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Holstein Friesians (often shortened as holsteins) are a breed of cattle known today as the world's highest-production dairy animals. Originating in Europe, Friesians were bred in what is now the Netherlands and more specifically in the two northern provinces of North Holland and Friesland, and northern Germany, more specifically what is now Schleswig-Holstein. The animals were the regional cattle of the Frisians and the Saxons. The Dutch breeders bred and oversaw the development of the breed with the goal of obtaining animals that could best use grass, the area's most abundant resource. Over the centuries, the result was a high-producing, black-and-white dairy cow. It is black and white due to artificial selection by the breeders.
With the growth of the New World markets began to develop for milk in North America, and dairy breeders turned to the Netherlands for their livestock. After about 8,800 Friesians (black pied Germans) had been imported, disease problems in Europe led to the cessation of imports to the United States.
In Europe, the breed is used for milk in the north, and meat in the south. Since 1945, European national development has led to cattle breeding and dairy products becoming increasingly regionalized. More than 80% of dairy production is to be found to the north of a line joining Bordeaux and Venice, where more than 60% of the total cattle numbers are found. This change led to the need for specialized animals for dairy (and beef) production. Until this time, milk and beef had been produced from dual-purpose animals. The breeds, national derivatives of the Dutch Friesian, had become very different animals from those developed by breeders in the United States, who used Holsteins only for dairy production.
Breeders imported specialized dairy Holsteins from the United States to cross with the European black and whites. For this reason, in modern usage, "Holstein" is used to describe North American stock and its use in Europe, particularly in the North. "Friesian" denotes animals of a traditional European ancestry, bred for both dairy and beef use. Crosses between the two are described by the term "Holstein-Friesian".
Holsteins have distinctive markings and outstanding milk production. They are large, black-and-white marked animals that vary from mostly black to mostly white, or they can also be red and white.
A healthy calf weighs 40 to 45 kg or more at birth. A mature Holstein cow typically weighs 580 kg (1280 pounds), and stands 147 cm (58 inches) tall at the shoulder. Holstein heifers should be bred by 13 to 15 months of age, when they weigh over 360 kg (794 pounds). Generally, breeders plan for Holstein heifers to calve for the first time between 23 and 26 months of age. The gestation period is about nine and a half months.
Near 100 BC, a displaced group of people from Hesse migrated with their cattle to the shores of the North Sea near the Frisii tribe, occupying the island of Batavia, between the Rhine, Maas and Waal. Historical records suggest these cattle were black, and the Friesian cattle at this time were "pure white and light coloured". Crossbreeding may have led to the foundation of the present Holstein-Friesian breed, as the cattle of these two tribes from then are described identically in historical records.
The portion of the country bordering on the North Sea, called Frisia, was situated within the provinces of North Holland, Friesland and Groningen, and in Germany to the River Ems. The people were known for their care and breeding of cattle. The Frisii, preferring pastoral pursuits to warfare, paid a tax of ox hides and ox horns to the Roman government, whereas the Batavii furnished soldiers and officers to the Roman army; these fought successfully in the various Roman wars. The Frisii bred the same strain of cattle unadulterated for 2000 years, except from accidental circumstances. In 1282, floods produced the Zuiderzee, separating the cattle breeders of the modern day Frisians into two groups. The western group occupied West Friesland, now part of North Holland; the eastern occupied the present provinces of Friesland and Groningen, also in the Netherlands.
The rich polder land in the Netherlands is unsurpassed for the production of grass, cattle, and dairy products. Between the 13th and 16th centuries, the production of butter and cheese was enormous. Historic records describe heavy beef cattle, weighing from 2600 to 3000 pounds each.
The breeders had the goal of producing as much milk and beef as possible from the same animal. The selection, breeding and feeding have been carried out with huge success. Inbreeding was not tolerated, and (distinct) families never arose, although differences in soil in different localities produced different sizes and variations.
