How to identify common breeds of dairy cattle

Over 2500 breeds of cattle are recognised throughout the world. Some breeds are used for dairy production, while others are used for beef production.

Each breed of cattle has its own strengths and weakness, making it better suited for certain climates, living conditions and production goals. Breeds can vary in coloration, size, the presence or absence of horns, overall hardiness and production uses.

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With so many things to consider, we’ll focus on identifying the most common dairy breeds.



Colour: white and reddish brown mahogany that varies in shade from very light to very dark.

Markings: The markings vary from all red to all white. The spots are generally small and jagged at the edges, scattered over the entire body of the cow.

Size: medium sized, weighs over 1,200 pounds at maturity.

Horns: over a foot in length at maturity. However, are frequently dehorned as calves.

Brown Swiss


Colour: Grey, dark brown, tan and sometimes almost white in colour.

Markings: solid coloured, with a black muzzle and hooves.

Size: Medium sized, cows weigh about 1300 to 1400 pounds

Horns: Dehorned

Living conditions : Brown Swiss cattle can thrive in both hot and cold climates and a variety of terrain and management systems.

Health and temperature: Brown Swiss cattle are prized for their longevity, dairy strength and outstanding feet and legs. They are also known for their docile, friendly disposition.

Brown Swiss yield large volumes of milk with large percentage of fat and protein components for cheese – making.



Colour: fawn and white.

Markings: the markings vary from mostly fawn with small patches of white to fawn with large white patches.

Size: Smaller, weighs over 1000 pounds at maturity.

Horns: is Dehorned

Living conditions: excellent grazers, made for pasture based milk production. Require less feed per pound of milk produced than larger breeds. Adaptable to warmer climates.

Guernsey are known for producing high butterfat, high protein milk with a high concentration of beta carotene. The milk is known for its golden colour due to the high levels of betacarotine.



Colour: Black and white or red and white.

Markings: easily recognised, with distinctive colour patterns of black and white or red and white.

Size: Large breed, Holstein cows weighs about 1500 pounds and stand 58 inches tall at the shoulder when they reach maturity.

Horns: Dehorned

Living conditions: adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions.



Colour: may vary from light gray or turn to be a very dark fawn or a very dark, almost black shade.

Markings: Generally, have unbroken colour patterns, but are commonly darker around their hips, head and shoulders.

Size: Jersey cows have an extreme weight range, varying between 800 and 1,200 pounds.

Horns: Dehorned

Living conditions: adaptable to a wide range of climatic and geographical conditions. More tolerant to heat than larger breeds. Excellent grazers.

Milking shorthorns


Colour: red, red and white, white or roam – a close mixture of red and white, and found in no other breed or cattle.

Markings: one colour covering a majority of the body with a secondary colour speckling it’s hide.

Size: larger breed, weighing 1400 to 1500 pounds and averaging 55 inches tall.

Horns: Dehorned

Living conditions: Milking shorthorns are very Hardy and adaptable to a wide range of environmental stressors. They are also efficient grazers.

The milking shorthorn breed is one of the most improved over the past 15 years with more increases expected. It has developed more into a Dairy breed and improved udder quality.