If you’ve been around dairy cows, you may already be familiar with the top dairy cattle breeds, and maybe you even know how to judge dairy cattle like a pro! But do you know the personalities of these big animals?
I work with dairy cows every day, and I always tell people that cows are similar to dogs: Each breed has a different personality type. So whether you’re a dairy farmer or not, here’s my best perception of each breed’s personality profile!
Holsteins are the most common breed in the U.S. — they are big, docile, and known for their high production.
Holstein cows are generally timid. They may sniff you when you’re near, but don’t expect them to want to snuggle. Most pictures of Holsteins you see are from a distance — they like it that way!
Holsteins tend to behave exceptionally well in the show ring, because they always seem to be along for the ride. Holsteins, along with other breeds, are creatures of habit. They may not be able to tell time, but they always know when it’s time to head to the parlor. As you head to their pen to open the gates you’ll see many of the Holsteins in the pen waiting patiently at the gate, and when you open it, they walk themselves to the parlor without any issues.
Red and White Holsteins
The red and white counterpart to the classic black and white Holstein shares many of their slightly standoffish personality traits, but they tend to be a little harder to deal with!
They may be cute, but they can be sassy. They still act like they’re going along with what you need them to do, but they let you know that they aren’t happy about it!
Check out exhibit A below, my sister’s Red and White Holstein, Sweet Potato, who behaved herself but was clearly letting us know that she wasn’t happy about it!
Jerseys are the second most popular breed of dairy cow, and they have a robust personality! Jerseys are small but mighty, and they never slow down!
Jerseys aren’t known to be the highest producing animals (they generally top out at an average of 60 pounds), but they are known for a higher fat and protein content, which is why they are so popular.
Personally I think that jerseys are the most fun cow breed there is! Jerseys are known to flick their tongues around just for fun, they lick everything, and if you don’t tuck something all the way into your pocket, they are likely to steal it! They also like to do as they please, if they want to sit in their stall the wrong way, stand in the water tub, or put their heads in odd places, they will do it!
There’s a well known phenomenon called the jersey flop. When a jersey decides you’re pushing her too hard to do something she doesn’t want to do, she flops! If you think I’m kidding, head over to the county fair to watch the jersey show, for sure one of the jerseys will be feeling dramatic that day and do her jersey thing!
Brown Swiss are known to be quite … dumb.
For those who have ever brought home a fish from the midway games at the fair, you know that those fish either live forever or only make it about a week. Well, many farmers joke about Brown Swiss being the same way!
Brown Swiss calves tend to be helpless, and you have to try really hard to get them to understand how to drink their milk every day. And if you can make that little Swiss drink, she’ll live forever!
But besides their learning challenges, Brown Swiss are big teddy bears, and they really enjoy being around people. They are beautiful cows, and although they are always the last in the parlor, it’s fun to see them loping around the dairy!
Guernsey cows aren’t very popular on large dairy farms, as they tend to be shy and fragile cows compared to their herd mates.
Guernseys aren’t known to be aggressive in any capacity, which means sometimes the other cows pick on them! They are known to be very sweet and gentle cows, and despite their unpopularity, they are a fantastic choice for a 4-H animal.
Guernseys are known for their light golden color, which translates into their milk! Guernseys aren’t able to break down beta carotene in their diet, so it passes into their milk, giving it a golden color.
Guernseys are also well known for producing A2 beta casein protein in milk, whereas most cows from other breeds produce the A1 protein. Some studies show that the A2 protein is slightly more digestible than the A1 protein.
The popularity of Guernseys comes from their golden milk and beta casein proteins, but don’t let that fool you, they are wonderful and sweet cows too!
Ayrshires are gaining popularity, but their personality isn’t helping them! These beautiful dark red cows can be very affectionate and sweet, but they don’t all choose that path!
Ayrshires are timid, but appreciate affection more than Holsteins do. When you get an Ayrshire on the halter though, you better hold on — they are absolutely not along for the ride, you are!
I have limited experience with Ayrshires, and I have to say that even the people who own Ayrshires know that they are crazy. If you see those dark red legs walking down the parlor, you know you’ve got a kicker on the way.
If you have a lot of patience and a high pain tolerance, Ayrshires might be for you.
Finally, the Milking Shorthorn, a dual purpose breed who is closely related to the beef breed, Shorthorns.
Milking Shorthorns are the least affectionate breed, and the most stubborn I have ever dealt with. When I was young, my brother bought a Milking Shorthorn named Jenny for a 4-H calf, and we tried as hard as we could to bribe her to love us, but she never did.
Milking Shorthorns are very dark red and often have a speckled pattern, much like Ayrshires. But if you come across a Milking Shorthorn in real life, you will know it’s a Milking Shorthorn if the cow is absolutely terrified of you!
Milking Shorthorns are beautiful cows, and if you manage to catch them they could be your best friend, but unlike Jerseys, the most congenial of the breeds, you aren’t likely to find your Milking Shorthorns running toward you every time you hop in the pen with her!
Elizabeth Maslyn is a born-and-raised dairy farmer from Upstate New York. Her passion for agriculture has driven her to share the stories of farmers with all consumers, and promote agriculture in everything she does. She works hard to increase food literacy in her community, and wants to share the stories of her local farmers.
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