Animals,  Farms

Choosing a Dairy Cow: Breeds

So, you want to get a dairy cow, but you have no clue what kind to get. There are some things you need to think about when choosing a cow: do you plan to sell the milk? (Is it legal in your state?) If not, you probably don’t need a cow that produces large quantities of milk. Do you plan to make a lot of butter? Then you will need a cow that produces a lot of cream. Here is some basic information about each breed to help you determine the kind of cow that is right for you.



Coloring: red and white

Average Weight: 1,200 lbs

Average Gallons per Day: 5-6.5

Butter Fat: 3.9%

Protein: 3.3%

Originated From: Scotland

Original Environment: harsh winters & rocky terrain

Known for: good udders, small fat molecules in the milk (easier to digest, makes creamy cheese)

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Brown Swiss



Coloring: light brown or gray/silver with a white muzzle and a dark nose

Average Weight: 1,300-1,400 lbs

Average Gallons per Day: 5.3-9

Butter Fat: 4.0%

Protein: 3.5%

Originated From: Switzerland

Original Environment: harsh climate, slopes of the Alps in Switzerland

Known for: large quantity of milk, long lifespan, sturdiness & strength, ability to stay in lactation longer than other breeds, best milk for cheese market (due to high protein and large quantity), quiet temperament

Notes: large calves, may have difficulty calving first time





Coloring: black, brown and red (most are black)

Average Weight: 600-700 lbs

Average Gallons per Day: 1 1/2-2 1/2

Butter Fat: 4%

Protein: ? (I cannot find this information anywhere!)

Originated From: Ireland

Known for: smaller cow (400 lbs of meat), lean meat, perfect small-farm cow, strength (can be trained to pull things), birthing without assistance, longevity (can keep calving/milking for up to 15 years), smaller fat globules in the milk (easier to digest), good mothers–will nurse 2-3 calves from other cows

Note: can carry a gene that leads to dwarfism, will lead the cow to have stillborn calves with a deformed “bull dog” face (can check for this with a DNA test)





Coloring: white and brown, orangish-red

Average Weight: 1,100-1,200 lbs

Average Gallons per Day: 4.6-5.5

Butter Fat: 4.5%

Protein: 3.5%

Originated From: British Isle of Guernsey

Known for: good disposition, yellow milk because of extra Carotene/Vitamin A, few problems with calving, quick breeders, early maturation




Coloring: black and white or red and white

Average Weight: 1,400-1,500 lbs

Average Gallons per Day: 8-10 (some say up to 14!)

Butter Fat: 2.5-3.6%

Protein: 3.1%

Originated From: Germany

Original Environment: grass pastures

Known for: large quantity of milk, used in almost all commercial operations





Coloring: light brown, gray, brown, cream or black

Average Weight: 900-1,000 lbs

Average Gallons per Day: 4-6

Butter Fat: 4.9%

Protein: 3.7%

Originated From: Britain’s Isle of Jersey

Known for: best disposition of all dairy cows, easy calving, early maturation, high fertility, rich and creamy milk, hardy, not great beef but ok


Milking Shorthorn



Coloring: red, or red and white

Average Weight: 1,300-1,600 lbs

Average Gallons per Day: 6

Butter Fat: 3.8%

Protein: 3.3%

Originated From: Britain

Known for: easy calving, long lives, multi-purpose (beef, milk and pulling power)


Red Poll


Coloring: red or red and white

Average Weight: 1,200-1,250 lbs

Average Gallons per Day: 4-5.25

Butter Fat: 4-4.75%

Protein: 3.5%

Originated From: England

Environment: lush grass, sandy beaches and marshland

Known for: good for beef and milk, early to mature, long life, hardiness, docile temperament, ability to gain weight from grass, good fertility, healthy calves, endangered

This information was gathered from:


  • mnmom

    Thank you for this information! We live in the suburbs and can’t get a cow but maybe someday! 🙂 We are currently buying our milk from belted cows. Do you have stats for them?

  • Steve in Michigan

    We own shares of a cow and ours is a Dutch-Belted. Our kids love the taste and the milk is naturally homogenized as the fat globules are very small. We’d recommend it.

  • Dave

    Just stumbled in…

    Nice site. Looks like a lot of work! Good to see folks doing their best this way.

    Now, I’ll pick a nit with you: Breed characteristics are good to know, but they are general guidelines at best. Cow characteristics, like people characteristics, are variable within their breeds, and importantly, published cow statistics are more reflective of cows living in large herds on factory farms than in a herd of one or two or three on a family farm.

