If you’re in the dairy business, it’s probably never been more important than it is right now to make smart decisions. With such slim margins, one mistake can be catastrophic. A key choice is choosing a breed. How can you know if you’ve chosen the right breed of dairy cow to fit your needs? We’ll give a quick rundown of common breeds, their characteristics, and what dairy cows of the future might be like.
Selecting the Right Breed
Janet Garman of Countryside Daily says that knowing the characteristics of each breed is important. Production levels, milk fats and solids vary depending on the breed. Becoming more familiar with what’s available can help you select a breed that’s right for your operation.
The most common dairy cows are the Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire and Brown Swiss. The Milking Shorthorn and Dexter are common breeds that are good for milking and meat. Jersey fits into that category sometimes as well. Of course, you can milk any breed of cow, but the certain breeds are known to be higher producing.
Midwest Dairy provides a quick run-through of common dairy cow breeds in the Midwest, along with their history and characteristics.
This breed originated in the Netherlands and was brought to the US way back in 1621. This is one of the most common dairy breeds and is known for its black and white spots. This breed produces more milk than any other.
This breed comes from the Isle of Jersey in the British Channel. Jersey cows are usually docile and smaller than most cows. Their color ranges from light to dark brown, and they have dark eyes. They are able to tolerate heat better than most breeds. They produce milk with a very high butterfat content.
The oldest of the dairy breeds that originated in the Swiss Alps. They are silver to dark brown in color with large ears. Docile with a kind nature. Milk is ideal for making cheese due to its high protein content.
This breed comes from the Isle of Guernsey in the English Channel. Color range is fawn to golden with white legs and white patches. They produce a golden-colored milk that is high in beta-carotene and vitamin A.
Brought to the US from the county of Ayr in Scotland. They are a very adaptable, vigorous breed that are rusty red and white in color.
A breed from Great Britain that is good for both dairy and meat. They are usually white and roan or white and red in color. It’s milk has a high protein to fat ratio.
Red and White Holstein
A relatively new breed from the Netherlands, only recognized in the US since 1964. Similar characteristics of the black and white version. Heat tolerant with a strong immune system.
Dairy Cows of the Past
Do you ever long for the “good old days?” When dairy cows would last ten years? Let’s take a quick look at dairy past, present and future with Murray Hunt of The Bullvine.
There are living cows at the University of Minnesota that represent dairy cow genetics from the 1960’s. Things were different then. Cows were shorter, beefy and had udders that quickly sagged with age. They produced half as much milk as most dairy cows do today. Only the top 10-20% of first lactation Holsteins excelled. Heifers calved at around 28 months, and many were culled after calving due to low production or health problems. Twice as many calves died before weaning back then.
Is it possible those “good old days” weren’t as good as we all remember?
Dairy Cows of the Present
Now, first calving is around 22 months, and cows calve for around eight years. Average milk production is 70 pounds a day, including dry days. Amazing advancements in dairy breeding and genetics have taken place over the last ten years. Production is improving all the time.
Many debate the ideal dairy cow. Is she old and steady? Or is she or the productive, low maintenance first to third lactation cow?
Dairy Cows of the Future
As bovine geneticists try to develop the perfect dairy cow, what are some of the qualities that they might be looking for? What’s on breeders’ minds when they’re determining selection criteria for sires and cows?
Bullvine predicts that body form will become less and less important. Function will take over. Breed ideals will no longer be used for most dairy herd owners.
Final score and body parts genetic indexes will not be used. And descriptive scoring will be the primary conformation indexes (udder depth, teat placement, legs rear view, thurl width and hoof form) used in sire selection and mating programs. It is entirely possible that the conformation data will be captured using photo imaging.
Bullvine anticipates that dairy farming will change in seven significant ways over the next fifty years:
- Seven countries will produce over half of the world’s milk: US, India, China, Brazil, Germany, Russia and France.
- Dairy cows will be bred to become more heat tolerant as climates around the world warm.
- Technology and epigenetics will be everywhere.
- There will be more advanced ways of feeding the rumen microbes.
- They’ll be more efficient and have less of an environmental footprint.
- More gene based than breed based.
- Gene edited, and proprietary genes licensed in embryos.