The 9 Dairy Cow Milk Breeds for the Homestead

Cows are just great, in general, and dairy cows are probably the best. They’re just so versatile!

For just a little bit of effort you can be kept in a virtually limitless supply of milk that you can put to use for drinking, cooking, or turning into all sorts of wonderful dairy products, and my most favorite- ice cream!

normande cow
normande cow

But while every female cow can produce milk, not all cow breeds are awesome producers.

Whether it is volume, quality, or just an animal that is easy to handle and agreeable, there’s bound to be a dairy breed out there that’s right for you.

If you’re looking for just the right dairy cow for your homestead, you’re in luck, cause I’m bringing you 9 of the very best dairy cow breeds in this article.

Brown SwissHigh production; sweet personalities; very rich milk.Big; need lots of room to graze; still need lots of supplemental food during production.
Milking ShorthornEfficient grazers; dependable milk production; generally docile.Some lines have low milk production for size.
NormandeGood dual-use breed; very high-quality milk; mild temperament for size.Very large, need lots of space.
HolsteinSuper high volume production; very consistent outputNeed lots of room for grazing, needs lots of supplemental food for peak output.
GuernseyUnique gold-tinted, rich milk; manageable size; great output for size; friendlyLower yield overall for size.
DexterTiny; Ideal for small acreages; light-footed and dainty grazersReduced milk output compared to most dairy breeds; rarity
SimmentalHardy; Highly adaptable; Reproduce reliably with little assistance; surprisingly gentle.Absolutely huge; milk production only so-so.
JerseyExcellent quality milk; space-efficient feeders; love peopleIntensive milking required; might produce a bit too much milk for small family or op.
AyrshireHardy and fit; long lifespan; very good milk and respectable quantity.Assertive and domineering; tough to handle for inexperienced.

1. Brown Swiss

A relative latecomer to United States shores, the Brown Swiss originates from, obviously, Switzerland and only made its way to American shores and the latter third of the 19th century.

Although they are a very old legacy breed, they’re still one of the very best for milk production and are only beaten by a few other breeds: a Brown Swiss can easily produce 8 gallons of milk a day, though some lines produce much less..

These cows are also notable for the quality of their milk, making them a great value proposition for smaller operations. Their rich, luscious milk makes them ideal producers for cheese and other rich dairy foods.

Brown Swiss’s also happen to have great personalities that make them totally endearing: They have sweet, friendly faces, smooth light brown or tan coats, and a great disposition.

These cows are invariably friendly, docile and easy to work with, making them truly perfect for beginning or seasoned cow owners alike.

However, if they have a shortcoming it is that these are still really big cows, and we’ll need tons of food, lots of space, and lots of care in order to thrive. If you can do that, you’ll never go wrong with a Brown Swiss!

What are the Different Breeds of Dairy Cattle- Which breed is the best?- Why do we have them all?

2. Milking Shorthorn

The Milking Shorthorn is a versatile and adaptable breed, thought to have originated from northwestern England.

This breed has been around since at least the mid-18th century, and likely earlier, making it one of the older recognized dairy breeds out there.

Though initially bred for dual-use, providing both milk and meat, over time they were bred for improved milking abilities, a purpose that remains today. Most Milking Shorthorns can yield around 5 gallons of milk daily.

Overall, Shorthorns are a good choice for homesteads: One of the most notable features of these cows, aside from their distinct mottled red, white, or roan coat, is their efficiency as grazers: they can persist mostly on good pasturage, but will still need a little feed to ensure an adequate supply of milk.

Speaking of milk, its high butterfat content, which ranges from 3.5% to 4.2%, is great for producing butter, cheese, and other dairy foods.

Shorthorns are another breed that is generally docile and friendly, and that makes them easy to manage even for novices.

They’re also known for their longevity and good health, with fewer instances of common dairy cow ailments such as mastitis and lameness.

While they may not produce as quite as much milk as the Brown Swiss above, their hardiness and lower feeding requirements make them a great cow for busy owners.

Normande Dairy Cattle | A True Dual Purpose Breed

3. Normande

Seems like lots of cows derive their names from the region they hail from, and the Normande is no exception.