From the 20 to 18th centuries, the British Isles imported Dutch cattle, using them as the basis of several breeds in England and Scotland. The eminent Prof. Low recorded, "the Dutch breed was especially established in the district of Holderness, on the north side of the Humber; northward through the plains of Yorkshire. The finest dairy cattle in England...", of Holderness in 1840 still retained the distinct traces of their Dutch origin.
Further north in the Tees area, farmers imported continental cattle from the Netherlands, Holstein or other countries on the Elbe. Low wrote, "Of the precise extent of these early importations we are imperfectly informed, but that they exercised a great influence on the native stock appears from this circumstance, that the breed formed by the mixture became familiarly known as the Dutch or Holstein breed".
Holstein-Friesians were found throughout the rich lowlands of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the western provinces of Germany. The breed did not become established in Great Britain at the time, nor was it used in the islands of Jersey or of Guernsey, which bred their own special cattle named after the islands. Their laws prohibited using imports from the continent for breeding purposes. After World War II, breeders on the islands needed to restore their breeds, which had been severely reduced during the war, and imported almost 200 animals. Canadian breeders sent a gift of three yearling bulls to help establish the breed.
The pure Holstein Breed Society was started in 1946 in Great Britain, following the British Friesian Cattle Society. The breed was developed slowly up to the 1970s, after which there was an explosion in its popularity, and additional animals were imported. More recently, the two societies merged in 1999 to establish Holstein UK.
Records on 1 April 2005 from Nomenclature for Units of Territorial Statistics level 1 show Holstein influence appearing in 61% of all 3.47 million dairy cattle in the UK:
Criteria for inclusion in the Supplementary Register (i.e. not purebred) of the Holstein UK herd book are:
CLASS A is for a typical representative of the Holstein or Friesian breed, as to type, size and constitution, with no obvious signs of crossbreeding, or be proved from its breeding records to contain between 50% and 74.9% Holstein genes or Friesian genes. If the breeding records show that one parent is of a breed other than Holstein-Friesian, Holstein, or Friesian, then such parent must be a purebred animal fully registered in a herd book of a dairy breed society recognised by the Society.
CLASS B is for a calf by a bull registered or dual registered in the Herd Book or in the Supplementary Register and out of a foundation cow or heifer registered in Class A or B of the Supplementary Register and containing between 75% and 87.4% Holstein genes or Friesian genes.
For inclusion in the Pure (Holstein or Friesian) herd book, a heifer or bull calf from a cow or heifer in Class B of the Supplementary Register and by a bull registered or dual registered in the Herd Book or the Supplementary Register, and containing 87.5% or more Holstein genes or Friesian genes will be eligible to have its entry registered in the Herd Book.
The breed currently averages 7655 litres/year throughout 3.2 lactations, with pedigree animals averaging 8125 litres/year over an average of 3.43 lactations. By adding, lifetime production therefore stands at around 26,000 litres.
American breeders began to become interested in Holstein-Friesian cattle around the 1830s. Black and white cattle were introduced into the US from 1621 to 1664. The eastern part of New York was the Dutch colony of New Netherlands, where many Dutch farmers settled along the Hudson and Mohawk River valleys. They probably brought cattle with them from their native land and crossed them with cattle purchased in the colony. For many years afterwards, the cattle here were called Dutch cattle and were renowned for their milking qualities.
The first recorded imports were more than 100 years later, consisting of six cows and two bulls. These were sent in 1795 by the Holland Land Company, which then owned large tracts in New York, to their agent, Mr. John Lincklaen of Cazenovia. A settler described them thus, "the cows were of the size of oxen, their colors clear black and white in large patches; very handsome".
In 1810, a bull and two cows were imported by the Hon. William Jarvis for his farm at Wethersfield, Vermont. About the year 1825, another importation was made by Herman Le Roy, a part of which was sent into the Genesee River valley. The rest were kept near New York City. Still later, an importation was made into Delaware. No records were kept of the descendants of these cattle. Their blood was mingled and lost in that of the native cattle.
