Holstein Friesians (often shortened as Friesians in Europe, and Holsteins in North America) are a breed of cattle known today as the world’s highest-production dairy animals.

A Holstein cow

When migrant European tribes settled the Netherlands close to 2,000 years ago, they wanted animals that would make the best use of the land. The black cattle of the Batavians and white cows of Friesians were bred and strictly culled to produce animals that were the most efficient, producing the most milk with limited feed resources. These animals genetically evolved into the efficient, high producing black-and-white dairy cow, known today as the Holstein-Friesian (or more simply, “Holsteins”).

Holsteins have distinctive markings, usually black and white or black red in color. They are famed for their large dairy production, averaging 23,285 pounds of milk per year. Of this milk 858 pounds (3.7%) were butterfat and 719 pounds (3.1%) were protein.

Holstein herd

A healthy calf weighs 40 to 45 kg or more at birth. A mature Holstein cow typically weighs 580 kg (1280 pounds), and stands 147 cm (58 inches) tall at the shoulder. Holstein heifers should be bred by 13 to 15 months of age, when they weigh over 360 kg (794 pounds). Generally, breeders plan for Holstein heifers to calve for the first time between 23 and 26 months of age. The gestation period is about nine and a half months.

Today, dairy producers have the ability to utilize genomic technology to discover the genetic potential of their animals at an earlier age than ever before. Genomic testing analyzes the DNA of an animal to determine what genes they actually possess, information that can be used to estimate future performance more reliably than simply taking an average of the parents’ genetic values. The majority of bulls that enter A.I. are genomic tested, and many breeders are genomic testing their females to make more educated breeding decisions, particularly on heifers.