(often shortened to Holsteins in North America, while the term Friesians is often used in the UK and Ireland) are a breed of dairy cattle originating from the Dutch provinces of North Holland and Friesland, and Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany. They are known as the world's highest-production dairy animals.
The Dutch and German breeders bred and oversaw the development of the breed with the goal of obtaining animals that could best use grass, the area's most abundant resource. Over the centuries, the result was a high-producing, black-and-white dairy cow.
The Holstein-Friesian is the most widespread cattle breed in the world; it is present in more than 150 countries.
With the growth of the New World, markets began to develop for milk in North America and South America, and dairy breeders turned to the Netherlands for their livestock. After about 8,800 Friesians (black pied Germans) had been imported, disease problems in Europe led to the cessation of exports to markets abroad.
In Europe, the breed is used for milk in the north, and meat in the south. Since 1945, European national development has led to cattle breeding and dairy products becoming increasingly regionalized. More than 80% of dairy production is north of a line joining Bordeaux and Venice, which also has more than 60% of the total cattle. This change led to the need for specialized animals for dairy (and beef) production. Until this time, milk and beef had been produced from dual-purpose animals. The breeds, national derivatives of the Dutch Friesian, had become very different animals from those developed by breeders in the United States, who used Holsteins only for dairy production.
Holsteins have distinctive markings, usually black and white or red and white in colour, typically exhibiting piebald patterns.
On rare occasions, some have both black and red colouring with white. Red factor causes this unique colouring. 'Blue' is also a known colour. This colour is produced by white hairs mixed with the black hairs giving the cow a bluish tint. This colouring is also known as 'blue roan' in some farm circles. They are famed for their high dairy production, averaging 22,530 pounds (10,220 kg) of milk per year. Of this milk, 858 pounds (3.7%) are butterfat and 719 pounds (3.1%) are protein.
A healthy calf weighs 40 to 50 kg (75–110 lb) or more at birth. A mature Holstein cow typically weighs 680–770 kg (1500–1700 lb), and stands 145–165 cm (58–65 in) tall at the shoulder. Holstein heifers should be bred by 11 to 14 months of age, when they weigh 317–340 kg (700–750 lb) or 55% of adult weight. Generally, breeders plan for Holstein heifers to calve for the first time between 21 and 24 months of age and 80% of adult bodyweight. The gestation period is about nine and a half months.