While their own family farm – Happy Acres in Troy – is only a second generation farm, the Schofield kids come from a long line of dairy farmers, and a large extended family of dairy farmers. Within that extended family, there are several opinions about what the best breed of dairy cow is, but for the Schofields, it’s one big melting pot. The five children in 4-H ( a mix of cousins and siblings) show four breed of cattle at Maine fairs – Jersey, Ayrshire, Holstein and Guernsey, and they all have their favorite breed.
The Schofields – Ruben, 13, with a Jersey, Mackensie, 15, with an Ayrshire, Lydia, 11, with a Guernsey, and Shaynen, 17, with a Holstein at Skowhegan Fair. Missing – Nicole, 19.
Lydia, 11, and her cousin Mackensie, 15, like the Ayrshires. “I really love their color,” says Lydia of the mahogany red and white cattle.
“I like a lot of their characteristics, not just their attitude,” says Mackensie, who is this year’s National Ayrshire Princess after being selected at the breed association’s national convention in Oklahoma City. She will represent the Ayrshire breed at the upcoming Eastern States (Big E) Fair.
Ayrshires are known to usually have good temperaments, but Lydia’s brother Ruben Jr. (R.J.), 13, prefers the Jerseys. “I like their solid color and how they are more calm and don’t push you around like the Ayrshires.” Mackensie’s brother Shaynen, 17, also prefers the Jerseys for their small size, which makes them easier to handle, he says. Their sister Nicole, 19, also likes Jerseys.
Lydia waiting to go into the show ring. Along with being a showman, Lydia is also a published author, having two books – Bendy Wendy and Buckaroo Bobbie Sue – published under the pen name JoJo Thoreau. She was first published at the age of 9, and the latter title recently earned her the Spur Award for Best Western Storyteller (Illustrated Children’s Book) from Western Writers of America. She is the youngest to ever win the award.
Mackensie with an Ayrshire.
Ruben with an Ayrshire.
Shaynen showing a Jersey.
Nicole with a Jersey.
Ruben (second from left) showing a Jersey.
When it comes to cow breeds, dairy farmers are much like people with their favorite dog breeds. Someone might be a lifelong Golden Retriever owner and would never own anything else because they admire the dog’s temperament, their beautiful color and their intelligence. Or they might love Jack Russels for their small size and tenacity. Some people prefer mutts and like having a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Or they will have multiple breeds on their farm and just appreciate a good milk cow that does her job and doesn’t cause trouble no matter what breed(s) she is.
A Jersey Holstein cross at Osbro Farm in Farmington. This cross is familiar on many farms because Jerseys are known to have small calves, so when their heifer (no matter the breed) is going to have her first calf, dairy farmers will often breed her to a Jersey, so it will be an easy birth.
I guess in this analogy, the Holstein would be the Labrador Retriever – the United States most popular and most recognizable breed.
There are six main dairy breeds that are common in the United States – the Holstein, Jersey, Milking Shorthorn, Guernsey, Ayrshire and Brown Swiss. Though not at all common, other breeds can be found on farms in Maine, including Linebacks, Randall and Dutch Belted, and some farms have crossed rarer breeds, such as Normande and Fleckveih into their herd in hopes of improving certain characteristics like better efficiency at turning forages (grass) into milk. Still other small farms or homesteads that probably have just one or two milk cows, might have Milking Devons or Dexter cattle, which are considered multi-purpose (beef/milk/draft).
Normande cattle have distinct circles around their eyes and will usually pass that on, even if the offspring is a cross. Triple D Acres, an organic dairy farm in New Sharon, started crossing the Normandes with their Holsteins as an experiment. Because the cost of grain was increasing, they were hoping to breed a cow that would make more milk on grass and hay and require less grain. In the next year or so, they will be able to determine if this experiment was a success.
HOLSTEIN – a large black and white dairy cow known to produce large quantities of milk. The most popular of all dairy cows, the Holstein originated in the Netherlands, and their roots can be traced back to the herds of migrant Europeans 2,000 years ago. “Winthrop Chenery, a Massachusetts breeder, purchased a Holland cow from a Dutch sailing master who landed cargo at Boston in 1852. The cow had furnished the ship’s crew with fresh milk during the voyage. She proved to be such a satisfactory producer, that Chenery made later importations of Holsteins in 1857, 1859 and 1861. Many other breeders soon joined the race to establish Holsteins in America.” – ansi.okstate.edu
HOLSTEIN – Not as common as the black and white, Holsteins can also be red and white. At one time, the red and white cattle were thought to be inferior and not be as good of a milk cow, but these days they are being shown alongside the black and white Holsteins, and on some dairy farms, they are seen as a welcome burst of color.
JERSEY – the second most popular breed in the U.S. and the smallest dairy breed. With an average weight of 900 pounds, the Jersey produces more pounds of milk per pound of body weight than any other breed. Most Jerseys produce far in excess of 13 times their bodyweight in milk each lactation and are known for their milk’s high butterfat content. Purebred Jerseys are thought to have been in existence for nearly 600 years, and they also arrived in the U.S. in the 1850s. Many people will often comment that Jerseys, especially calves, look like deer, and they can be very similar in color. Jersey’s range in color from light gray or mouse-y to a dark fawn, almost black with dark markings. Although one of the cutest breeds, the bulls have a reputation as the meanest of all the breeds.
BROWN SWISS – the gentle giant of the dairy world. Thought to be the oldest of all dairy breeds, Brown Swiss originated in the valleys and mountain slopes of Switzerland as long ago as 4000B.C., according to some historians. They are beloved for their docile temperament, but are also excellent milk producers, second only to the Holstein. Read more about the Brown Swiss, the preferred breed of the Smith family in East Dixfield.
GUERNSEY – originated on the Isle of Guersey in the English Channel. The Guernsey cow is known for producing high-butterfat, high-protein milk with a high concentration of beta carotene, which gives her milk a distinct golden color. A medium-sized cow, Guernseys are valued for their efficiency as they are able to produce more milk on less feed than many breeds, and they are suitable for grass-based operations. Guernseys first came to the states in 1840.
MILKING SHORTHORN – a popular breed among the pioneers for its versatility as a milk, draft and beef animal. She is an easy keeper – healthy, hardy, calves easily and the calves are spunky and grow quickly, and she does a fantastic job of turning grass and other homegrown forages into milk. Milking Shorthorns can be red (and are also referred to as Red Durham), red and white or roan colored.
AYRSHIRE – originated in the County of Ayr in Scotland, prior to 1800 (the first Ayrshire show was sponsored by the Highland Agricultural Society in 1786). A flashy breed, the Ayrshire can be mostly white, mostly red or a mix – sometimes with large blotches of color or more speckled. They are a highly adaptable cow and can do well in a free stall setting or on pasture. She is cold-hardy and can handle rough terrain, which is why the Ayrshire was imported to New England in the 1820’s and still remains most popular in the Northeast.