The first permanent introduction of this breed was due to the perseverance of Hon. Winthrop W. Chenery, of Belmont, Massachusetts. The animals of his first two importations, and their offspring, were destroyed by the government in Massachusetts because of a contagious disease. He made a third importation in 1861. This was followed in 1867 by an importation for the Hon. Gerrit S. Miller, of Peterboro, New York, made by his brother, Dudley Miller, who had been attending the noted agricultural school at Eldena (Königlich Preußische Staats- und landwirthschaftliche Akademie zu Greifswald und Eldena; the latter today a locality of the former), Prussia, where this breed was highly regarded. These two importations, by Hon. William A. Russell, of Lawrence, Mass., and three animals from East Friesland, imported by Gen. William S. Tilton of the National Military Asylum, Togus, Maine, formed the nucleus of the Holstein Herd Book.
After about 8,800 Holsteins had been imported, a cattle disease broke out in Europe and importation ceased.
In the late 19th century, there was enough interest among Friesian breeders to form associations to record pedigrees and maintain herd books. These associations merged in 1885, to found the Holstein-Friesian Association of America. In 1994, the name was changed to Holstein Association USA, Inc.
Perhaps the most famous Holstein was Pauline Wayne, which served from 1910 to 1913 as the official presidential pet to the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft. Pauline Wayne lived and grazed on the White House lawn and provided milk for the first family. Pauline Wayne was the last presidential pet cow.
The 2008 average actual production for all USA Holstein herds that were enrolled in production-testing programs and eligible for genetic evaluations was 23,022 pounds (10,443 kg) of milk, 840 pounds (380 kg) of butterfat and 709 pounds (322 kg) of protein per year. Total lifetime productivity can be inferred from the average lifetime of US cows. This has been decreasing regularly in recent years and now stands at around 2.75 lactations, which when multiplied by average lactation yield above gives around 61,729 pounds (28,000 kg) of milk.
The current national Holstein milk production leader is Ever-Green-View My 1326-ET EX-92, which produced 72,170 pounds (32,740 kg) of milk in 365 days, completing her record in February 2010.
The considerable advantage, compared to the UK, for example, can be explained by several factors:
The golden age of Friesian breeding occurred during the last 50 years, greatly helped lately by embryo transfer techniques, which permitted a huge multiplication of bulls entering progeny testing of elite, bull-mother cows.
Osborndale Ivanhoe, b. 1952, brought stature, angularity, good udder conformation, and feet and leg conformation, but his daughters lacked depth and strength. His descendants included:
Starbuck II, clone of the famous CIAQ sire Hanoverhill Starbuck, was born on 7 September 2000 in Saint-Hyacinthe. The clone is a result of the combined efforts of CIAQ, L'Alliance Boviteq Inc and the Faculté de médecine vétérinaire de l'Université de Montréal. The cloned calf was born 21 years and 5 months after Starbuck's own birth date. The calf weighed 54.2 kg at birth and showed the same vital signs as calves produced from regular AI or ET. Starbuck II is derived from frozen fibroblast cells, recovered one month before the death of Starbuck.
The Semex Alliance also cloned other bulls, such as Hartline Titanic, Canyon-Breeze Allen, Ladino-Park Talent and Braedale Goldwyn.
A huge controversy in the UK in January 2007 linked the cloning company Smiddiehill and Humphreston Farm owned by father and son team Michael and Oliver Eaton (also owners of the large, Birmingham-based stone product business, BS Eaton) with a calf that was cloned from a cow in Canada. Despite their efforts to block the farm from view of the press, news cameras broadcast this as breaking news among many of the country's top news stations.
Since then, this calf had been rumored to have been put down to protect the owners, the Eatons, from invasions of the press.
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While interest in increasing production through indexing and lifetime profit scores saw a huge increase in Holstein bloodlines in the UK, proponents of the traditional British Friesian did not see things that way, and maintain these criteria do not reflect the true profitability or the production of the Friesian cow.
