Dutch Belted Cows: Marvelous Milk and Meat

This heritage breed cow is an affordable, low-maintenance addition to the homestead.
By Mary Lou Shaw
September 30, 2009
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Dutch Belted cows are an ideal dual-purpose homestead addition, providing just the right amount of nutritious milk and meat.
MARY LOU SHAW


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We had a pasture. We had a barn. All we needed to make our homestead complete were a few cows to make our homestead complete. Homesteading and heritage breed cattle seem to complement each other, so we consulted the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC; an organization devoted to the preservation of heritage livestock breeds) to learn about our options. We chose Dutch Belted cows because they are good for both milk and meat, because we enjoy their Oreo appearance and because they are listed as “critical” on ALBC’s Conservation Priority List. To be listed as critical, a livestock breed must have fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States, and a global population of less than 2,000. 

In the dairy world today, the Holstein cow has become the dominant dairy breed. But over the past 40 years, they have been bred to double their milk supply while losing other beneficial traits. Likewise, it’s now assumed that beef cattle need to be confined and fed grain — instead of eating grass on pasture — to produce good beef. Our heritage cows produce wonderful beef and milk while maintaining the characteristics that make them easy to work with and economical to keep. Here’s how: 

Longevity: Dutch Belted cows live to be about 20 years old and calve annually from age 2 through their teens. In contrast, today’s confinement dairy cattle are culled when their production drops after a few years. The sister Dutch Belted cows we originally bought, Addie and Annie, are now 7 and 8 years old and should be with us for another 12 years! 

Short calving intervals: It’s important to efficiently impregnate cows to maintain their milk supply. If they don’t calve every year, they stop giving milk. We had trouble with this at first, then we realized that a temporary separation from their calves would help them ovulate. Now they routinely get pregnant with the first attempt, which is typical of Dutch Belted cows. 

Calving ease: Our cows were pregnant when we got them and had their calves within a few weeks. We knew no better than to be totally delighted when watching the births. It’s fortunate for us that easy deliveries are the norm with heritage cows because we were not prepared for the difficult, vet-assisted births our neighbors’ cows experience. We lost one calf whose leg was back and her passage was delayed, but because the calves and cows are proportioned well, this is an unusual occurrence. The other seven calves have arrived healthy and ready to nurse. 

Excellent Health: The Dutch Belted’s hardiness is another thing I have taken for granted. We have never had a case of mastitis (an infection of the udder). We are careful to milk routinely after they give birth because they produce far more milk than one calf can handle for the first three to four months. After that, we milk when we want to — after all, we’re a homestead, not a dairy. I’ve read that laminitis (inflammation that occurs in the hoof) is a problem with cows, but not with our Dutch Belted. The calves also have been problem-free, but they nurse from their mothers, which makes it easy to avoid health problems such as scours (diarrhea). But Dutch Belted also demonstrate good health at dairies where cows and calves must be separated. 

Good disposition: I’ve never dealt with an ornery cow, but I’ve heard that they can be mean. We compare our cows to the horses, and appreciate the cows’ incredible patience. We also find them to be open to new routines, and enjoy their trust and response to kindness. 

Economic size: The past few dry years have made both pasture and hay precious commodities. Our cows’ smaller size ensures that we don’t have to feed more in order to keep them healthy and to receive excellent milk and meat. 

Good grazers: You may assume that a cow knows how to graze, and indeed, heritage cattle wouldn’t have survived otherwise. But believe it or not, cattle bred for modern confinement systems experience a reduced ability to graze. Having our cows go to the grass, rather than bringing the grass to them, makes them a low-maintenance addition to the homestead. The cows stay healthy and give us more nutritious food.

Excellent milk and meat: How wonderful it is to have raw milk without antibiotics or hormones! This gives us cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream of the same excellent quality. The steers are slaughtered at 9 months to become our grass and milk-fed beef, which is incredibly tender and flavorful. 

Money savers: All these characteristics combine to make heritage breed cows economical to keep. Even though they may not produce the same quantity of milk as a Holstein, we save money. There are fewer vet bills, we don’t have the expense of grain, the cows calve annually and they live long lives. 

To bring this wonderful breed back from close-to-extinction, many are “breeding up,” a technique that allows milk cows of other breeds to be crossed with full-blooded Dutch Belted bulls. Every female offspring is registered, and the fifth generation, (F-5), is 96.88 percent Dutch Belted and registered as full-blooded. 

We wanted a couple of cows for milk and meat, and now we’re talking about helping to save a rare breed. How did this happen? I guess we fell in love with these sweet and beautiful animals and would like to leave a few more behind to help both cows and people survive.


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Jimmy VanZandt
11/27/2013 9:22:09 PM
Michelle, apparently Dutch Belted has extremely small fat globules in the molecules of their milk making it "naturally homogenized". So don't be worried if you see a smaller "cream line". I too get DutchBelted raw milk and it's deicious. Other cattle like Jersey's give more fat but that will vary with seasons/diet. The differences though are not tremendous maybe 1-2% give or take

MichelleL
7/11/2013 10:48:38 AM

I just got my very first gallon of raw Dutch Belted milk and it is delicious. I couldn't see the cream line at all though...waited overnight...nada! Any tips for a raw milk newbie who for some reason cant find the cream line and is eager to make some butter? :) Thanks so much!


Rebecca Coors
8/11/2012 9:34:50 PM
How does the meat compare to angus?

Mary Lou Shaw
11/29/2010 7:48:23 PM
Hi Matt, The "babies" were separated from their moms about 12 hours at night--with the two year-old both babysitting and providing some milk. Remember, they're really old enough then to do fine on hay overnight. Now we're done milking for the year. We have separated the three calves from their moms while the cows go dry. This also lets the little one get plenty of chance to eat--their moms can be pretty shovey. However, they do fine without their moms, but even share the lean-to on the barn in bad weather (with just a gate between them). Naturally homogenized milk? Only if you shake-shake it first! Mary Lou

Matt
11/27/2010 1:37:36 PM
That is awesome. It's great to get actual figures. How long do the calves stay away from their mamas at night? Are you getting a good amount of butterfat from these girls and is it as "naturally homogenized" as they say? Thanks for the details!

Mary Lou Shaw
11/1/2010 12:35:41 PM
Hi Matt, Being "late" to comment is good because it gives me another season's worth of experiece to reply with. This year we had three heifers though (doubling our milk herd size!) so I looked at last year's weights to respond with. We had two steers last year that were about nine months when butchered and we got right about 900 pounds of freezer meat (from both of them together). Most years we had two steers, so they filled the upright and chest freezers (plus some meat to friends). We kept them full-time with their moms until they were butchered. They got no grain, but continued to nurse and ate grass and then hay into the winter months. (We now supplement the calves with a mineral supplement, kelp and probiotics). This year, because of the two-year-old having her calf a month after the others, and also beginning herdshares to share milk, we began separating the calves at night after two months. Actually, the two-year-old "babysat" at night with the three calves. That allowed us to continue milking the two cows each morning (not completely dry) and we got about four gallons each morning. We stopped milking mid-October (because we were ready for a break and have lots of cheese for the winter)and are keeping the calves separated until the end of November. Therefore, being a once-a-day, seasonal dairy, worked great for us this year (though they really need twice-a-day milking until the calves get to four to six weeks). Hope that helps. Mary Lou

Matt
10/30/2010 3:49:48 PM
Sorry for being so late on this one. I just read it. What kind of carcass yield do you get on a dutch belted in only 9 months? I'm assuming they're pastured. Also, do you let the calves nurse for several months? I am trying to get some real estimates and am figuring 1000lb calf in 18 months and about an average of 2 gallons a day milking once a day. I would plan on letting the calf nurse for about 6-8 months. Thanks for sharing.

Mary Lou Shaw
1/28/2010 10:57:55 AM
Dutch Belted cows don't give as much cream as Jerseys. I save milk from one cow for three days (skimming it off daily and then using it as skimmed milk)to get enough to make butter in a Daisy butter churn. I would get more cream if a had a separator--and didn't just skim it with a measuring cup!

Larry Bouget_2
1/26/2010 11:05:48 PM
I am wanting to know if Dutch Belted cows give milk that is as rich and have a high amount of cream as do the Jersey cows do. I remember my grand mother making her own butter from Jersey milk. Some memories are so grand and tht is one of those memories. That butter was so good on home made bread while it was still piping hot.

Ernst - Diversity Farms
10/9/2009 6:34:08 PM
Thanks for the great article. Few comments though to consider: 1. Not all cows with the "belted" color scheme are Dutch belted cows. There are "belted" Galloway as well, a very hardy breed and also rare. Search for "rare breeds" to find a your local association. 2. Don't compare dual purpose cattle with Holsteins. No hobby farmer could milk 20 litres of milk twice daily with their hands. (And you wouldn't invest in a milking machine). 3. To get good milk and beef, you don't have to look at dual purpose or heritage breeds (although maintaining genetic stock is a noble cause of course). We are raising commercial Hereford cattle in a cow-calf operation on pasture exclusively. They don't produce too much milk to force us to milk them in the morning, yet with patience (some training is required) we can get some fresh milk. If you consider cost of trucking, slaughter, freezing, and supplies (fixing fences, pulling weeds etc.) you'll want a breed that is large enough to provide some meat to make it worthwhile. We sell about half what we produce to neighbors and eat the rest in our family. 4. A calm beef breed would work just fine for you including Angus, Pinzgauer, Gelbvieh, Murray Gray, and many others. 5. Every living being produces CO2. Should we all stop breathing (and decaying) to save the earth? Please stay real.

Mary Lou Shaw
10/2/2009 6:16:51 PM
The best up-dated source for buying Dutch Belted cows is through the Dutch Belted Bulletin which comes out four times a year. It costs $15/year for an Associate Membership. Mail your check to: DBCAA, PO Box 477, Pittsboro, North Carolina 27312. The last issue, August 2009, was really a good one because it listed current members (not all of them have cows for sale, of course). "Past issues" costs $5--and so you might have to add that fee to get that "August" issue. Mary Lou

Alison Rogers_3
10/2/2009 8:32:33 AM
As Richard Manning pointed out in "The Amazing Benefits of Grassfed Meat" (http://www.motherearthnews.com/Sustainable-Farming/Grass-Fed-Meat-Benefits.aspx), there is evidence that under the right conditions, perennial grasslands (such as cattle pastures) can sequester more carbon than forests. These pastures soak up so much carbon that it's possible, even when considering the methane produced by the digestive processes of the animals, that converting current feedlot-based cattle production models to properly managed pasture operations could result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Holly _1
9/30/2009 6:10:01 PM
Rick I think that M.E.N.--and most of it's readers-- recognizes the difference between someone raising a few grass fed cows in their backyard vs. "the cattle industry" where hundreds or even thousands of cattle are forced to live in feedlots and it is impossible to keep up with their waste. From what I remember of my readings, feedlot cattle are fed corn, which they have a hard time digesting, and therefore have much more gas than grass fed cattle. Also feedlot cattle manure goes into disgusting cesspools but pastured cattle's manure goes right back into the land, fertilizing the same pasture they are eating from. I don't think it is realistic or necessary to completely stop raising and eating beef to lower CO2 production, just like it's not necessary to stop driving. Just do it less often and do it smarter: drive a fuel efficient vehicle and bike or walk more and drive less, and eat beef less often and buy local, pastured beef.

John _5
9/30/2009 5:32:42 PM
I appreciate the pointer Mr. Habgood provided to the UN report on Livestock's Long Shadow. That will take some time to read. I suspect that there are many variables involved which may weaken the direct applicability of the UN report's conclusion to the homestead farm described in Mother Earth's article. For just a tiny example, the UN report addresses the methane released from the decomposition of animal manure. "This occurs mostly when manure is managed in liquid form, such as in lagoons or holding tanks... Manure deposited on fields and pastures, or otherwise handled in a dry form, does not produce significant amounts of methane." (p. 97) Of course, there are other factors to consider besides methane: e.g., the CO2 released in the transport of feed (which would be minimized for homestead cows fed on pasture). Another question I would like to explore in the UN report, and elsewhere: does the cow's diet (grass vs. feedlot grain) change the amount of GHG emissions? If so, this could be another factor favoring the homestead cow over the factory feedlot. Thanks for the article!

Sharon_58
9/30/2009 2:45:58 PM
I have seen many of these cows when traveling in eastern Iowa. It is nice to, finally, know what they are called. We always just called them Striped cows. Thansk you for the very interesting article.

Rick Habgood
9/30/2009 2:23:38 PM
For Your information. The UN, some time ago, came out with an report called. ' Livestock Long Shadow' http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM which concluded that 18% of all GHG were a direct result of raising livestock. More CO2 is created from livestock than all transport combined. And as a concerned person for the future of my children and grandchildren I'm suprised that Mother Earth News promotes such a clear cause of global warming and the meltdown of the polar ice caps. If you're not aware of this fact then please, do your homework before you put out an article on how wonderful the cattle industry is. And if you support the livestock industry then why the charade about caring for mother earth? Maybe you people believe that climate change is a hoax. Or that it's ok to send huge amounts of methane and co2 into the atmosphere. Rick Habgood

Nathan Hetrick_2
9/30/2009 11:09:28 AM
Go to http://www.dutchbelted.com/ and look under their Breeders Listings. There may not be some in your area but that's the best place to start.

Lynn Ayres_1
9/30/2009 10:58:17 AM
The article on the Dutch Belted Cows. I have a few questions. Can you just raise cow calf pairs for sale without milking when they calf.Also I live in North Texas is there any producers in my area.? Thanks, Lynn Ayres Fort Worth,Tx

Debbie Galle
9/30/2009 10:56:54 AM
Thank you for this article. It was very good. We have been getting ready to add cows to our farm, but really didn't know what to get. I am thinking this will be the way to go. Where do you find them? We are near Savannah, Georgia. We only want a couple for Milk and Meat.

Vicki Richards_2
9/30/2009 8:45:19 AM
I really appreciated this article on the Dutch belted cows, I would appreciate any information on how I might find some close to my area of Southwest Missouri?








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