The Main Breeds in the US Dairy Industry

When wondering where milk comes from, we all know the most important information: chocolate milk comes from brown cows. 

Ok, not exactly.  

It’s a funny comment to make when you open a bottle of chocolate milk, but it’s not wrong. It’s not completely accurate, but it’s not wrong. The milk that is used in a delicious glass of chocolate milk does come from brown cows—and spotted cows, big cows, small cows, and many more—just add the chocolate later.  

The point? There isn’t simply one cow breed producing the milk you drink. In the US, there are 6 popular dairy cow breeds, all producing the wonderful milk that people enjoy.  


Beginning with her voyage from the Netherlands to America in the mid-1800s, the Holstein has become a dairy cow icon in the US dairy industry. The Holstein is the most common dairy breed in the US, known for her black and white spots. This breed is so popular because Holsteins produce more milk than other dairy breeds.  

Another popular Holstein breed has emerged in America with distinguishing red and white marking instead of the common black and white spots, known as the Red and White Holstein.  


Originally from the Isle of Jersey, part of the British Isles, the Jersey is distinct in the gray or brown coloring of the body compared with the darker coloring of the face and hips. Despite being the smallest of the popular dairy breeds, she works hard, producing more milk per pound of body weight than any other dairy breed. Jerseys are ideal for dairy farms in a warmer climate.  


There’s more to this breed than the brownish-red and white markings. The Ayrshire, which originated in Scotland in the county of Ayr before coming to America 200 years ago, is a popular breed throughout the world for its adaptability. 

Brown Swiss  

The Brown Swiss comes from Switzerland and is possibly the oldest modern breed. This Swiss cow is unassuming with her dark, solid coat, but she produces a large volume of milk. The Brown Swiss cow’s milk is a popular choice for cheesemaking, with many of the breed living in or around Wisconsin, perfect as the breed can easily adapt to hot or cold climates.   


The Guernsey was used in the British Isles on the Isle of Guernsey. Her markings are a light brown or golden body with white legs and spots. Guernseys naturally produce milk with a golden tinge, making golden milk before it was cool. 

Milking Shorthorns  

Like several others on this list, the Milking Shorthorn originated in Great Britain and was the first of these listed breeds to come to America. She is one of the larger breeds and is speckled with white and a mix of red, black, or brown. The Shorthorn was originally used for beef production but is growing in popularity for her efficiency regardless of the environment. 

All these dairy cows work together to produce the tasty and nutritious milk you drink every day. 

Related Posts