Dairy Cows

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

Be sure to keep scrolling after you meet the dairy cows for FREE educational resources and downloads!


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 1631.

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.


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: The Isle of Jersey in the English 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.

Brown Swiss

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

Origin: The 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.


The Guernsey is known for the rich, golden color of its milk, which is due to high levels of beta carotene (a source of vitamin A) in the milk.

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

Characteristics: The Guernsey can range from fawn to golden in color, and often has white legs and white areas on her body.

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


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

Origin: This breed was brought to America around 1800 from the Scottish county of Ayr.

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

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

Origin: Great Britain.

Characteristics: Large in size, the Milking Shorthorn is white and roan (red, black or brown mixed with white) in color, but also can be predominantly 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

The Red and White Holstein is the most recent breed of cows 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.

More Resources on Dairy Farming

A woman hugs a cow.

Meet Our Dairy Farmers

The Midwest is home to thousands of dairy farmers who are committed to providing nutritious, wholesome milk and dairy products. Get to know our dairy farm families!

Free Dairy Coloring Book

Now that you’ve met our dairy cow breeds, how about coloring one? Click below for a free Undeniably Dairy coloring book!

Free Dairy Educational Resources

Are you a teacher, parent or partner looking for resources to help teach students about agriculture, dairy and nutrition? Check out our FREE resources including curriculum, activities, lessons and links to virtual dairy farm tours and more!