Dutch Belted Cattle: Heritage Livestock Breeds

Dutch Belt or Dutch Belted cattle originate from Holland and are known for their distinctive coat and high quality milk production.

  • Dutch Belted cow
    Dutch Belted cattle are jet black or red with a white belt from the shoulders to the hips that wraps entirely around its midsection. This pattern is a dominant characteristic in crossbreeding.
    Photo: American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
  • Dutch Belted calves
    The Dutch Belted breed makes a milk of higher quality than Holstein cows and is a proven producer in low-input or grass-based systems
    American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

  • Dutch Belted cow
  • Dutch Belted calves

If you're looking for a heritage cattle breed that will make a good milking cow, don't overlook the distinctively marked Dutch Belted Cattle. The mild climate and lush grass of Holland have helped make this small nation the source of prime cattle that have influenced breeds around the world. The Holstein-Friesian has quite literally become the very image of a dairy cow. So pervasive is the influence of the black-and-white Holstein that the other breeds of Dutch cattle are scarcely known.

The Lakenvelder, which means sheeted field, was a black or red dairy cow with a broad white belt. These cattle were known in Holland by the 1600s, where their attractive and striking color pattern was a favorite of the wealthy and the nobility. The same color pattern was repeated in other farm animals such as Dutch rabbits and Lakenvelder chickens. Lakenvelder cattle owners treasured their rare animals and so did not cooperate well in maintaining a herd book or exchanging stock. In 1930, mandatory tuberculosis testing and government control of milk production was instituted, both of which were hard on this minority breed. After World War II, only 5 known Lakenvelder herds remained. Soon afterward, the government enacted regulations forbidding the use of bulls other than from three other recognized breeds.

With the development of interest in preserving rare breeds, an association of Lakenvelder breeders has been established. The remaining Lakenvelder cattle were closely related, and only 75 showed an acceptable pattern. The breeders were in desperate need of rejuvenation, so they turned toward the adoptive home of their native cattle — the United States.

The first import of Lakenvelder cattle was made in 1838, by D. H. Haight, who was serving as the U.S. consul to Holland. Two years later, the famous showman P. T. Barnum purchased several Lakenvelders from a member of the Dutch nobility. Billed as “a rare and aristocratic breed,” the cattle traveled on exhibit with Barnum’s circus. Eventually they were placed on his farm in New York, where they proved to be excellent milkers. Additional small imports of Lakenvelders or Dutch Belts were made over the next fifty years. The Dutch Belt cattle population was found mainly in New Jersey and New York until the early twentieth century, when they began to appear in many states.

The Dutch Belted Cattle Association was founded in the 1860s, and the herd book has been kept continuously since then. The members of the association were knowledgeable dairy farmers who actively promoted their breed and encouraged scientific testing. The Dutch Belts performed well in various dairy tests across the United States for many years. In 1925, a Dutch Belt cow produced 17,285 pounds of milk and 634 pounds of butterfat on a standard trial. The USDA yearly production figures for 1930 listed only the Holstein and Brown Swiss ahead of the Dutch Belt, followed by the Ayrshire, Guernsey, and Jersey.

Dutch Belted cattle were recognized by the Dairy Science Association and the USDA as a viable dairy breed. Individual Dutch Belt dairy owners found that their customers enjoyed their specialty milk. Dutch Belt milk contained small fat globules that did not separate as quickly and were easier to digest than other breeds’ milk. The milk also contained high levels of beta carotene and butterfat. In addition, the Dutch Belt had a long lactation. One high-production Dutch Belt cow was milked continuously from her first freshening at two years of age through her twelfth year and beyond.

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