Top 15 Cattle Breeds for your Farm
Updated: Apr 6
If you are thinking about starting a cattle herd, you're in the right place. Selecting the right breed of cattle is critical to your operation. And since you'll be investing both time and money into these animals you'll want to make sure you invest in the right place. In this post we'll help take some of the guess-work out of choosing the right cattle breed for your operation.
But before selecting a breed of cattle for your farm, remember to develop goals for your farm and have a plan. The more you do your homework and research, check out breed association sites, talk to neighbors about the breeds they raise, the better informed you'll be and by taking the extra steps to gather all the information you can, the better, more informed decision you'll make.
How to choose the right cattle breed?
There are a lot of details to consider in this process. What we're going to cover here is mostly about breed information, but here are some of the other key factors to know (and research) when choosing between cattle breeds.
Are you raising cattle for beef or dairy?
Goals for production and yield
Budget for purchases and operating costs
Revenue & profit goals
Breeds for your climate
Land & grazing area requirements
Feed & other operation costs
Ease of management & breeding
Access to breeding stock (via auction or other means)
There are many other operational and financial details to consider and weigh during this process. We suggest taking your time and investing wisely. To start you off let's take a look at some of the top cattle breeds you may want to consider.
Angus are a top beef cow, this breed was once thought to be a freak without horns (poll breed) but are now very popular breed.
The basics: Mature bulls weigh about 1,800 lbs and a cow weighs about 1,200 lbs. They are solid black or red in color, sometimes with a small amount of white behind the navel scar. They are a good solid choice for beef production.
Pros: Ease Angus are moderately sized, muscular animals, well known for meat production. They are widely crossbreed to improve beef and milk quality. Their meat is prized in the beef market because of it's marbling. They have white fat and bright-red lean meat.
Cons: They have varied temperaments. They do not like heat and will need some shade) but they have longevity, are adaptable, fertile, are readily available and often get a high value at the sale barn.
Read more from the Angus Association
Holstein Friesian or just Friesian was originally bred in Europe and is a very popular breed for dairies.
The basics: A mature bull weighs about 2,500 lbs and a mature cow about 1,300 lbs. They are are easily recognized by their distinctive coloring of black and white or red and white.
Pros: They are known for their amazing output of milk, butter and large yields of beef. They are an affordable cow that you might easily find stock for in your area. They mature early and are easy to milk. Typical calves weigh about 90 pounds at birth. Holsteins typically have about a 6 year productive life span. On average Holsteins produce about 17,000 lbs of milk, 600 lbs pounds of butterfat and 550 lbs of protein per year.
Cons: This cow can be high maintenance. So we advise doing more research on this breed. It's been known to take more feed to meet their nutritional needs due to their high output of milk.
Read more from the Holstein Association
The Hereford cow is a friendly and easy going breed. They are known for their beef.
The basics: Hereford cows have white faces and an easy-going disposition which makes them easy to care for and almost like pets. A mature bull can weigh about 1,800 lbs and a mature cow weights about 1,200 lbs.
Pros: Herefords do well in a wide range of pastures, conditions and feed. They are typically easily to breed, grow fast, with high fertility rates and are relatively docile. Herefords can produce top-quality beef with high yields, good marbling and fat. They are very hardy, have good heat and cold tolerance.
Cons: This breed can need a little sun protection at times because of their coloring. They are sometimes hard to come by and not cheap but a great option if you can find them.
Read more from the Hereford Association
The Brown Swiss is known more for their milk production than beef. They make excellent butter, are very hardy and docile. They are big and live a long time.
The basics: A mature bull weights about 2,000 lbs and a mature cow weighs about 1,300-1,400 lbs. Brown Swiss are sought after by milk producers for their high quality milk with high protein and butter fat. Their milk is prized by cheese makers because of their volume of milk and protein. Brown Swiss have some of the best fat-to-protein ratio of any of the dairy breeds for most cheese production.
Pros: Brown Swiss are strong, solid breeders, robust, adaptable and live a long time. They are a good choice for both meat and dairy farms and provide good yields of both.
Cons: They do take longer to mature. Make sure that you are getting them from a good source and they are not a freemartin.
Read more from the Brown Swiss Association
The Charolais is a french breed that is a great beef producer. They are adaptable to most climates, and have rapid growth, lean tender meat but they do sometimes have calving issues, are a bit more high maintenance.
The basics: They are typically white with a pink muzzle. They are medium to large framed beef cattle with a broad body. Mature bulls weigh 2,000-2,500 lbs and a mature cow weighs 1,250-1,600 lbs.
Pros: Charolais are good milkers. They are typically quick to mature and an efficient feedlot breed with a high feed conversion rate. Charolais are easy to calve and are adaptable to various feed types.
Cons: They can be aggressive or unpredictable so seek a reputable breeder.
Read more from the Charolais Association
The Galloway or belted galloway is primarily a beef cow but have also been known to be milked and used for their hides.
The basics: Galloway cattle are commonly black, but can be found with red coloring. They are a medium to large cattle breed that is best known for meat production as they are poor milkers. The bulls have an average weight about 770 lbs and cows weigh in at about 450 lbs.
