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About the Holstein UK Society

A brief history of the Holstein and British Friesian breeds


During the Nineteenth Century, black and white cattle were imported into the east coast ports of England and Scotland from the Low Countries, until live cattle importations were stopped in 1892 as a precaution against endemic Foot and Mouth disease on the continent. In 1909, a decision was made by a small group of enthusiastic breeders to form a Society for the registration of these cattle; the British Holstein Cattle Society. In 1914 the Society changed its name to Holstein-Friesian and in 1918 to the British Friesian Cattle Society, keeping this name for the next seventy years. British black and white breeding during this period focused mainly on British Friesian bloodlines; cattle were bred for milk production and surplus male calves could be fattened up to produce lean beef while beef cross heifers made valuable suckler cows. However, the Society had agreed to the registering of Holstein cattle in their Herd Book and so, in 1988, the name changed to the Holstein- Friesian Society.

In North America, the Holstein breed was established in the 1850s with a bull and four heifers imported from Holland into the United States. The breed first appeared in the UK in the years immediately after the Second World War, during which time around 2000 in-calf heifers plus a few bulls and cows were imported from Canada in conjunction with shiploads of store cattle. A Society to register these North American Holstein cattle was formed in 1946; the British Canadian Holstein-Friesian Association which later changed its name to the British Holstein Society. In 1999, the Herd Books were merged when the two Societies combined to form Holstein UK & Ireland (which in turn became Holstein UK in 2002 when Irish breeders established their own association) with both Holstein and British Friesian being registered in the open Herd Book.

Both breeds are quickly recognised by their distinctive colour, with coat patterns of black and white or red and white, and outstanding milk production.

Holsteins are generally larger cattle whose main function is to produce milk. In the UK and many countries across the world, the Holstein is the predominant breed because of its ability to produce high volumes of milk efficiently. The Holstein breed in the UK currently averages 8600 litres/lactation over an average of 3 lactations (8,868kg at 3.92% fat and 3.18% protein with a Calving Interval of 428 in 2010)

British Friesian cattle are generally slightly smaller than Holsteins, carry more flesh and are renowned for their good fertility. The average milk production of pedigree British Friesians currently stands at 6618 litres/lactation over 3.6 lactations (6,822kg at 4.10% fat and 3.33% protein with a Calving Interval of 401 days in 2010).