In this case, this breed comes from the Normandy region of France. Known for its distinctive black- caramel- or red-spotted coat and beautiful petite horns, these French milk cows were originally bred sometime in the 19th century as as dual-use breed.

Today they are kept mostly for milk, producing around 5 to 6 gallons per day. And it is special milk at that!

One of the breed’s best attributes is its high protein and butterfat milk, making it wonderful for cheese.

You might be surprised to learn that the famous French Camembert cheeses are traditionally made using Normande milk.

Normandes are also huge animals, with bulls routinely clearing 2,200 pounds, and even cows typing the scales at a mammoth 1,700 pounds, so be warned!

Despite their immensity, Normande cows are known to be generally agreeable and adaptable, making them simple to handle if you have some experience.

They’re also efficient grazers, and can thrive on different types of forage and pasture, contributing to lower feed costs though you should expect to supply them with lots of supplemental food.

Though stereotypically a French breed, they’ve been exported in great numbers, and have shown to thrive in a variety of environments and remain healthy more often than not.

If you don’t mind the size of these monsters, you will love the quality of their milk, and also the quantity: they produce around 1,720 gallons annually.

Information about Holstein Friesian Cow | Documentary

4. Holstein

Holsteins are the definitive dairy cow kept in the U.S., and they are most popular and widely recognized dairy cow breed.

First introduced to the United States in the 19th century, brought over from stock of Netherlands-German heritage, their exceptional milk production capabilities quickly made them a darling among dairy farmers.

Today, Holsteins are undisputed leaders in milk production and account for the vast majority of the dairy cow population in the United States.

Holsteins are the iconic image of what a cow looks like to many people: they have a striking black and white coat, although red and white variations also exist.

Holsteins are quite large compared to other dairy breeds, but not truly gargantuan like the Normande: mature cows weighing between 1,400 and 1,500 pounds.

Their huge size does mandate more feed and room compared to smaller breeds, but Holsteins are another typically friendly breed.

The chief advantage of the Holstein is its immense, unbelievable production: the average Holstein cow produces 2,600 gallons of milk or more per year at an average rate of 7 to 9 gallons each and every day, as faithful as they tide.

That is around 22,000 pounds of milk! This dazzling quantity does seem to come at a slight cost, though: their milk has a lower butterfat content compared to many other dairy breeds. Despite this, their sheer volume of milk output makes them a huge value proposition.

For sheer reliability, you won’t go wrong with a Holstein. But they may not be the best choice for smaller families or solo owners: they produce so darn much milk you will struggle to stay on top of milking, to say nothing of actually using it!

Protecting a rare breed: the Guernsey cow

5. Guernsey

Ah, the “Golden” Guernsey: the breed known for its distinctive golden-colored milk, made so by the high levels of beta-carotene present in it. It’s also known for their beautiful, toasty fawn and white color which contributes to the nickname.

At any rate, the Guernsey breed is another that comes from England, and it’s one that has been beloved for its milk quality since the mid-19th century in the US. Now as then, they continue to be a popular choice for homesteaders today.

One of the standout features of Guernsey milk is its high butterfat- and protein-content milk, making it an ideal producer of butter, cheese, and more.

The breed is likewise famous for being small with a big output for its size, and also for efficient feed conversion.

This means it requires less feed and less space, and that means less overall input to produce the same amount of milk as some other breeds.

But, compared to other cows on our list here they produce less milk overall at around 4 gallons a day. Still plenty for a family, even from a single cow!

Guernseys are yet another domestic dairy breed that’s famous for pleasant attitudes and also for being easy to handle.

Combined with their pint-sized frame, this might make some new or skittish cow owners a lot more comfortable in working with these cows.

So long as you treat them right, a Guernsey is a perfect cow for a homestead, especially a smaller one.

All around, their high-quality milk, feed efficiency, and adaptability make them an excellent, well-rounded dairy cow breed.

How Big are Dexter Cattle?

6. Dexter

The Dexter breed, originating from Ireland, is a super-small breed that is tough, adaptable and hardy. Despite their compact stature, Dexters are also incredibly efficient milkers, yielding anywhere from 2 ½ to 3 gallons of rich milk every day.

