The Holstein is famed as being the world’s highest production dairy animal.
History of the Holstein
The breed originated in Europe around 2000 years ago, from what is now the Dutch provinces of North Holland and Friesland, and Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany.
The original stock were the black and white animals of the migrant European settler groups Batavians and Friesians. For many years, Holsteins were bred and strictly culled to obtain animals which would make best use of grass, the area’s most abundant resource. The intermingling of these animals evolved into an efficient, high-producing black-and-white dairy cow.
Today, Holsteins have the highest milk productions in the world. They have an unequalled genetically anchored achievement ability which has no biological ceiling. Genetic improvements of 1 to 2 percent per year are completely realistic.
While being the top dairy-producing breed, the Holstein also contributes to the meat supply worldwide, having a high growth percentage in the fattening sector and producing meat with a fine fibre.
Holsteins have distinctive markings, usually black and white or red and white in colour. In some rare cases, animals can have both black and red colouring with white. ‘Blue’ or ‘blue roan’ is also a known colour and is produced by white hairs mixed with the black hairs giving the cow a blueish tint.
A healthy Holstein calf weighs 40kg (90 pounds) or more at birth. A mature Holstein cow weighs about 680kg (1500 pounds) and stands around 147cm (58 inches) tall at the shoulder. Holstein heifers can be bred at 15 months of age, when they weigh about 360 kg (800 pounds). Their gestation is approximately nine months and it is desirable to have Holstein females calve for the first time between 24 and 27 months of age. Top producing Holsteins, being milked twice a day, have been known to produce up to around 30,000 kg (66,000 pounds) of milk in a 365 day period.
The normal productive life of a Holstein is six years, though some cows may live considerably longer. They adapt to all management and utilization systems and are equally suited to being stabled and for grazing. Holsteins are good-natured, easy to handle and can be stabled without any problems. They are also resistant to stress, exhibit a herd mentality and are not solitary animals. However, they are not as resistant to heat and diseases when in difficult agro-ecological areas, which can result reduced production capacity.