Friesian breeders say modern conditions in the UK, similar to the 50's through to the 80's, with low milk price and the need for extensive, low-cost systems for many farmers, may ultimately cause producers to re-examine the attributes of the British Friesian.
This animal came to dominate the UK dairy cow population during these years, with exports of stock and semen to many countries throughout the world. Although the idea of "dual-purpose" animals has arguably become outmoded, the fact remains that the Friesian is eminently suitable for many farms, particularly where grazing is a main feature of the system.
Proponents argue that Friesians last for more lactations through more robust conformation, thus spreading depreciation costs. There is the added advantage of income from the male calf, which can be placed into barley beef systems (finishing from 11 months) or steers taken on to finish at two years, on a cheap system of grass and silage. Very respectable grades can be obtained, commensurate with beef breeds, thereby providing extra income for the farm.
Such extensive, low-cost systems may imply lower veterinary costs, through good fertility, resistance to lameness, and a tendency to higher protein percentage and, therefore, higher milk price. An 800-kg Holstein has a higher daily maintenance energy requirement than the 650-kg Friesian.
Friesians have also been disadvantaged through the comparison of their type to a Holstein base. A separate "index" be composed to greater has been suggested to reflect the aspects of maintenance for body weight, protein percentage, longevity and calf value. National Milk Records figures suggest highest yields are achieved between the fifth and seventh lactations; if so, this is particularly so for Friesians, with a greater lift for mature cows, and sustained over more lactations. However, production index only takes the first five lactations into account. British Friesian breeding has certainly not stood still, and through studied evaluation, substantial gains in yield have been achieved without the loss of type.
Friesians were imported into the east coast ports of England and Scotland, from the lush pastures of North Holland, during the 19th century until live cattle importations were stopped in 1892, as a precaution against endemic foot and mouth disease on the Continent. They were so few in number, they were not included in the 1908 census.
In 1909, though, the society was formed as the British Holstein Cattle Society, soon to be changed to British Holstein Friesian Society and, by 1918, to the British Friesian Cattle Society.
The Livestock Journal of 1900 referred to both the "exceptionally good" and "remarkably inferior" Dutch cattle. The Dutch cow was also considered to require more quality fodder and need more looking after than some English cattle that could easily be out-wintered.
In an era of agricultural depression, Breed Societies notably had flourished, as a valuable export trade developed for traditional British breeds of cattle. At the end of 1912, the herd book noted 1,000 males and 6,000 females, the stock which originally formed the foundation of the breed in England and Scotland. Entry from then until 1921, when grading up was introduced, was by pedigree only.
No other Friesian cattle were imported until the official importation of 1914, which included several near descendants of the renowned dairy bull Ceres 4497 F.R.S. These cattle were successful in establishing the Friesian as an eminent, long-lived dairy breed in Britain. This role was continued in the 1922 importation from South Africa through Terling Marthus and Terling Collona, which were also near descendants of Ceres 4497.
The 1936 importation from the Netherlands introduced a more dual-purpose type of animal, the Dutch having moved away from the Ceres line in the meantime.
The 1950 importation has a lesser influence on the breed today than the previous importations, although various Adema sons were used successfully in some herds.
The Friesian enjoyed great expansion in the 1950s, through to the 80s, until the increased Holstein influence on the national herd in the 1990s; a trend which is being questioned by some commercial dairy farmers in the harsh dairying climate that prevails today, with the need to exploit grazing potential to the fullest.
Friesian semen is once again being exported to countries with grass-based systems of milk production. The modern Friesian is pre-eminently a grazing animal, well able to sustain itself over many lactations, on both low-lying and upland grasslands, being developed by selective breeding over the last 100 years. Some outstanding examples of the breed have 12 to 15 lactations to their credit, emphasising their inherent natural fecundity. In response to demand, protein percentages have been raised across the breed, and herd protein levels of 3.4% to 3.5% are not uncommon.
