One of the most widely-recognized breeds of cow is the Holstein. These cows were made popular by the advertising scheme of Chick-Fil-A, despite the fact that they are mainly a dairy breed, rather than a beef breed.
Holsteins are used in the commercial dairy industry because they are the highest milk producing cow breed. With specially prepared feed rations and two or three times a day milking, Holsteins in commercial dairies can give up to 12 gallons of milk per day. Nine out of every ten dairy cows in the United States are Holsteins.
Holsteins are large cows. They have tall, bony frames that are around 58 inches in height, and they usually weigh around 1500 pounds. They are usually white with large black splotches all over their bodies, but there are some Holsteins that are red and white spotted.
Finding Holsteins at cattle sales is a fairly easy thing, especially if you have a commercial dairy in the area. The cows are valued more for their milk producing capabilities rather than their offspring, so the calves are usually separated from their mothers shortly after birth. Sometimes the dairy will raise these calves on bottles, but often they are sold at auction. The males of the breed are almost always sold, unless the dairy has a sideline going for their Holstein bloodlines. Buying a Holstein bull calf that you castrate and raise on a bottle is a pretty inexpensive way of raising yourself some freezer beef.
A female Holstein may be a good idea for a small farm for a few reasons. First, if you happen to live in a state in which raw milk sales are legal, you might be able to make a bit of spare cash selling milk to people who value the taste and nutrition of unprocessed milk. A Holstein cow will give you the most amount of milk for the feed that you give her.
Second, a Holstein cow might make a great nurse cow on your farm. Holsteins are very calm and quiet, and you can teach the cow to allow other calves to nurse from her udder. She might be able to raise four or five extra calves each year along with her own. Additionally, if you want milk for your family, you can simply separate the cow from the calves for a few hours or overnight, and milk her after she\'s built up a supply of milk in her bag. You can sell the calves after they are weaning age and make a profit. Raising bottle babies this way is much easier (and less expensive) on small-time farmers, and the real milk is better for the calves than milk replacer.
You may be able to buy a Holstein cow for very little money that would work just fine for your needs on your small farm. Commercial dairies can\'t afford to keep cows that are not the highest producers, but for your small-farm needs, a cow that produces \"only\" three or four gallons per day may be perfect.
One thing to consider when buying a female Holstein calf at a sale barn is the possibility that she is a \"free martin.\" Free martin cattle are female cattle that were one of a set of twins in which the other twin was a male. A great percentage of the time that a female calf shares a uterus with a male calf, she will be infertile. The hormones secreted by her twin brother in utero damage her reproductive tract. She will develop in a more masculine way than a normal female calf. If you suspect your Holstein cow of being a free martin, you can get a blood test to make sure before you spend a year raising her to reproductive age. Talk to your vet to learn which tests are most reliable.
While having an entire herd of Holstein cows is probably not what many small-time hobby farmers have in mind, buying one or two brood cows to raise calves might be a great way of raising a cash calf crop each year. Raising Holstein steers may not make as much money as a pure beef breed each year, but it also requires much lower investment costs.