The Holstein breed originated in Europe. The major historical developement of this breed occured about 2000 years ago in what is now the Netherlands and more specifically in the two northern provices of North Holland and Friesland which lay on either side of the Zuider Zee. The original stock were the black animals and white animals of the Batavians and Friesians, migrant European's who settled in the Rhine Delta region about 2,000 years ago. For many years, Holsteins were bred and strictly culled to obtain animals which would make best use of grass, the area's most abundant resource. The intermingling of these animals evolved into an efficient, high-producing black-and-white dairy cow.
Holsteins are most quickly recognized by their distinctive colour markings and outstanding milk production. Holsteins are large cattle with colour patterns of black and white or red and white.
Holstein gestation is approximately nine months.
While some cows may live considerably longer, the normal productive life of a Holstein is six years.
There is growing interest in the polled factor in dairy cattle. All breeds have some polled (naturally hornless) cattle. A number of Red & White breeders have shown a special interest in developing polled cattle. A large number of polled young sires, both red and red factor are currently in sampling.
Holsteins have the highest milk productions in the world. They have an unequalled genetically anchored achievement ability which has no biological ceiling. Genetic improvements of 1 to 2 percent per year are totally realistic.
They adapt to all management and utilisation systems. They can be stabled, but are equally suitable for grazing. They can be kept on grassland or in mixed farming systems with bi-annual grazing, or be stabled throughout the year. Neither does it matter whether they are kept in high-lying or low-lying area. Not only are Holstein suitable for low-cost farming systems, they are also eminently suitable as dairy industry cows in intensive farming, which requires the stabling of cows.
However, Holsteins, compared to natural breeds, are not as resistant to heat and diseases when in difficult agro-ecological areas. Their reaction to such conditions is a reduced production capacity. Experience has taught that they exhibit divergent adaptation abilities, which should therefore receive attention from a technical point of view when breeding. In the case of cross-breeding with natural breeds the calves show a higher heat tolerance and higher production figures are achieved than in the case of cross-breeding with other cultural breeds.
Holsteins produce vigorous calves distinguished by rapid growth, early maturity and easy care. If they are managed well, they exhibit no fertility problems.
They are good-natured, are easy to handle and can be stabled without any problems. They are also resistant to stress, exhibit a herd mentality and are not solitary animals.
Holsteins are more than just a dairy breed. The animal also contribute to the meat supply worldwide, have a high growth percentage in the fattening sector and produce meat with a fine fibre. In industries aimed exclusively at milk production, they are cross-bred with beef breeds for a better quality veal.
Top producing Holsteins milking twice a day have been known to produce up to 67,914 pounds of milk in 365 days. unexcelled production, greater income over feed costs, unequaled genetic merit, and adaptability to a wide range of environmental conditions Such convincing evidence of genetic superiority has created an active export market for Holstein genetics. Currently, live Holstein females and males and frozen embryos and semen are being exported to more than 50 countries and used extensively to improve foreign food supplies and dairy producer incomes.
Holsteins can now be found on every continent and in almost every country.