Whilst the British Friesian is first and foremost a dairy breed, giving high lifetime yields of quality milk from home-produced feeds, by a happy coincidence, surplus male animals are highly regarded as producers of high quality, lean meat, whether crossed with a beef breed or not. Beef-cross heifers have long been sought after as ideal suckler cow replacements.
Although understanding the need to change the Society's name to include the word Holstein in 1988, British Friesian enthusiasts are less than happy now that the word Friesian has been removed from the Society's name. With the history of the breed spanning 100 years, the British Friesian cow is continuing to prove her worth. The general robustness and proven fertility provide an ideal black and white cross for Holstein breeders seeking these attributes.
The disposal of male black and white calves continues to receive media attention, and would appear to be a waste of a valuable resource. One of the great strengths of the British Friesian is the ability of the male calf to finish and grade satisfactorily, either in intensive systems, or as steers, extensively. This latter system may become increasingly popular due to the prohibitive increase in grain prices. The robustness of the British Friesian and its suitability to grazing and forage systems is well known.
The expression of red colour replacing the black in Holsteins is a function of a recessive gene. Assuming the allele 'B' stands for the dominant black and 'b' for the recessive red, cattle with the paired genes 'BB', 'Bb', or 'bB' would be black and white, while 'bb' cattle would be red and white.
Earlier 13th-century records show cattle of "broken" colours entered the Netherlands from Central Europe. Most foundation animals in the US were imported between 1869 and 1885. A group of early breeders decreed that animals of any colour other than black and white would not be accepted in the herd book, and that the breed would be known as Holsteins. There were objections, saying that quality and not colour should be the aim, and that the cattle should be called "Dutch", rather than Holsteins.
Only a small number of carriers were identified over the hundred-year span from the early importations until they were accepted into the Canadian and American herd books in 1969 and 1970, respectively. Most of the early accounts of red calves being born to black and white parents were never documented. A few stories of "reds" born to elite parents persist over time, as there is a tendency to credit the ancestor with the highest (closest) relationship to a red-carrier animal as the one that transmitted the trait, whereas sometimes it is the other parental line that has passed it on, even though the ancestor responsible may have entered the pedigree several generations earlier.
In 1952, a sire in an artificial insemination (AI) unit in the US was a carrier of red coat colour. Although the AI unit reported the condition and advised breeders as to its mode of inheritance, almost a third of the breeding unit's Holstein inseminations that year were to that red-carrier bull. That year, American AI units had used 67 red-factor bulls that had sired 8250 registered progeny. In spite of this, any change to the colour marking rules was rejected.
The Red and White Dairy Cattle Association (RWDCA) began registry procedures in 1964 in the United States. Its first members were Milking Shorthorn breeders, who wanted a dairy registry for the cattle they had bred in prior years, including some red and white Holsteins. The name was changed to the Red and White Dairy Cattle Association in 1966. When Milking Shorthorn breeders were looking for potential outcrosses to improve milk production, red and white Holsteins came into the picture, since the red colour factor is the same for both breeds. The RWDCA had adopted an "open herd book" policy, and the Red and White Holstein became the major player.
The red trait was thus able to survive the attempts to eradicate it that came from all sides of the Holstein industry. It was inevitable that even when a red calf was killed or sent to a grade herd, the herd owner rarely did anything to remove the dam from his herd and only hoped she would not have another red calf. Many red calves, born in both countries prior to the 1970s, were quietly disposed of, with a view to preserving the acceptance of their elite pedigrees.
Also, thousands of Holsteins were imported from Canada each year, and many were carriers. More than 14,000 Holsteins were exported to the United States in 1964 and again in 1965. This was at a time when both countries were debating the "red question". While the United States was trying to eliminate the red trait, the Canadian imports simply counterbalanced the US effort to reduce its incidence.
