There are many factors to consider when choosing the right dairy breed for your homestead or small farm.
A good place to start is to make a list of what will best serve your particular needs. For instance, if you have your heart set on lots of butter, you’ll want to select a breed that is known for producing milk with a high butterfat content, such as a Brown Swiss or Jersey.
Size is another consideration, as is ease of calving. A 1,300-pound Brown Swiss will consume more feed and hay than a 600-700 pound Dexter.
While ease of calving is a breed trait, there are lines within breeds that are better than others. Be sure to ask questions when looking at specific herds you’re considering.
Here are my five favorite breeds for the homestead:
This breed has been developed with the homesteader in mind, averaging 600-700 pounds at maturity. The meat is lean, which is a consideration, as you’ll most likely have some bull calves.
Dexters are easy calving with great maternal instinct. In fact, Dexter cows will many times take orphan calves.
They do not produce as much milk as most of the other traditional dairy breeds, coming in at an average of two gallons per day, with butter fat around four percent. It’s an all-around great cow for the small farm or homestead unless you have a use for large quantities of milk.
2. The American Milking Devon
The Livestock Conservancy currently lists the American Milking Devon as “critical,” with only about 1,500 registered at any one time. Most herds are located in the northeast, with Vermont having most of them.
They average 1,500 pound and are truly a homestead cow. In fact, the breed has been almost exclusively raised on small farms and homesteads since its inception.
They possess great maternal instincts, are adaptable to most any climate, and are sought out for their milk, butter and cheese production.
The American Milking Devon is prized for its ability to thrive on rough forage and still produce a respectable amount of milk.
Under normal conditions, expect four to six gallons of milk per day with butterfat content averaging four percent.
This dairy breed is well worth the time and investment involved to locate and purchase. Pure-bred offspring will be in high demand to other like-minded homesteaders.
Next up is the Jersey cow, coming in at around 900 pounds and best known for its gentle disposition and high butterfat content. Jerseys average four to six gallons of rich creamy milk per day.
Easy keeping and good maternal instincts make these cows a strong contender for the homestead.
Something to consider is that while some people do love Jersey beef, the Jersey is not a great beef producer.
4. Brown Swiss
The Brown Swiss is known for producing large quantities of milk (up to nine gallons per day) with a butterfat content of four percent. The protein content, along with the high output, is great if you plan to make cheese. They also typically stay in lactation as long as any dairy breed you’ll find.
5. Milking Shorthorn
The Milking Shorthorn could be considered a dual-purpose breed. They average 1,400 pounds at maturity. Calves are considered easy fleshing for a dairy breed and produce fine beef.
The Milking Shorthorn has been experiencing a comeback as a mainline dairy breed for the past 20 years, with improvements in body type and milk production, averaging six gallons of milk per day with butterfat pushing four percent.
In closing, the best advice when purchasing a dairy cow for your homestead operation is research, research, research. Then start locating and pricing them to fit your particular situation.
What is your favorite homestead dairy breed? Share your tips in the section below: