Fun Farm Friends - Holstein


Wisconsin has seven breeds of cattle used by the Dairy industry. Let’s take a look at the Holstein.



Wisconsin has seven breeds of cattle used by the Dairy industry. Let’s take a look at the Holstein.

Holstein cattle comprise about 90 percent of the dairy cows in the country. They are easy to recognize. Their black-and-white markings are distinctive. They originated in northern Holland and northern Germany. There is a region of Germany known as Holstein, just south of Denmark. Hamburg and Kiel are two well-known cities in the area. It seems like Holstein cattle are everywhere in Wisconsin.

They usually weigh about 1,500 lbs. and stand 58 inches tall at the shoulder. Holsteins produce the most milk in the world. They produce a lot of milk, about 2,674 gallons each lactation. 

Lactation is the period between a cow having one calf and the next, roughly every 12 months in an ideal world. A cow’s standard lactation is said to be about 305 days. I am told all of this equates to about nine gallons of milk every day! They need to be milked twice per day.

Holsteins do not adapt well to heat. They do not like the extreme cold either. They also do not favor mud, rain, snow, or wind.  They are said to be good-natured and easy to handle. They prefer to be in a herd to being alone. Altogether these are known as “environmental stressors.”

It’s common to see Holsteins eating. They love to eat! Each will eat as much as 100 pounds daily. They are usually segregated by weight when eating.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to feed holsteins: feedlot and open grazing.

These photos show the feedlot. This method is called feed yard, intensive animal farming, and concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). My impression is this is the most common form to raise holsteins.

Feedlots enable the cows to gain weight as quickly as possible. They can not move around because they are confined. Confining them does create a host of environmental and health issues, however.

Let’s look at what the cows are fed in feedlots. Jordan Manning has written:

“(Dairy cows should have a) balanced combination of forage, grain, mineral supplements, and protein-rich feeds such as soybean meal.

Forage is the basis for a cow’s diet. This includes pasture grass in the spring and summer, or it can be chopped grass (hay).”

Feeding holsteins, or any other animal, requires attention to detail. Farmers must be attentive to a variety of nutritional and environmental factors. One of the most demanding ecological factors has to do with animal waste. Another is to control sickness among animals living so close together.

Farmers might also choose to raise their Holsteins by taking them out to pasture where they graze for their food, eating grass. The grass might be fresh grass or grass-hay. This is referred to as free-range. Because Wisconsin winters can be harsh, they are fed foods like alfalfa amend or corn to provide the closest thing to a natural diet possible. The belief is this practice will deliver the healthiest animals.

However, a lot of land is needed, farmers have to roam the land to find their cattle, and the animals will take longer to gain weight because they are moving around so much.  Here you see a young man on his ATV urging his cattle to head out to pasture.

Ha, they have decided to stop and block the road!

There is considerable debate about whether Holsteins or any cow should be fed in stalls or …

Through managed grazing systems. Look at these Holsteins, just lying around, free as a daisy!

The emergence of the CAFO has added to the debate. CAFOs are spreading throughout Wisconsin. Thousands of cows are kept in stalls. Poor management of waste has threatened the environment. On the other hand, costs are kept down.

I confess I shudder when I see holsteins cooped up like this.  That said, life is not that easy. This topic is worthy of your detailed study. That study should include talking to your local farmers.