Meet the Cows

Have you ever wondered why not all dairy cows look the same? That’s because there are different breeds and types of cows, just like dogs or horses!

In the U.S., there are seven major breeds of dairy cows — Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, Jersey, Milking Shorthorn and Red and White Holstein. Keep reading or watch this fun video to learn more about each type of cow!


Ayrshires are recognized as one of the most beautiful of the dairy cattle breeds, ranging in a variety of colors from light to deep cherry red, mahogany, brown or a combination of these colors with white.

Characteristics Ayrshire’s 1,200-pound medium stature equips them to be a strong, rugged cow that can easily adapt to any environment.

History Ayrshires came to the U.S. from the County of Ayr in Scotland in 1822.

Fun Fact The Ayrshire breed is widely known for its “vigorous personality.”

Brown Swiss

Brown Swiss cows are typically solid brown, varying from very light to dark and are easy to spot with their large, floppy ears.

Characteristics These docile giants around 1,500 pounds, making them one of the largest dairy breeds. They are known for their longevity and calm temperament.

History Brown Swiss came to the U.S. from the mountains of Switzerland in 1869.

Fun Fact Many historians consider Brown Swiss to be the oldest cattle breed in existence, with records dating back to 400 B.C.


Guernseys are fawn and white in color and are known for their gentle disposition.

Characteristics Weighing around 1,200 pounds when full-grown, Guernseys are about 3/5 the size of Holsteins which is the largest breed of dairy cows.

History In 1831, Guernseys came to the U.S. from the Isle of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel off the coast of France.

Fun Fact Guernseys are called the “Royal Breed” because their milk looks golden. They produce high-butterfat, high-protein milk with a high concentration of betacarotene.


Holsteins are easily recognized by their distinctive black and white coloring. In fact, they are the most popular breed of dairy cattle in the U.S.

Characteristics Holsteins are one of the largest dairy cow breeds, weighing around 1,500 pounds and measuring almost 5 feet tall at the shoulder. They are known for their high milk production.

History The Holstein cow originated in Europe and was imported to America from Holland in the mid 1800s.

Fun Fact A Holstein’s spots are like fingerprints — no two are alike!


Jerseys are the second most popular breed of dairy cattle in the U.S. and often stand out with their fawn-color coat, prominent eyes and long eye lashes.

Characteristics Jerseys are the smallest dairy breed, weighing around 900 pounds when full-grown. They produce milk with higher percentages of protein and butterfat, perfect for making cheese and ice cream.

History The first Jerseys were brought to the U.S. in 1850 from the Island of Jersey, a small British island.

Fun Fact With its small size and high milk yield, the Jersey breed is regarded as the most efficient dairy breed.

Milking Shorthorns

Milking Shorthorns are considered the most versatile of all the breeds and are red, red and white, white or roan in color.

Characteristics Milking Shorthorns are average in size, weighing about 1,400 pounds when full-grown. Originally, Milking Shorthorns were imported to the U.S. as a dual-purpose breed, meaning they were used for both milk and beef.

History The Milking Shorthorn originated in northeastern England and arrived in the U.S. in 1783.

Fun Fact Milking Shorthorns were helpful in providing early settlers with not only milk, but meat and strength to pull wagons.

Red and White Holsteins

Red and White Holsteins are known for their red and white spots. They are primarily Holstein cows, but may contain genetics from other breeds that have red coloring, such as Ayrshire or Milking Shorthorns.

Characteristics Red and White Holsteins are also a larger dairy cow breed and weigh just shy of Holsteins at around 1,400 pounds. Like Holsteins, they are also known for high milk production.

History The Red and White Holstein originated in the U.S. and Canada, as farmers began selectively breeding for the recessive red color trait in Holsteins.

Fun Fact Red and White Holsteins are the youngest cows — they became an established breed in 1964.