Holstein Friesians (often shortened to Holsteins in North America, while the term Friesians is often used in the UK) are a breed of dairy cattle originating from the Dutch provinces of North Holland and Friesland, and Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany and Jutland. They are known as the world’s highest-production dairy animals.
The Dutch and German breeders bred and oversaw the development of the breed with the goal of obtaining animals that could best use grass, the area’s most abundant resource. Over the centuries, the result was a high-producing, black-and-white dairy cow.
With the growth of the New World, markets began to develop for milk in North America and South America, and dairy breeders turned to the Netherlands for their livestock. After about 8,800 Friesians (black pied Germans) had been imported, disease problems in Europe led to the cessation of exports to markets abroad.
In Europe, the breed is used for milk in the north, and meat in the south. Since 1945, European national development has led to cattle breeding and dairy products becoming increasingly regionalized. More than 80% of dairy production is north of a line joining Bordeaux and Venice, which also has more than 60% of the total cattle. This change led to the need for specialized animals for dairy (and beef) production. Until this time, milk and beef had been produced from dual-purpose animals. The breeds, national derivatives of the Dutch Friesian, had become very different animals from those developed by breeders in the United States, who used Holsteins only for dairy production.
Breeders imported specialized dairy Holsteins from the United States to cross with the European black and whites. For this reason, in modern usage, “Holstein” is used to describe North or South American stock and its use in Europe, particularly in the North. “Friesian” denotes animals of a traditional European ancestry, bred for both dairy and beef use. Crosses between the two are described by the term “Holstein-Friesian”.