A brief history of Holstein & British Friesians

The Modern British Holstein

A rich heritage and many years of classification, milk recording and selective breeding have produced the high performance dairy cow that is the modern British Holstein. Today's Holstein cow is an unparalleled converter of forage into dairy, achieving on average over 9000kg milk yield together with 650 kg combined fat and protein.


UK breeders recognised the potency of North American Holstein cattle in the latter part of the twentieth century and imported females, bulls, semen and embryos from the best bloodlines available. Today's British Holstein is a powerful cocktail of genes from the iconic sires of the breed including: Ivanhoe, Elevation, Chief, Starbuck, Blackstar and more recently, bulls such as Goldwyn, Oman and Mogul. Furthermore, potent cow families such as Roxy, Dellia and Apple are well represented across the UK.

Thriving Friesians

The British Friesian was the original strain of the Holstein-Friesian developed in the UK. Whilst the North American Holstein became a specialist milk producer, the British Friesian maintained an element of dual purpose through the middle part of the twentieth century. That dual purpose remains today, with Friesians carrying more flesh and body condition than their Holstein counterparts, albeit on a smaller frame size. The Friesian is regarded as the most fertile breed among UK AI companies and is the only UK dairy breed to have an average calving interval under 400 days (for milk recorded cows). Now recognised as a breed in its own right, the British Friesian has enjoyed a big upsurge in popularity in recent years. Much of this success has come from those commercial dairy farmers that were considering cross-breeding, using the Friesian as an alternative in order to maintain the black and white cow. The Friesian therefore provides a valuable reservoir of Holstein-Friesian genes for the future.


The Millennium brought with it a return to the world stage for British black and white cattle breeding with the unprecedented success of Picston Shottle. This wonderful bull topped genetic merit lists across the globe, notably in North America, re-igniting international interest in UK dairy cattle. Shottle remains the highest contributor of genes to the UK Holstein herd, which displays his key qualities of: balance between type and production together with great health traits and the signature longevity that defines UK cows.

Recent advances

The British Holstein breed does not rest on its laurels. Performance is regularly reviewed by Holstein UK on behalf of breeders, in conjunction with industry partners, notably AHDB Dairy and British AI companies. View the latest production trends here.

Future opportunities

Over the years UK breeders have been at the forefront of adoption of new breeding technologies. AI and embryo transfer have allowed both elite and commercial breeders to rapidly disseminate the best bloodlines within their herds as well enhancing the marketing of their genetics.

Genomic selection is still in its infancy but has already provided early adopters with new opportunities, particularly in the use and marketing of younger breeding animals. This has resulted in both accelerated genetic improvement in the breed and an increased flow of genetic material around the globe.

The UK Holstein and Friesian breeds and their breeders are better equipped than ever to deliver outstanding breeding stock to meet both national and international requirements. Come and join the UK Holstein Friesian family and share in some of our breeders success.