Also, its high butterfat content, typically around 4%, makes it suitable for all kinds of dairy goods, too.

And seriously, these cows are small, rarely topping more than 3 feet or a hair more at the shoulder.

Dexters are known for their ease of handling, though they can be a bit willful. Less of an issue since they’re so small!

This is a wonderful quality which is particularly appealing to first-time cow owners. They’re also excellent and light-footed grazers, often able to sustain themselves on grass alone, reducing feed costs.

Considering they eat so much less than the more massive breeds, and they don’t do as much damage when trampling grass, you can expect more from your pasture overall.

If you’re looking for a small, efficient, and easy-to-manage cow breed for your homestead, the Dexter is an inspired, if pint-sized choice. But know upfront that they can be hard to find in many places.

Simmental cattle breed | The gentle giants

7. Simmental

Yet another breed hailing from Switzerland- they have produced some awesome cows, let me tell you-, the mysteriously named Simmental is known for truly immense size, and also strength, topping out at around 2,500 pounds.

These cows have been highly regarded as milk and meat producers for ages, but recent breeding initiatives have made them highly respectable milkers in particular. 3 to 4 gallons a day does not seem like much, but it is entirely adequate for most homesteaders.

One of the key traits responsible for the Simmental breed’s success is its adaptability. These cows can thrive in various environments, from harsh alpine conditions to warmer, more temperate and even arid climates.

Despite their sheer size, these are mostly gentle and healthy cows, known for hardiness and resistance to disease.

Cows tend to calve easily, and are dependable if average milk producers compared to the rockstars elsewhere on this list.

While Simmentals do need lots of space and even more feed due to their large size, their versatility and routine productivity recommend them to most owners who have plenty of room.

The popular choice the world over for a reason, Simmentals are an inspired choice for homesteaders seeking a dual-purpose breed that is no slouch when it comes to milk production.

Jersey Cows - A Quick Look

8. Jersey

Another one of the most iconic dairy breeds, the Jersey is much smaller than its chief rival, the Holstein, but no less well regarded for its exceptional milk quality and efficiency.

These small, yet sturdy cows are perfect as a highly productive dairy breed that requires less space and feed than Holsteins or similarly humongous breeds.

And despite their smaller size, Jerseys are hardly slouches: each cow can produce between 6 and 9 gallons of milk per day, offering tremendous yield for homesteaders.

Also like the Holstein, it’s not out of the question that you simply won’t be able to make use of all of it!

In addition to their outstanding milk production, Jerseys are likewise prized for their easy-going temperament, intelligence, and heat tolerance.

These cows are friendly, curious, and quick to bond with people, making them a joy to work with. But be careful: they can become almost needy!

Their ability to thrive especially in warmer climates also adds to their appeal as a versatile dairy cow.

Compact, super-space efficient, and friendly with top-notch milk quality, the Jersey breed may be the ultimate homesteader dairy cow.

Ayrshire Dairy Cattle | Scottish Durability

9. Ayrshire

Originally from Scotland, the Ayrshire breed is hardy, has a long lifespan and has a striking orange-brown and white color that is highly attractive. You know what else is highly attractive about them? Their awesome milk!

Ayrshire cows can produce between 4 to 6 gallons of milk per day, rivaling the Jersey, with a modest fat content of approximately 3.9% to 4.1%.

Their milk is always praised for its excellent quality and consistency, and its suitability for pretty much every dairy food you can think of.

These cows are also resilient, with a strong build and equally strong legs, which allows them to easily navigate rougher terrain and rolling landscapes.

Reasonably efficient grazers, they’re often able to maintain much of their weight on pasture alone, but expect to supplement their diet when in milk or anytime forage is diminished.

But if these cows have a major drawback it is the fact that they tend to be temperamental. It can even be assertive, or bossy one might say.

Although hardly surprising for seasoned owners or anyone who is used to working with cows on a full-time basis, this can make them genuinely intimidating to beginners considering this is another huge breed.

Nonetheless, if you’ve got some seasoning yourself and plenty of room, you could do a whole lot worse than an Ayrshire for your homestead.

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