Pros: They are a little smaller than some other breeds so better if you have less space. They are adaptable to all types of climates and are naturally hornless. They are the weed eaters, have an easy time calving, can calve until age 15 or 20, produce lean/low fat meat and have rich butter.
Cons: They have beens know to have a unique hatred of dogs, heat stress can become a problem in some climates, and are slow to grow.
Read more from the Galloway Association
The Simmental is an easy going beef or dairy cow. It has a large frame and can almost be pet like if raised that way.
The basics: Simmental cattle are bred all over the world for their high beef production. Cows can weigh around 1,700 lbs and bulls about 2,800 lbs.
Pros: They are quick to mature, easy to handle and have very good feed conversion rates. Very adaptable and not easily stressed, they are a great breed for beef production. They are heavy, well-muscled animals and produce a solid red meat with a minimum of waste fat. They can live relatively long, have a high fertility rate, are easy to calve and allow for short periods between calving and the cows make excellent mothers.
Cons: It can be expensive to buy your stock, they sometimes have trouble calving due to their size and are prone to mastitis. So, it's recommended to purchase from reputable breeders.
Read more from the Simmental Association
Milking or Dairy Shorthorns are known for their body structure and ease of calving. They have been bred in Great Britain since Roman times. It is an excellent choice for beef crossbreeding and cheesemaking.
The basics: They mature early, are capable of living long productive lives and are efficient feed to milk converters. A mature bull weights 1,800-1,400 lbs and a mature cow about 1,200-1,400 lbs. Their coats can be white, red or a blend of red and white. They have easy calving and produces large quantities of milk.
Pros: They are a versatile breed and have a calm disposition. Unlike other dairy cattle breeds, Shorthorns started as a dual purpose breed for both milk and meat. Milk production averages 3.8% fat and 3.5% protein.
Cons: They can have some genetic issues so buy from a reputable breeder.
Read more from the Milking Shorthorn Association
Small, hairy and horned. This breed has been raised in North America mostly for novelty although it has a lot to offer. Their ability to produce top quality meat without the need for extra inputs and feed makes them a great breed choice for those looking to produce high quality beef with only natural inputs.
The basics: Besides being adorable, Highland cattle can be used for milk on a small scale, they produce about 2 gallons per day per cow. They are primarily a beef cattle breed that produces a lean meat that is well marbled and normally rated as premium beef. Mature Highland bulls can weigh around 1,800 lbs and cows about 1,100 lbs.
Pros: Highland cattle are typically very docile, low stress and are easy to keep and manage. It has lean meat, and functions as a low input animal. It has good dairy quality as well for both cheese and butter and is well suited for cold climates.
They can thrive in extreme climates and pasture conditions where other breeds may fail. They are an exceptionally hardy cattle breed that can convert poor grazing areas, efficiently because they are natural foragers. They calve easily and produce calves between 50-75 lbs.
Cons: They tend to have a strong dislike of confinement, horns and poor heat tolerance and other issues that come with long haired animals.
Read more from the Scottish Highland Association
This breed is the current record holder for milk production. Their milk is the Goldilocks of rightness; not too rich and not too light. This is one of the larger breeds of cow. If you've got the space for it. They are strong, rugged and good at calving.
The basics: Ayrshires are red and white in color. They have horns that can grow to more than a foot long, but most Ayrshires are dehorned as calves. Ayrshires are medium-sized cattle that can weigh over 1,200 lbs when mature. They are strong and adaptable cattle that work well for various dairy setups and milking parlors.
Pros: Ayrshire are excellent foragers and can thrive in harsh feeding or climatic conditions. They are a great dairy cattle breed for varied climates and conditions and make for and outstanding commercial dairy cattle. Ayrshire calves are strong and easy to raise. and are excellent milk producers.
Cons: They can have strong personalities and produce a moderate butterfat in their milk.
Read more from the Ayrshire Association
The Gelbviegh is a medium to large size breed that was bred for dual purpose.
The basics: They were originally bred for both milk and beef production and have exceptional udders and milking ability. They are a medium to large size cattle breed with above average muscling typically with reddish gold or black coloring.
Pros: This is a very adaptable breed that can be well suited for arid climates with good heat tolerance. They are medium to large in size, docile, fertile and have a generally quiet demeanor. They produce high quality meat cuts and are reputed to have had the largest ribeye-muscle area of all breeds. They also produce high weaning weights
Cons: Gelbvieh take a bit longer to mature. Some research has shown that animals with a lower ADG can tend to be more aggressive at the head gate.
Read more from the Gelbvieh Association
As you can see there are many things to take into consideration before purchasing your herd. Which type you choose comes down to your priorities, budget, space and management availability. It is highly recommended to speak with different breeders and take a look at the different associations for the cattle you're interested in before you purchase. We wish you the best in your endeavor! Below are more resources for you to take a look at during your research. And as always, Happy Farming!
There are many other breeds of cattle that are suited for beef or dairy operations, so be sure to do your research to find the best breed that will work for your goals.
Check out these links to learn more.