Archive for Holstein

Holstein vs. Jersey – What Color of Dairy Breed Is the Real Money Maker?

A recent headline in Hoard’s Dairyman proclaimed “Brown is the Color of Money” and that’s all it took for “The Hunt Family Feud” to take off over phone, email and Facebook.  With roots in Holsteins, dairy nutrition and dairy genetics, the perfect ingredients were present for arguments, controversy and loud proclamations of bull* –all of which are highly esteemed in the Hunt family.

Can you Measure the Difference?

This debate is fueled by a lot of things but every good argument needs actual facts. Inputs of feed, facility, equipment and staff may be impacted by the size differential between Holsteins and Jerseys.  Smaller animals may correspondingly require less inputs.  We have to recognize that “may” is the operative word here because there are different variables depending on each particular dairy operation.

One size variable that can’t be ignored is that dairy herd size is growing.  Faced with this scenario, there may be good reasons for choosing one breed over another or for having a combination of breeds on a single operation. Choice might be influenced by:

  • Specific markets
  • Relative health issues between breeds
  • Calving ease
  • Initial investment and sources for replacements

Many questions have to be answered, before a winner can be named.

Which Breed Fits the Facilities?

For those working in barns that were built twenty or more years ago where stalls are smaller, Jerseys may be a better fit.   As well new dairy operators who are renting such facilities could find that Jerseys would operate better in those smaller stalls.  Bedding packs also are another way to put minimal effort and expense into rented facilities. Jersey’s work well on packs. If there is a drawback, it could be that it may take more stalls to produce the same volume of milk.  However, if the Jerseys are high volume for %F and %P, then the pounds of fat+protein produced per day may be the same whether it’s Holsteins or Jersey.

 Which Breed Eats the Most?

Scientific examples abound regarding “efficiency” because of the Jersey’s smaller size. Let’s briefly consider human size relating to efficiency. “Is the size two female more efficient than her size 18 cousin. What are they producing?  Food for a party?  Or are you measuring food consumed? Not relevant.  Well – what about groceries consumed? Or children produced?  Getting warmer.  But there are still too many variables to make a choice based on efficiency related to size alone. However, back to choosing the most efficient dairy breed to feed. It isn’t only about quantity of feed consumed per cow per day. The calculation should refer to the net dollars per day for the herd. When calculating returns minus feed costs, Jerseys can be competitive. (Read more: Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver)

Which Breed Has Better Genetics and Genomics?

Jerseys are not just for show oriented breeders.  Milk production focused herds are using Jerseys.

Genetically Jerseys differ from Holsteins in that SCSs are higher, and the Median Suspensory Ligament (cleft) may not be as defined. Their reproduction is much superior.  Jersey dropped bull calves are much less in demand. Dollar value is low.  Using sexed semen for the top of the herd and beef semen on the bottom half gives a revenue source because crossbred dropped calves are in demand. (Read more: SEXED SEMEN – At Your Service!) Jerseys have genomic indexes as well. Genomics may have been a little slower to be adopted than in Holsteins but just wait Jerseys will catch up. Or so the argument goes. (Read more: Dairy Cattle Genomics)

Which Breed will Save Time?

Jerseys are the Queens when it comes to reproduction in dairy cattle, boasting easier calving, better conception rates and fewer inseminations. All of these have an impact on less vet time required for checking or treating as well as staff time and effort daily and annually. Easier calving for Jersey’s impacts that there will be fewer calf losses at birth and most likely more calves getting off to a better start. Superior reproduction can allow for less time off in the dry cow pen or less time milking at lower levels during a lifetime. (Read more: Artificial Insemination – Is Doing It Yourself Really Saving You Money?)  Every manager knows that staff and cows need time off. Unnecessary time off on the cow’s part means less than optimum returns over a cow’s lifetime. Jersey heifers reach puberty at a younger age.  This means age at first calving can be earlier, thus saving on rearing costs.

Which breed sells more milk? More live sales?

In the US, Jerseys are about 10% of the population. There has been steady growth in the number of Jersey herds in the U.S., particularly among large dairy owners in the West. The way breeders market and which markets they send their milk to is essential in areas where cheese and butter sales (which are at the highest relative level in twenty years) can greatly influence which breed you choose to work with.  Owners are producing milk that their processors desire.  In fact, the processor is the breeders’ customer not the end consumers.  With eat local food movements the world over being emphasized, Jerseys may fit better than other breeds in some situations. The recent popularity of Jerseys has resulted in the fact that sales of breeding stock have been good as well,

It’s All About the Numbers. Are they In the Red or In the Black?

When you want to win the argument over which breed is the most profitable it all comes down to the actual data, you are analyzing.  The reason the debate goes on is because there isn’t a source for reliable data comparing Jerseys and Holsteins.  And so we come back to the initial article which triggered these questions which reported a comparison that exists through financial reports of Ganske, Mulder & Co. LLC, the largest dairy accounting firm in the U.S., They prepared reports summarizing all of its clients as a group and also does a separate summary for its Jersey clients. “It is perhaps the only such set of Jersey financial data that exists” reports the article that goes on to present statistics and the following summation. “Jerseys did make less milk per day than did all of the firm’s clients. But Jersey herds had much higher protein and fat tests, which resulted in significantly higher milk price per hundredweight. As a result, Jersey herds’ bottom line was much bigger – they made 45.7 percent more net profit per head.

OCONNORS PLANET LUCIAGenetics By Design13823
MAPEL WOOD LAST DANCEGenetics By Design33710
OCONNORS BOULDER LUNAGenetics By Design63537
OCONNORS LAST HOPEGenetics By Design23534
GEN-I-BEQ LEXOR PLAGESale of Stars453398
MAPEL WOOD M O M LUCYGenetics By Design123299
BOLDI V S G EPIC ASTERSale of Stars73240

So What Color of Dairy Breed Is the Money Maker?

Jersey herds produced 48 pounds of fat and protein where all herds produced 5.0 pounds of fat and protein. This is not significantly different. But on any given day, on any particular dairy operation, the numbers can be rallied to support the choice that is dearest to the heart of owner-operators.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In the end, your particular passion is what it all boils down to. When it comes to the choice of Black and White, Brown, or “green”, the only thing you can know for sure is that dairy love is NOT color blind. Whether your passion is driven by the color of the dairy breed or by the color of money … or both… the right answer is up to you?  End of argument.




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




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.


Send this to a friend