Holstein Friesian cattle dominate the world dairy industry with an overwhelming presence, where a single cow can produce over 39,000 pounds of milk per year. Genetic improvement and extensive breeding has made this breed extremely popular.
This article provides an overview of Holstein Friesian cows and bulls (with European/Dutch ancestry) for beginner and intermediate farmers.
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Where Does The Holstein Friesian Breed Come From?
The history of Holstein Friesian cattle is intertwined with that of Holstein cows and bulls in that they both derive from the Dutch cattle (Dutch Friesian cattle) produced when white cows of Friesians crossbred with the black cattle of the Batavians.
The Batavians and Friesians were migrant European tribes that came with their bovines and settled in the Friesland and North Holland provinces in the Netherlands and the Holstein province in Germany.
The Dutch Black Pied cattle, or the Dutch Friesians, emerged when breeders crossbred the cattle of the Batavians and Friesians to produce heavy milkers with black and white markings, called the Holstein Friesians.
Winthrop Chenery of Massachusetts imported the first permanent Holstein Friesian cow in North America in 1852 and others between 1857 and 1861.
Another 7,757 Dutch Friesian cattle came to America in the early 1900s, forming the breeding base for developing a new Friesian cattle type specifically for dairy production—the Holstein Friesian.
In 1978, the name American Holstein-Friesians was dropped. The name Holsteins was adopted to refer to the South or North American type and differentiate it from the European Holstein Friesian, which referred to the European-descendent Friesian stock used dual-purposely as a beef and dairy breed.
Today, (Dutch) Friesian cattle still exist as a separate breed from the Holstein Friesians. They are smaller than the latter, which are larger because of Holstein importations from the US in the 1970s to breed with European black-and-white colored cattle to produce European Holstein Friesian (Holstein x Friesian crosses).
Genetically, Holstein Friesians and their close relatives are defined by blood content as:
- Friesians: Friesians containing over 87.5% Friesian blood (most Dutch Friesian cattle now contain 25% Friesian and 75% Holstein blood and have been overtaken by Holstein Friesian in headcount in the Netherlands)
- Holsteins: Friesians containing over 87.5% Holstein blood (usually called the American Holsteins)
- Holstein Friesians: Friesians containing over 12.5% and less than 87.5% Holstein blood (usually called the European Holstein Friesians)
Holstein Friesian Breed Characteristics
Since the Holstein Friesian cattle (European cattle that are a cross between American Holstein and Dutch Friesians) are closely related to the American Holsteins, the two share most of their characteristics.
|Official Breed Name||Holstein Friesian (also generally merged with American Holsteins)|
|Appearance||Medium-sized (compared to large-bodied American Holsteins)|
Black and white coloring or red and white color patterns
|Calf Weight||80-90 pounds|
|Mature Weight||1,500-1,697 pounds|
|Ready To Breed||15 months of age|
|Gestation Period||9 months|
|First Calvings||24-27 months|
|Time to Slaughter||2 years|
|Expected Lifespan||15-20 years and productive for 4-6 years|
|Known For||Versatility (both milk and beef production)|
|Weaknesses||Susceptibility to high temperatures and diseases such as milk fever and mastitis|
|Climate||Well adapted to highland and lowland climates, despite their heat vulnerability|
What Is So Special About Holstein Friesians?
As mentioned, European Holstein Friesians are closely related to American Holstein and are actually a type of Dutch Friesians enhanced with Holstein blood for improved milk yields and body size.
Holstein Friesians are also known for their versatility, being both beef and milk producers.
In North and South America, Holsteins are used primarily for milk production.
On the other hand, European Holstein Friesians are used for milk and meat production. They produce high-quality meat with good marbling, close to that of traditional beef cattle breeds like Angus and Hereford.
The cattle are also famous for their intrinsic natural fecundity, given the high number of lifetime lactations or one-progeny calvings per year.
Despite their heavy feeding needs, Holstein Friesians of European ancestry are also known for their adaptability to various farming or feeding systems. They thrive as mixed farming, grazing, and even stabling animals.
Why Should I Raise Holstein Friesians On My Farm?
Here’s why you’ll want to raise Holstein Friesian bulls and cows on your beef or dairy farm:
- Financial returns on the sales of dairy milk are incredibly high when compared to other breeds
- Holstein Friesians are also excellent for veal production, resulting in a shorter time to profit if you have a large herd with plenty of calves
- Holstein Friesians maintain good dairy herd longevity in that they are highly fertile, and females calf down each year for 4-6 years to grow the herd. There is often little need to buy replacement cows or heifers.
- You can breed Holstein Friesian bulls for their genetic merit to produce Holstein Friesian crosses with other breeds of dairy cattle to pass good milk production genetics. Your other beef breeds can also benefit from superior Holstein genetics, such as larger bodies.