Canadian Dairy Breeds

Mon, 2014-02-24 (All day)

While there are over 800 recognised breeds of cattle worldwide, if you visit your local dairy farm, it is likely you will see one of only a small handful of these breeds in Canada’s dairy sector. Here at Cowpower we wanted to tell you a little more about the breeds, where they came from and why they are so popular in Canada’s dairy sector.

Holstein is the most common Canadian breed and makes up 90% of all dairy cows in Canada. White and black are the most common colours for Holsteins, although some have a red and white coat. Holsteins’ popularity is primarily due to the breed’s ability to convert feed into milk, with this breed having the highest average milk production of any dairy cow; 30 litres per day.

The second most common breed of dairy cow in Canada is Ayrshire. This breed originated from the County of Ayr, Scotland, and has a red and white coat. In comparison with Holstein, Ayrshire’s produce slightly less milk, with average milk production of 25 litres per day. Known as an efficient milk producer with superior shape and quality of udder, and able to adapt to most management systems, this breed of cow is one of the most versatile breeds around.

A third breed of dairy cow in Canada is the Guernsey. While the average milk production of Guernsey cows is two litres less than Ayrshire cows, this tan and white breed is still popular among farmers because of the milk’s high fat content. Guernsey cows are also known to be very adaptable animals that do well in small spaces. First developed on the Island of Guernsey in the English Channel from cows brought to the island by French monks in 980 A.D., sadly the decreased popularity of Guernsey cows means that this breed has been declared as endangered by Rare Breeds Canada.

A fourth breed of dairy cow is the Jersey. Popular for the high fat content of its milk, Jersey cows produce about the same amount of milk as Guernsey cows - 22 litres a day. Known as one of the smallest dairy breeds, Jersey cows were imported to Canada in 1968 from their original home on the Island of Jersey in the English Channel. Jersey cows have a light fawn to black colour coat, which sometimes has white patches.

Arriving in Canada from Northeast England one and half century earlier than the Jersey cow was the Milking Shorthorn. Milking Shorthorns are a multi-purpose animal, that are red, red with white markings, white, or roan. This breed of cow is used to supply milk and meat, as well as for draught work. Milking Shorthorns are a medium-sized breed recognized as hardy and good-natured.

With similar milk production and high fat content as an Ayrshire, Brown Swiss cows are known for being a large, robust and gentle breed with a grey and beige coat. Native to Swiss pastures – 3,500 metres above sea level, this breed is naturally strong and rugged. The development of Brown Swiss cows is supported by the Swiss government through allocation of prizes and subsidies for the best females and bulls in the country.

The final breed of dairy cow on our list is the Canadienne. This important heritage breed, which is the only dairy cow breed in Canada, was brought to Canada by French settlers in the 16th centuary. The most common breed of domestic cattle in Canada until the late 19th century, Canadienne's were breed to survive on the low quality feed that was often available during the harsh Canadian winters. Black, brown, tawny or russet in colour, the Canadienne is now comparatively rare except in certain portions of Quebec.

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