Canada's number one red-carrier sire in the 1940s was A B C Reflection Sovereign. His sons and grandsons in the 1950s and '60s spread the red gene throughout Canada and increased its frequency in the United States. Three of the biggest names siring Red and Whites in the United States were Rosafe Citation R, Roeland Reflection Sovereign, and Chambric A B C. The red trait was readily available in Canadian Holstein genetics.
Early on, there was criticism of the policy of the Canadian AI units to remove bulls found to carry red. A number of superior bulls were slaughtered or exported. The studs were simply supporting the Canadian policy to prevent the intensification of the red recessive in the breed. The phrase "carries the red factor" had to be included in the description, and excessive promotion of unproven red-factor bulls was discouraged. They later added the aim of permitting intelligent breeders to use any red-carrier sire that had an outstanding proof for production and type.
It became obvious that AI was the primary way of finding out which bulls were red carriers. Prior to AI, few red-carrier sires were uncovered because their service was limited to one or a few herds. Such herds often had no carrier females, and there was only a 25% chance that a carrier bull mated to a carrier female would produce a red calf. If a red and white calf were dropped, it was often concealed and quietly removed from the herd.
In 1964, the Netherlands Herd Book Society indicated a breakdown of 71% Black and White Friesian and 28% Red and Whites. A herd book that accepted Red and Whites had already been established in the United States. A separate herd book for Canadian Red and Whites was then established, following which Red and Whites became acceptable to the major Canadian (export) markets. The sales ring began to establish interest in the new breed.
The US Holstein-Friesian Association and its membership worked diligently from its early days until 1970 to eliminate the red trait from the registered population. However, once the door was open, red and whites began to appear in some of the more elite herds. The rush to get the best of Canadian breeding even prior to the opening of the herd book brought red calves to many dairymen who had never even seen one.
Canadian Red and Whites became eligible for registration in the herd book on July 1, 1969, through an alternate registry. Red and Whites were to be listed with the suffix –RED and Black and Whites with ineligible markings would be registered with the suffix –ALT. Both groups and their progeny would be listed only in the Alternate book and the suffixes had to be part of the name. In the Canadian herd books, all –Alt and -Red animals were listed in the regular herd book in registration number order and were identified with an A in front of their numbers. The Alternates were separate in name only. The A in front of the registration number was discontinued in 1976 and the –Alt suffix was dropped in 1980, but –Red was continued. It did not bar the registration of animals whose hair turned from red to black.
The US Holstein Association decided not to have a separate herd book for red and whites and off-color animals. The suffixes of –Red and –OC would be used, and numbering would be consecutive. The first red and white Holsteins were recorded with an R in front of their numbers. Two hundred and twelve males and 1191 females were recorded in the initial group of red registrations. Red and Whites registered in the Canadian herd book numbered 281 in 1969 and 243 in 1970.
An American Breeders Service ad in the Canadian Holstein Journal in 1974 on Hanover-Hill Triple Threat mentioned one of several colour variants that were not true red. Its existence was undoubtedly common knowledge among breeders in both countries, but until that time, it had not been mentioned in print. Calves were born red and white and registered as such, but over the first six months of age turned black or mostly black with some reddish hairs down the backline, around the muzzle and at the poll. The hair coat colour change became known as Black/Red and sometimes as Telstar/Red, since the condition appeared in calves sired by Roybrook Telstar. Telstar was the sire of Triple Threat, but nothing about this had hitherto been in print about Telstar, which was by then over 10 years old.
Black/Reds were often discriminated against when sold and were barred from Red and White-sponsored shows. In 1984, Holstein Canada considered recoding B/R bulls that had always been coded simply as red carriers, a designation that was not acceptable to all buyers. The breed agreed to change after checking with other breed associations and with the AI industry. In 1987, Holstein Canada and the Canadian AI industry modified their coding procedures to distinguish between Black/Red and true red colour patterns for bulls. Holstein Canada dropped the suffix Red as a part of the name in 1990, but continued to carry it as part of the birth date and other codes field.