Dairy Breeds

Meet the Dairy Cow Breeds of the U.S.

Dairy cattle are cows bred for their ability to produce milk from which dairy foods are made. In the U.S., there are seven different dairy cow breeds, including Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn and Red and White Holstein.

Holstein Cow


The Holstein is the most common of the dairy breeds and is known for her black-and-white spots.

Origin: The Netherlands. A Dutch settler brought the first Holstein to America in 1621.

Characteristics: In addition to her black-and-white markings, she produces more milk than other dairy breeds.

Fun Fact: Did you know Holstein cows’ spots are like snowflakes? No two are exactly alike.

Jersey Cow


The Jersey is the smallest of the dairy breeds, weighing in at 800 to 1,200 pounds, while the average cow weighs about 1,500 pounds.

Origin: Isle of Jersey in the British Channel

Characteristics: The Jersey ranges in color from light to dark brown, has big eyes and a docile nature. The most heat-tolerant of dairy breeds, she produces milk with very high butterfat content.

Fun Fact: Borden Dairy introduced the famous Elsie the Cow, a Jersey, in 1936. You can follow her on Twitter at @elsieborden.

Brown Swiss Cow

Brown Swiss

Many dairy historians consider the Brown Swiss the oldest of the dairy breeds.

Origin: Alps of Switzerland

Characteristics: Brown Swiss vary in color from silver to dark brown and are large with large ears. Their milk is ideal for making cheese because of its high protein-to-fat ratio.

Fun Fact: Brown Swiss have a kind nature and docile temperament.

Guernsey Cow


The Guernsey is known for its rich, golden color of milk because of its high levels of beta carotene, a source of vitamin A.

Origin: First raised by the monks on the Isle of Guernsey in the English Channel

Characteristics: The Guernsey is  a range of fawn to golden in color, often with white legs and white areas on the body.

Fun Fact: Because of Guernsey’s renown as a unique producer of rich, golden-colored milk, she was given the title “Golden Guernsey.”

Ayrshire Cow


The Ayrshire is known as the “aristocrat” of dairy breeds because of its size and vigor.

Origin: Brought to America around 1800 from the county of Ayr Scotland

Characteristics: Rusty-red and white in color, Ayrshires adapt easily to their environment.

Fun Fact: Because of their adaptability, Ayrshires are found in most parts of the world, including Southern Africa.

Milking Shorthorn Cow

Milking Shorthorn

The Milking Shorthorn is considered a dual purpose breed which can be used for milk or beef production.

Origin: Great Britain

Characteristics: Large in size, Milking Shorthorn is white and roan in color, but also can be mostly red with some white markings. Its milk is known for its high protein-to-fat ratio.

Fun Fact: Milking Shorthorn is part of the Shorthorn cattle breed originally developed for beef production.

Red and White Holstein Cow

Red and White Holstein

The Red and White Holstein is the most recent breed to be recognized, coming in to the breed family in 1964.

Origin: The Netherlands

Characteristics: With characteristics similar to a black-and-white Holstein, the “red” of the Red and White Holstein resembles the brown of a chestnut horse. She is known for a strong immune system and tolerance to heat.

Fun Fact: The expression of the red color, replacing the black in Holsteins, is a function of a recessive gene.

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