Dairy cattle breeds

Mamelle Prim'Hosltein - Crédit : Prim'Holstein France
Mamelle Prim’Hosltein - Crédit : Prim'Holstein France
Summary of the article

 Traits and performances

Stemming from black pied populations across the northern belt of mainland Europe (Holland, Denmark, Germany), the Holstein was developed in France from the nineteenth century on, first as the Hollandaise then the French Frisian before getting its current name in 1990.

The Holstein is the number one milk producer in France and worldwide. Holstein accounts for 30% of French national cattle stock and 60% of French national dairy stock, and produces 80% of all milk collected in France, making it the leading producer of dairy products – both in conventional farming and organic farming.

The unparalleled attraction for Holstein stems from their milk production capacities allied with good functional traits: udder adapted to mechanical milking, body capacity that optimizes feed intake, feet and legs that enables it to roam comfortably, pelvic conformation that makes for easy calving.

Holstein heifers grow fast and mature early, and can easily calf at just 2 years old.

Milk production of French-line Holsteins under official milk recording system jumped over 3028 kg between 1990 and 2010, and genetic progress alone can be credited with 2/3 of this improvement. Milk protein percentage has increased by 1‰ over the last 20 years.


French breeding programs, led by 4 Breeding companies, combine different objectives: improved production traits (50%), morphology traits (12.5%) and functional traits (somatic cell count: 12.5%, longevity: 12.5%, and fertility: 12.5%). The ISU global merit index combines these different criteria.

The Holstein breed also benefits from progress in genomics research, having been enrolled in the national marker-assisted selection (MAS) program since 2001. Since 2009, there are genomic indexes on all of the traits that had previously been evaluated on progeny. Farmers in France and abroad can now benefit from this new-generation offer, allowing a accelerated genetic progress.

The international-scale Holstein breeding program highlights the key role played by French genetics: almost two out of three evaluated bulls descend from French maternal lines, and over 80% of bull dams are French.

France also holds a leading position on the international arena due to the size of its Holstein flock stock under official milk recording system (ranking it second worldwide), and to the milk performance results achieved. Almost 20,000 heifers and 1.1 million semen doses are exported every year to countries across the globe.


Key figures

  • 2,176,026 cows
  • 51,608 farms
  • 1,718,590 cows under milk recording system
  • 433,139 cows recorded in the Herd Book
  • 4,050,774 artificial inseminations
  • Height at withers (adult cow): 145 cm
  • Adult cow weight:
    600 to 700 kg
  • Adult bull weight:
    900 to 1,200 kg
  • Young-bull carcass weight:
    290 to 340 kg
  • Milk yield: 11,264kg
  • Milk yield 305 days: 9,013 kg
  • Fat content: 3.85 %
  • Crude protein content: 3.28 %

Official milk recording results 2014 - Mature equivalent milk yield - Institut de l’Elevage & France Conseil Elevage