    Anyway, the sorts of things a family cow owner needs are more cow-specific than breed-specific. For example, a family cow should stand still, not kick, have long handles, milk out quickly without the need for a long period of stripping, be vigorous (i.e. healthy) and forage well (if your goal, as it should be, is to pasture the cow). One of the best family cows I ever saw was a complete mutt–a cross between a Jersey cross and a Hereford cross. She almost went to the sale as a yearling, but when the farmer’s main milk cow died suddenly, the mutt got promoted, and she surprised everybody. She gave may years of excellent milk, bred and calved easily, and didn’t give a pinch of trouble–far more important characteristics than a percentage point of butterfat content, or a statistical 20 pounds of production.

    If I ever have to buy another family cow I will use breed characteristics as a basic guide (wouldn’t, for example, actively search out a beef breed or a Holstein) and then I will visit Amish farms until I find somebody willing to sell me a proven young cow, and I’ll pay him what he asks.

    • Rose

      Wanted to say thank you for this comment! While I find the original post here very useful as a start, the additional information you provided is also extremely helpful to me!

      • Melissa

        Couldn’t agree more. My girl is an interesting Mennonite creation. “Mostly Jersey, but no brown swiss mixed in. I suspect some Holstein along the way.” She is happy to mother anything that attaches itself to her udder, including goats. Fantastic temperament, loves the company of people, milked beautifully the first time she was milked as a first time mother.

  • Quinn

    We have a Dexter and while I would say that average is probably correct, for the person looking for a dairy on a smaller scale, it’s good to bear in mind you’ll get that average in the middle of the lactation, but at the end it’s more like 1/2 gallon a day and at the beginning it’s 4 gallons a day (and that’s with calf sharing!)

    Another interesting note I’ve read about the Guernseys is that they are the primary producers of A2 milk, which I know a lot of people are interested in.

    Great information! 🙂

  • Rebekah

    We are looking at getting an American Milking Devon. It is A2/A2 so we are hopeful the calf (due in June) is heifer.

  • Williams

    I just wanted to make a quick correction. Jerseys are not known for having a good disposition, they are most know for being sassy. Most dairies will not put up with Jerseys because of their small size and their bad temperament. They can be nicer as they get older and once they have calmed down. Usually Jerseys are not popular among dairy farmer, however their are some dairy farmers who love Jerseys. Jerseys are not know for having the best disposition of all dairy breeds, that would have to be Guernsey. Jerseys are best know for their milk components (especially butterfat) compared to the other dairy breeds. Thank You!

    • Candi

      Our jersey may be the exception, but she is a dream. Docile, loving, gentle, always running to the fence hoping someone will scratch her behind the ears. She’s more than a milk cow, she’s family, shes our companion. You can have my stupid, stinky, hound dog – but you’ll never get my sweet jersey girl. We Love our cow!

    • SD Homesteader

      My 6 Jersey’s must be the exceptions, also. They are very calm, let me lay beside them and recline on them while they are napping in the field, let me milk them freestanding in the field, learn verbal commands very fast and are the most loving girls around. They love to be brushed, know to come when I call their individual name, trailer load on command and love human attention. Most dairies don’t use them because Holsteins give so much more milk. More milk=More $$$ to a dairyman. However, you can’t compare a Jersey and a Holstein when it comes to cream, butter and cheese. My Jersey girls are like my children and I love them!

  • Harry

    just FYI the holstein fresian originated in Holland in the province of Frisland. Also having grown up on a dairy farm, they can produce up to 150 lbs of milk a day, or 17 gallons. good info though.

  • Lin

    I’m looking to start a small scale dairy farm(free range) in Myanmar (previously known as Burma). Can someone suggest me a good breed? The location is in the northern Shan state where the temperature is cool and is high above sea level on the hills. I am looking for an investment partner preferably a dairy farmer. If anyone is interested please contact me on Thanks.

  • singcanary

    I have 5 Jersey girls and just love them to death. They have 99% easy calving, mature quickly, have loving sweet temperaments and are cost efficient. They come up to say hello all the time and are so gentle and social. However, the Jersey bull is notorious for having an aggressive temperament. As the saying goes…never trust a bull. Even my Jersey bull comes up to greet me and is sweet…but he IS like a bull in a china cabinet. So I always am aware that they can turn on a dime. I have all A2/A2 Jersey standard cows and wouldn’t change a thing. Even my bull is A2/A2. The butter is amazing and the cream from the milk is wonderful I had the fat content tested at the lab on my milk and it came back a 4.5…nice

  • Starrman69

    When I was a kid on the farm, Dad always had Holsteins because of the higher milk production (we sold milk). When I went with him to auctions, I heard other farmers talking about having two or three Hersey’s in their dairy herd to increase the butterfat content.

  • Anonymous

    By far the best all-around cow would be a bread from the Balkans called Busa; Rare and endangered. It is hardy, eats little, survives anywhere, forages, disease resistant, lots of fat in milk for cheese making, very good amount of milk for its size, easy calving, best mother instinct of all cows I read…very small body weight and size. This is the cow.
    See pictures here:
    This cow is from Balkan area: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Monte Negro, Albania and Bulgaria, I think that’s it.

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