Breeds of Cattle

4-H Dairy Skills - 8-year old


The Ayrshire breed of dairy cattle originated in the county Ayr, Scotland prior to 1800. Ayrshires are red and white; it is more reddish‐brown mahogany with intensity varying from light to very dark. Ayrshires are medium sized cattle and can weigh over 1200 pounds at maturity. They have excellent udder conformation and sound feet and legs. They are one of a few breeds that adapt to pasture conditions quickly. Ayrshires are a moderate butterfat breed. The first Ayrshires imported into this country were believed to be in New England in the early 1800s.

Brown Swiss

The Brown Swiss breed of dairy cattle originated from Switzerland. Most dairy historians agree that Brown Swiss cattle are the oldest of all dairy breeds. Remains have been found dating back to 4000 B.C. Brown Swiss are light gray to light brown. In 1869 Henry M. Clark brought the first Brown Swiss to the U.S. Brown Swiss are large sized cattle and can weigh over 1500 pounds at maturity. The Brown Swiss cow is noted for her outstanding feet and legs and dairy strength. They do well in all weather conditions, thriving in hot climates of South America. Brown Swiss also enjoys a reputation for longevity and ability to produce large amounts of milk. Her milk is admired by cheesemakers because of its high percentage of protein and fat.


The Guernsey breed of cattle originated from the Isle of Guernsey, found in the English Channel off the coast of France. Guernsey’s are known for their brownish color that ranges from light brown to almost red and white spots. They are also known for their gentle disposition and ability to adapt to warmer climates. Guernsey’s are of intermediate size and have very good calving ease. They have an excellent grazing ability making them a good candidate for intensive grazing programs. Guernsey’s are well known for their production of high butter fat and high protein with a high concentration of beta carotene. Captain Belair who brought three cows to New York first introduced Guernsey’s to the U.S. in 1840. A mature Guernsey should weigh at least 1150 pounds.


The Holstein breed of cattle originated in Europe but most of its historical development was in the Netherlands. Holsteins are recognized for their patterns of black and white or red and white spots. They are large, stylish animals with outstanding milk production records. A healthy calf will weigh about 90 pounds at birth, while a mature cow can weigh 1500 pounds and stands 58 inches tall at the shoulder. Unlike other breeds Holsteins tend to have shorter productive lives, with the average being currently something less than 3 lactations. Holstein cattle dominate the United States milk production industry by being 9 out of 10 dairy cattle on farms are Holsteins. They are also very adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions. The first Holstein came to Boston in 1852 from a Dutch sailor.


The Jersey breed of cattle originated from the Island of Jersey located in the English Channel. Jersey’s are one of the oldest dairy breeds and have been purebred for nearly six centuries. Jersey’s are excellent grazers and very adaptable to climate and geographical conditions, an excellent candidate for intensive grazing programs. Jersey’s are favorable for their butterfat and milk production. Jersey milk contains the most solids‐not‐fat and milkfat when compared to the other breeds. They are also known for their ease of calving. With an average weight of only 900 pounds they can from light gray to very dark brown almost black. Jersey’s were introduced into the U.S. in 1850.

Milking Shorthorn

The Milking Shorthorn breed originated around the 1700’s in England. Milking Shorthorn come in a variation of red and white, somewhat similar to the Ayrshire. They can be found as solid red, red and white or roan (a mixture of red and white). These animals are very docile and the most versatile amongst the breeds of cattle. They have a good calving ease and their calves grow rapidly. This breed is different from other breeds in that there is two types of Shorthorns an English (milking) shorthorns known for their style and good milking while the Scotch (beef) shorthorns being thicker, blocker and meatier. Both the beef and milk breed of Milking Shorthorn were brought to Virginia in 1783 and then used by the pioneers. The majority of shorthorns imported were the milking shorthorns because they best suited the practical farmer. They provided milk, meat and transportation to the pioneers without being high maintenance. They were not declared an official breed until 1969. Milking Shorthorns weigh 1400 pounds.

Red and White

The foundation of the Red and White breed are red and white Holsteins. In the early days, Holsteins that were born red and white could not be registered and many times were eliminated. However, the red gene is a recessive gene and was passed onto offspring. Their size and origins mimic the black and white Holsteins. The Red and White Dairy Cattle Association (RWDCA) began in 1964 with its first members being Milking Shorthorn breeders who wanted to register their cattle that they had bred including red and white Holsteins. Today many breeds are registered in the red and white herdbook, however the Red and White Holstein is the major breed. Since the forming of the RWDCA, the black and white Holstein herdbook has been opened to register red and white Holsteins. Today, Red and Whites are bred for and a breed that is sought after.


  1. Ayrshires were first introduced into what section of country in the early 1800’s?
  2. What country did the Brown Swiss cattle originate from?
  3. Guernsey’s have (low, moderate or high) butterfat content.
  4. Healthy Holstein calves weigh __________ pounds when they are born?
  5. Jersey’s have been purebred for ____________________ centuries?
  6. Milking Shorthorn are what color?
  7. Red and Whites originated with what other breed?

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Breeds of Cattle


Dairy Skills 8-year Old

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