Friesians was later dropped in favor of Holsteins—but the Friesian cows name is still widely used in the UK and Africa.

The first permanent Holstein cattle in the US belonged to Winthrop Chenery, a cattle farmer and breeder based in Massachusetts who bought a Holstein cow from a ship captain in 1852.

Chenery was so impressed with the cow’s milk production that he imported other cows in 1857, 1859, and 1861. Other early Holstein herds include those of Gerrit Miller (Peterboro, New York) and Smiths and Powell (Syracuse, New York).

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The Association of Breeders of Thoroughbred Holstein Cattle came up in 1871 following the increase in the importation of Holstein cows. The Dutch Friesian Cattle Breeders’ Association was formed in 1872, competing with the first association.

The two associations joined in 1885 to form the Holstein-Friesian Association of America. In 1994, its name was changed to Holstein Association USA, Inc.

The association was responsible for handling the herdbooks of Holstein cows, carrying out genetic evaluations, and promoting genetic improvement through progressive artificial insemination.

Holstein Cows Characteristics

Official Breed NameHolstein
SizeLarge-bodied cattle
AppearanceSharply defined black and white color patterns or red and white patterns
Calf Weight80-100 pounds at birth
Mature Cow Weight1,500 pounds
Mature Cow Height1.47 meters (58 inches) at the shoulder
Mature Bull WeightUp to 2,500 pounds
Mature Bull Height1.8 meters (72 inches) at the shoulder
Ready To Breed15 months (800 pounds)
Gestation Period9 months
First Calvings24 to 27 months
Time to Slaughter2 years
Carcass Weight705 pounds
Expected Lifespan15 to 20 years
Productive Lifespan4 to 6 years
Known ForGood-naturedness and ease of handling and care
WeaknessesPoor resistance to diseases and heat (this causes a decline in production)
ClimateAdaptability to both lowland and highland climates
Herd of Holstein cows standing on grass

What Is So Special About Holsteins?

Besides their characteristic black and white or red and white color patterns, Holsteins are best known for their high milk production levels, which surpass those of other dairy breeds like Jerseys, Guernseys, Brown Swiss, Ayrshires, and Milking Shorthorns.

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Number of Milkings2-3 Daily
Average Milk Output 39,638 pounds per lactation period spanning 305-365 days
High Milk Output72,000 pounds per year
Record Milk Outputrecord-breaking Holsteins have produced north of 74,000 pounds per year

The one disadvantage of the Holstein breed is that the milk they produce has lower butterfat content than milk from other cattle breeds with a lower milk output.

Holstein cattle are also known for their high adaptability to different raising methods. The cattle perform well, whether they are raised as pasture cattle or free-range cows.

Holsteins are also famed for their adaptability to a wide variety of lowland and highland climates, even though their low resistance to heat leads to declines in milk production. They are also highly resistant to stress.

When raised for beef production, Holstein cattle produce meat with fine fiber. This debunks the idea that Holsteins have inferior beef. Like Angus, Holstein steers have been noted to have more carcass weight than other beef breeds.

A study on Holstein bulls and steers slaughtered at 800 or 1,000 pounds found that the steers had higher marbling, higher texture scores, and more outside fat covering than the bulls.

Holstein bulls in the study were observed to reach slaughter weights faster and converted into meat more efficiently while consuming less feed than the steers.

According to a study on Irish Holstein beef cattle, Holstein steers butchered at 2 years of age when they have a live weight of about 1,366 pounds have a carcass weight of about 705 pounds.

Another study on Holstein steers fattened up to 10-12 months of age found that steers with a live weight of about 811 pounds had a carcass weight of about 422 pounds.

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Since mature bulls are slaughtered when they have a live weight of about 2,500 pounds, you can expect the carcass weight to be much higher at the usual 60-64% of the harvesting liveweight observed for most cattle breeds.

You can crossbreed Holstein cattle with other traditional beef cattle to improve the quality of their meat and produce leaner beef.

Why Should I Raise Holsteins On My Farm?

There are few setbacks in raising Holstein bulls or milk cows on your dairy farm. You’ll be joining the millions of dairy farmers all over the world who are head over heels in love with Holstein cattle because of their high productivity.

Besides lots of milk and the iconic beauty in black and white or red and white color patterns, you’ll want to rear Holsteins on your farm for the following reasons:

  • Holsteins are able to maintain their genetic superiority as the highest milk producers in the bovine world.
  • Holsteins have higher profits because they have higher incomes from milk and beef sales despite having higher feeding and management costs than other cattle breeds.
  • Holsteins are highly adaptive to various environmental conditions, from warm lowlands to cold highlands.
  • Holstein cows are available in nearly every country. You can easily find reliable dairy breeders to buy your cows from without the fear of a wrong purchase, even if it’s your first time buying a dairy cow.


Alex grew up in a rural area with chickens, cows, goats, and rabbits. He has always enjoyed waking up at 6 am to tend to his flock and vegetable garden. He bought his first cow at 25 and named her "104". In 2021, he set up an aquarium and now spends his lazy time watching his fish. He is happiest watching small animals and plants grow big, not to mention writing to share his farm-life experiences.

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