New Zealand is renowned for its diverse range of dairy cow breeds, each selected for their specific attributes contributing to the nation’s robust dairy industry. When considering cow breeds best suited for dairy farming, factors such as milk yield, milk composition, adaptability to climate, and feed efficiency play pivotal roles. This article explores the primary cow breeds utilised in New Zealand, highlighting their unique characteristics and contributions to dairy farming.

Jersey Cows: Premium Milk with High Fat and Protein Content

Jersey cows account for approximately 10% of all dairy cattle in New Zealand. Known for their smaller stature and light brown colour, Jerseys can vary in shade from grey to black, occasionally featuring white patches. Despite their relatively nervous disposition, Jerseys are docile and manageable. They excel in milk production, with an impressive feed conversion rate, producing between 3500-4500 kilograms of milk annually. Their milk is highly valued for its rich fat content of 4.84% and protein content of 3.95%, making it creamier and more indulgent. Jerseys are also recognised for their sustainability due to their lower environmental footprint.

How to Optimise Jersey Cows Milk Production

The rates of milk production of Jersey cows can be increased further with the use of SmartShelters. If you don’t already have the option of a high quality barn to house your livestock we recommend investing in our leading and innovative composting barns.

Milk production in dairy cattle typically increases up to 20% a year with the use of our shelters. That’s not all, not only do they increase milk production, they also increase herd health, protect your pastures, protect your surrounding environment through the management of effluent and nitrogen leaching, control feed levels and prevent lameness.

Holstein Friesian: Leaders in Milk Volume and Farming Efficiency

Holstein Friesians dominate the dairy industry both in New Zealand and globally, known for their remarkable milk production capabilities. Comprising 35% of New Zealand’s dairy herd, these cows are not only the most populous but also among the most productive, with individual cows capable of producing between 7,500 and 10,500 kilograms of milk per lactation period. In exceptional cases, some Holstein Friesians have reached upwards of 27,000 kilograms of milk in a 305-day period. Their adaptability to diverse climates and environments makes them invaluable to large-scale dairy operations.

Despite their lower butterfat content compared to other breeds like the Jersey, the sheer volume of milk they produce compensates, making them highly cost-effective. Moreover, Holstein Friesians are known for their docile temperament and social nature, which simplifies herd management. They are also involved in the beef industry, valued for their rapid growth and desirable meat quality when crossbred with beef-specific breeds. Their significant role in dairy farming extends beyond production; they contribute to genetic advancements in the industry, ensuring sustainability and efficiency in future farming practices.

Crossbred Cows: Hybrid Vigor for Enhanced Dairy Production

In New Zealand, crossbreeding Holstein Friesians with Jersey cows is common, producing offspring that combine desirable traits from both breeds. These crossbred cows are known for their efficient feed conversion, high milk yields, and good nature. They typically display a mix of colorings from both parent breeds, ranging from jet black to light tan.

Close-up view of a milking machine attached to a dairy cow in a farm setting, efficiently extracting milk.

Other Notable Breeds

Aside from Jerseys and Holstein Friesians, several other breeds play significant roles in New Zealand’s dairy sector:

Ayrshire: Hardy Breed for Challenging Climates and Terrains

Originating from the rugged landscapes of Scotland, Ayrshire cattle are celebrated for their robustness and adaptability. These cows are particularly well-suited for challenging climates where they excel in foraging under adverse conditions. Ayrshires are noted for their high milk yields, often exceeding 9,000 kilograms per lactation, with a composition that is ideal for butter and cheese production. Their resilience and ease of management make them a favoured choice for farmers in varied environmental settings.

Brown Swiss: Robust Cattle with Optimal Cheese Production Traits

The Brown Swiss, with its deep roots tracing back four millennia, is one of the oldest dairy breeds. Known for their strong constitution and calm demeanour, these cattle are excellent producers of high-quality milk with a favourable fat-to-protein ratio that is particularly well-suited for cheese production. Their adaptability to both hot and cold climates, coupled with their longevity and robust health, make them a valuable asset in any dairy operation.

Fleckvieh: Dual-Purpose Efficiency for Milk and Meat

The Fleckvieh breed, developed in Austria through rigorous crossbreeding of local cattle with Simmental, is renowned for its dual-purpose capabilities, providing both high-quality milk and meat. These cattle are not only prolific milk producers but also contribute significantly to the beef industry. Their milk, rich in protein and fat, complements their muscular build, which is ideal for meat production, making them a versatile choice for integrated farming operations.

Guernsey: Efficient Grazers Producing Rich, Golden Milk

Known for their distinctive golden-coloured milk, Guernsey cows are an efficient choice for dairy farmers focused on premium milk production. These smaller-sized cattle consume less feed relative to the milk they produce, which is high in beta-carotene and has excellent qualities for cheese making. Their gentle nature and lower maintenance requirements make them well-suited to smaller farms or sustainable agricultural practices.

Milking Shorthorn: Versatile and Long-Lived Dairy Providers

The Milking Shorthorn is a breed that has adapted well across the globe, known for its versatility and durability. Originally bred for multiple purposes, including dairy, meat, and even as draught animals, today’s Milking Shorthorns are primarily valued for their dairy production. They produce milk with a balanced protein to fat ratio, which is highly valued in cheese making. Their easy calving and long productive life make them a preferred choice for farmers who value longevity and ease of management in their herds.


The diversity of cow breeds in New Zealand is a cornerstone of its dairy industry, with each breed bringing distinct advantages to dairy production. From the high milk yields of the Holstein Friesian to the rich, creamy milk of the Jersey and the robust nature of the Brown Swiss, New Zealand’s dairy farmers are well-equipped with a variety of breeds to choose from, depending on their specific farming needs and environmental conditions.

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Contact the specialists at Smart Shelters today to discuss how our innovative farm shed solutions can be tailored to meet your specific needs and elevate your farming operations.