Keeping Heritage Breeds: Dutch Belted Milking Cows

Mary Lou Shaw just wanted a couple cows for milk and meat, and now she’s helping to save a rare breed. Discover the milk, meat and wonderful temperament of the Dutch Belted milking cow.


| January 2013



Heritage Breed Milking Cows

These Dutch Belted cows are a dual-purpose breed that provides both milk and meat. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists them as "critical" because their estimated global population is less than 2,000. Our cows stay with their young and are entirely grass-fed.


Photo Courtesy Carlisle Press

Mary Lou Shaw, author of Growing Local Food (Carlisle Press, 2012), is empowering individuals and communities to grow more of their own food. Her book is a good primer on getting back to a healthier lifestyle with 22 chapters that explore ideas as simple as growing herbs in a pot to information on catching rain water for the garden. The following excerpt on keeping Dutch Belted milking cows is taken from chapter 13, “Keeping Heritage Breed Cows.” 

Buy this book in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Growing Local Food.

“What a thrill to enjoy all the benefits of old breeds while helping to save these precious genetics for the future. Raising milk animals is so much easier when we do it the way nature intended—avoiding hormones that force them to produce more milk, and allowing them to be out in the sunshine on pasture. When animals live as nature intended, they stay healthy and we benefit from their nutritious milk and meat. We also hope their descendants will be there to help our descendants survive.”

Keeping Dutch Belted Milking Cows

We bought two cows, not because we knew anything about them, but because we had a pasture and a barn. Homesteading and heritage breed cattle seem to complement each other, so we looked at American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) to see what rare breeds were listed. We chose Dutch Belted because they are on the “critical” list, and are good for both milk and meat, and also because their Oreo-cookie appearance is beautiful.

In the dairy world today, Holstein cows have become almost synonymous with dairy cows. 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 to produce good beef. It’s now known that confinement beef not only produces unhealthy fats to eat, but confinement of a large number of animals in one place contaminates our environment. We’re fortunate to live in a rural area where we have the option to return to healthy ways to raise cows—healthy for humans, the cows and the environment. This takes “old-time” genetics. Let me explain:

Dutch Belted cows live to be about 20 years old, and they calve annually from age two through their teens. This is an incredible difference from today’s confinement dairy cow whose average lifespan is just over three years. The sisters we originally bought, Addie and Annie, are now seven and eight years old and should be with us for another twelve years!





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