Spotting dairy cow breeds

WATERTOWN DAILY TIMESA Jersey dairy cow checks out the photographer while relaxing in the pasture.

Sometimes I see brown cows when I’m driving by a farm. Are they dairy or beef cows?

There are actually six major dairy cattle breeds, two of which are brown. Since this is dairy month, let’s focus on those breeds.

With only a color to go by, I cannot determine the breed of cow. A light brown dairy cow could be a Jersey, which has a slight build and is known for giving milk with high butterfat content. A silvery to light brown cow could be a Brown Swiss; these cows originally hailed from the Swiss Alps.

A common dairy breed is the Holstein, a quintessential black and white cow. A Guernsey cow is a golden tan and white and its milk also has a golden yellow hue to it.

Ayrshire cattle are large and could be mistaken for a Red and White Holstein from the road due to similar color. The Ayrshire breed is more of a rusty red color (lots of dairy red heads!).

Lastly is the Milking Shorthorn, a dual-purpose breed, which means it can be found in beef or dairy roles. Its color is roan and white and it is larger in size.

Regardless of breed, one thing to remember is that all cows, even beef cows who have had a calf, make white milk.

Answered by Jake Ledoux, dairy and livestock educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Contact him at 315-788-8450 or

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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