meta Jersey vs. Holstein – The Debate Continues :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

Jersey vs. Holstein – The Debate Continues

One of the things that makes the dairy community great is the passion producers have for what they do.  One area that we have found that brings out the most passion is debating which breed is the best.  While there are many ways to look at it, the most logical way is to look at which breed is the most profitable.

Since we first joined this discussion back in May of 2012, (Read more: Holstein vs. Jersey: Which breed is more profitable) there have been many interesting points raised on both sides of this question.  So we here at the Bullvine decided to take a deeper look at this issue and see if we could get more insight into this much debated topic.

Now first let`s be clear.  This is a very lopsided debate because Holsteins are the primary breed on 92% of the farms in North America, and Jersey is only the primary breed on about 3.5%.  But man you have to love the passionately vocal nature of most Jersey breeders.

Feed Conversion

With feed accounting for between 52 and 58 percent of the total cost of production, any significant advantage for either breed is its ability to convert feed into milk solids, especially with the increased costs of feed these days.  While the superior overall production ability of a Holstein vs. a Jersey (Holstein 24,291 lbs of milk 888lbs Fat 3.66 % Fat 765 lbs Protein 3.15 % Protein vs. Jersey  16,997 lbs milk 776 lbs Fat 4.57% Fat 633 lbs Protein 3.73% Protein)  has  long been documented the true numbers lie in how well each breed converts their feed intake into milk and milk solids In a Dairy Science paper they looked at feed intake studies for 4 breed groups: Holstein, Holstein x Jersey, Jersey x Holstein and Jersey, where all cows were fed the same ration, were housed in the same type of pens and were milked together.  The results found that Holstein had the highest intake and the highest production yield.  However, Jersey converted a higher percentage of their intake to production than Holstein did.












669 (6.8%)

599 (6.4%)

496 (5.2%)

334 (4.2%)


2,666 (27.25)

2,468 (26.5%)

2,425 (25.6%)

2,085 (26.2)


27 (0.3%)

32 (0.3%)

33 (0.3%)

21 (0.3%)


5,968 (60.8%)

6,057 (65.1%)

6,162 (65.0%)

5,259 (66.0%)

The bottom line result of this research was that Jerseys were 6% better at converting intake into production.  That may not seem that significant until you factor in that feed costs are 52-58% of total costs.  That difference represents a 3.3% increase in profitability.  One thing is for sure, feed efficiency is certainly one area that we need to have more supporting research in order to develop genetic indices.

Milk Price

One of the key factors determining which breed is better depends on where you market your milk.  Certain pricing models favor fluid milk production while others favor component production.  Fluid markets certainly favor Holstein while component markets favor Jerseys.  Pennsylvania researchers used a farm level income and policy simulator (FLIPSIM) model to predict farm performance under fluid pricing or component pricing in Pennsylvania.  Under fluid pricing, a high producing (13,961 pounds) 60-cow Jersey herd could expect a net cash income of $32,300 versus $63,100 for a high producing (20,600 pounds) Holstein herd.  Under component pricing, the same Jersey herd would increase in net cash income to $55,400 versus $61,100 for the Holstein herd.  Under component pricing, a Jersey herd could expect an increase of about $23,000, while the Holstein herd would decline slightly.  Combine that with the increased feed efficiency of the Jersey’s mentioned above and, depending on the pricing model in your area, Jerseys would become a more profitable option.  Especially when you factor in the less volatile milk solids market as compared to fluid milk pricing.


For years Jerseys have enjoyed the reputation of being far superior to Holstein.  However, increased attention to this area by many producers may have changed or at least narrowed the gap.  This is certainly an area that many breeders are paying attention to, specifically the scores for Conception Rate (CR), Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR) and Calving Interval (CI).  The Days to First Breeding (DFB) declined for Holsteins from 92 d in 1996 to 85 d in 2007.  A similar trend was not observed for Jerseys, possibly because synchronized breeding is more common in Holstein herds than in Jersey herds.  As far as conception rates are concerned, Jerseys still have a slight edge over Holsteins.  But that trend is also changing.  As Holsteins have gone from 2.5 NB (Number of Breedings per lactation) in 1996 to 2.6 in 2007, while Jersey’s have gone from 2.2 in 1996 to 2.4 in 2007.

Now one area that I often hear comments from producers about is the value of the resulting calves.  Specifically that drop bull calves that will be sold for beef.  One of the great strategies I have seen employed by many Jersey and even top Holstein herds is to breed the bottom 10% of their herd to a beef sire.  As they know they will not be needing the resulting females or males from these animals the value of using a beef sire, typically more than compensates for the Holstein versus Jersey drop calf price.  Another management or reproduction tool that many producers are using is sexed semen which allows them to greatly decrease the number of female calves needed for replacements.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Holstein and Jersey cows both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Holsteins are larger and have higher salvage value than Jerseys.  Jerseys tend to be more efficient and typically have fewer reproductive challenges. Each have an advantage under milk pricing that favors their particular productive strengths.  The first area you need to look at for what breed is better for you, is the milk pricing model in your area.  If it is a fluid market, then typically Holstein would be more advantageous. If the price model favors component pricing, then you would typically be better off milking Jerseys.  After looking at the price model, you certainly need to adjust your management to maximize the reproduction and feed efficiency for the breed you have chosen.  Even your housing set up could be better suited for one breed over the other.  While I am sure the Jersey versus Holstein debate will go on for years to come, there are certain new trends that may be contrary to previous beliefs and new feed efficiency information that are opening many producers’ eyes.


Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



  1. What about vet bills? Milk fever when calving aside, I think Jerseys tend to be hardier and easier to treat if sick/metabolic issues. I always thought it had to do with less maintenance required (smaller frames).

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend