Holsteins are the Top American Dairy Cows

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Holsteins have been taking over the United States.

Holsteins are the top American dairy cows because of their ability to produce large amounts of milk.

Nothing says country quite like that pattern of blotchy
black spots on a white background. The familiar pattern of
Holstein cows is even used by Gateway Computers’ boxes to
help emphasize the company’s Midwestern roots. But lurking
in that apparently benign pattern is a hidden agenda:
Holsteins have been taking over the United States.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures Holsteins are the top American dairy cows, 93
percent of all American dairy cows (more than 8 million
head) are Holstein. The breed’s dominance comes basically
from being bred into freaks of nature, says Drew Conroy, an
associate professor of applied animal science at the
University of New Hampshire. A cow needs about 3,000 pounds
of milk to successfully raise a calf. A Holstein holds the
world record for milk production: 60,380 pounds of milk in
one year, 20 times the natural amount.

The megamilk production has negative effects on the
Holsteins and other breeds of cows. The Holsteins generally
wear out after 2.5 lactations (around four years), much
sooner than other breeds. Holsteins also already have the
narrowest genetic pool of any cattle breed, and as
inbreeding for maximum milk production continues, the
danger of genetic maladies in the breed increases. Other
dairy breeds’ population numbers are now so small, breeders
worry that there aren’t enough left to keep a viable
genetic pool.

Conroy says the solution lies not in trying to force large
dairy operations to diversify, but getting more people to
participate in food production and raise other breeds
beside the Holstein. “In my classes, I ask, ‘How many of
you like industrial farming?’ And no hands go up. Then I
ask, ‘How many of you produce any of your own food?’ And no
hands go up.”