Research Settles the Jersey vs. Holstein Debate, Kind of

Research on carcass quality and milk components shed light on the Jersey vs. Holstein debate. ( Farm Journal )

Arguments often reveal deeper issues beneath the surface. The Jersey vs. Holstein debate has been around for decades. Why not settle it once and for all with science? While research may not give us a final answer, it does spark some good conversation.

Dairy beef

Research says … Holsteins win.

Irish researchers say Holsteins have higher-quality carcasses than Jerseys. Young Holstein animals had a 102-pound heavier carcass than young Jersey animals. Jerseys in the study also required 21 days longer to reach a given carcass weight and fat score compared to Holsteins. 

Maybe there’s a compromise here? Researchers found a Holstein x Jersey cross was only 45 to 60 pounds lighter than purebred Holsteins and required between only seven and nine days to reach the target carcass weight compared to purebred Holsteins.

Irish researchers in a different study found Holsteins ranked mid-range on a researcher-developed dairy-beef index (DBI), while Jerseys ranked among the lowest breeds. DBI traits included direct calving difficulty, being polled, docility, direct gestation length, calf mortality, carcass merit, and feed intake. 

Researchers did not intend to settle the Holstein-Jersey debate. Instead, they noticed calving performance, which is important to dairy farmers, is typically genetically antagonistic to carcass merit, which is important to beef producers.

Among the beef and dairy breeds studied, the Salers breed was at the top of the DBI, Holsteins were in the middle, Jerseys were second-to-last, and Charolais were at the bottom. Researchers believe they demonstrate beef bulls can be selected for breeding to dairy females with moderate impact on future cow performance.

The bigger issue … dairy farmers are struggling.

It’s no secret milk prices are low, and farm bankruptcies are high. Comparing Holstein and Jersey beef qualities highlights an underlying issue – dairy farmers are fighting to survive. Income diversification with dairy beef may help, and Pennsylvania State University shares specific advice for making dairy beef profitable here. However, dairy farmers should take steps now while milk prices are looking up to plan for dairy’s next downturn. 

Milk composition

Research says … Jerseys win.

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