Despite the fact that most dairy farmers have good quality exotic cows, milk production is low despite their potential. This low productivity has been attributed to:

  1. Poor management especially inadequate feeding.
  2. Poor health management .
  3. Poor breeding management that leads to long calving intervals.

It is important to understand dairy breeds before making any investments on dairy farming.The common dairy cattle breeds include the following:


History: The Holstein cow originated in Europe. Holsteins are most quickly recognized by their distinctive color markings and outstanding milk production. Holsteins are large, stylish animals with color patterns of black and white or red and white. A healthy Holstein calf weighs 45 Kg or more at birth.Holstein heifers can be bred at 15 months of age, when they weigh about 400Kgs. It is desirable to have Holstein females calve for the first time between 24 and 27 months of age. Holstein gestation is approximately nine months. While some cows may live considerably longer, the normal productive life of a Holstein is six years.

Purpose: Milk production

  • Potential yield: 40-60 liters milk/day
  • Average body size: Large (400-750kgs)

Description: Black and white short haired coat, short horns


  • High milk production potential with low butter fat content of about 3.2%

Note: Milk production will depend on level of feeding and other management.


  • Heavy feeder (requirements high (90-110Kg fresh forage/day)
  • Susceptible to high temperatures


 Origin: The Ayrshire breed originated in the County of Ayr in Scotland.

Purpose: Milk production. Ayrshire milk is referred to as “the ideal drinking milk”; it is not excessively rich, not lacking adequate fat, and it possesses desirable quantities of proteins.

Potential yield: They are strong, rugged cattle that adapt to all management systems including group handling on dairy farms with free stalls and milking parlors. Ayrshire excel in udder conformation and are not subject to excessive foot and leg problems production 25-40 litres/day 

Average body size: Ayrshire are medium-sized cattle with (average live-weight 400kg-600kg)

Description: Ayrshire are red (reddish-brown mahogany that varies in shade from very light to very dark) and white, and purebred Ayrshire only produce red and white offspring. The spots are usually very jagged at the edges and often small and scattered over the entire body of the cow. Usually, the spots are distinct, with a break between the red and the white hair. Some Ayrshire exhibit a speckled pattern of red pigmentation on the skin covered by white hair. Body colour: Brown and white patches in almost equal amounts with some cows tending to dark mahogany colour


  • High milk production potential (30 litre/day). The average milk yield from this breed in Kenya is roughly 3,000 litres in 305 days with high butter fat The cow’s milk has moderate butter fat content 4.0%
  • Fairly hardy and adaptable to varied climatic zones.
  • They are relatively resistant to diseases.  


  • Feed requirements high (90-110 kg fresh forage/day)
  • Need plenty of clean water (60 litres/day)


Origin: The Isle of Guernsey, a tiny island in the English Channel off the coast of France, is the birthplace of the Guernsey cow.

Purpose: Milk production. Heifers generally come into milk at about two years of age.

Average body size: Medium (average live-weight 400kg).The cow weighs 450 to 500 kg. 


  • The colour varies from yellow to reddish-brown with white patches.
  • They have a finely tuned temperament, not nervous or irritable.
  • Physically the breed has good dairy conformation and presents the visual impression of a plain animal bred for utility rather than good looks.
  • They have an attractive carriage with a graceful walk, a strong back, broad loin, wide rump and deep barrel, strong, attached udder extending well forward, with the quarters evenly balanced and symmetrical.
  • The Guernsey bull has an attractive individuality, revealing ample vigour and masculinity. It has smooth-blending shoulders showing good refinement, strength and even contour.


  • High milk production potential (25 litres/day). Milk has moderate butter fat content 4.3%
  • Feed requirements: Moderate (65-85Kg fresh forage/day)
  • Guernsey are efficient converters of feed to product, being of intermediate size, Guernsey produce their high quality milk while consuming 20 to 30 percent less feed per pound of milk produced than larger dairy breeds
  • Guernsey reaches reproductive maturity at an early age and can calve at 22 months of age. This provides an early return on investment
  • Guernsey are well known for having the minimum of calving complications

Guernsey are adaptable to all climates and management systems and lack any known undesirable genetic recessives


Origin: The Jersey breed originated from the Island of Jersey, a small British island in the English Channel off the coast of France. The Jersey is one of the oldest dairy breeds, having been reported by authorities as being purebred for nearly six centuries.

Purpose: Milk production. . Most Jerseys produce far in excess of 13 times their body weight in milk each lactation.

Average yield: 15 22 litres/day and about 5.3% butter fat.

Average body size: Small – medium (350 Kg-500Kg)


  • Jerseys are typically light brown in colour, though this can range from being almost grey to dull black. They can also have white patches which may cover much of the animal. A true Jersey will however always have a black nose bordered by an almost white muzzle.
  • They have protruding eyes.
  • This breed is well known for milk with high quality butter – it is particularly richer in protein, minerals and trace elements than those from the larger dairy breeds. The milk is also rich in colour which is naturally produced from carotene.
  • Milk production potential is moderate depending on feeding and management regime.


  • Feed requirements is relatively low (65-85 Kg fresh forage/)
  • Milk has high butter fat content 5.3%
  • It is hardy and adaptable to varied climatic zones
  • The Jersey’s hard black feet are much less prone to lameness
  • They perform well under a wide range of systems and are well-known for their high feed conversion efficiency
  • Jerseys generally produce milk components at a lower cost compared to the other major breeds
  • They stay in the herd longer than any other dairy breed. Their milk has greater nutritional value, plus the highest yield and greater efficiency when processed into cheese and other value-added products
  • The breed has little or no calving problems, greater fertility, a shorter calving interval, and earlier maturity
  • Susceptible to milk fever and tick borne diseases


Judy Vanessa

Judy Vanessa is an accomplished explorer,a passionate animal health extension practitioner and author. She loves writing about farming articles in various sectors.

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