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Polled Holstein History Now Online

Posted: April 21, 2008

Dr. Larry W. Specht, professor emeritus of dairy science, Penn State University, has compiled a history of polled Holsteins, naturally hornless cattle.
Polled Holstein Polled (naturally hornless) cattle make up only a small portion of the millions of dairy cows in the United States.

Polled Holstein Polled (naturally hornless) cattle make up only a small portion of the millions of dairy cows in the United States.

Dr. Larry W. Specht, professor emeritus of dairy science, Penn State University, has compiled a history of polled Holsteins, naturally hornless cattle.

In the publication, Specht traces the migration of the polled condition in Holsteins back to the time of the earliest reporting of the trait. Through a series of interviews and extensive research, Specht offers an overview of the trait which if found in just a small portion of the millions of dairy cows in the United States.

Specht's history includes listings of prominent polled Holstein herds across the United States and Canada, as well as detailed information on the personalities and farms who promoted the trait. About his effort which stretched over 25 years, he said, "I attempted to record the history as I learned more about the breed. I appreciate the cooperation of so many people who shared their recollections and records."

Dr. Terry Etherton, Head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science said, "The research that Dr. Specht has done is extremely valuable in creating a record of the polled Holstein trait for future generations to understand the whole picture of the dairy industry. It adds significantly to our understanding of the Holstein industry and its contributions."

Specht notes that history shows that the earliest ancestors of modern-day cattle did not have horns, and that a mutation must have occurred to give rise to horned cattle. The polled condition transmits as a dominant trait, much as black coat color in Holsteins is dominant to red. Both parents must transmit the recessive gene for horns to an offspring in order for their calf to be horned. Because few breeders ever selected for the polled trait and/or did not select against the horned condition, horned animals became the norm.

The Holstein breed only recently identified polled animals even though there is a record of hornless Black and White cattle being exhibited at a show in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1886. The Netherlands was the country of origin for all imported U.S. and Canadian Holsteins. The earliest evidence found for an American-bred animal was a bull born in Massachusetts in 1889. In 1912, a Pennsylvania breeder established the first herd in the United States that was dedicated to breeding hornless Holsteins.

The material carries a 2008 copyright by the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State. View the entire document on polled holstein history.

Specht welcomes comments and additional information so that the publication can be expanded, modified, or corrected as new information comes to light. If you have further information on the breed, feel free to contact Specht at lws1@psu.edu or write to him at 324 Henning building, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802.