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Love my Dutch Belted!

By Willene Overfelt

Most everyone is aware of the Belted Galloway breed of cattle, often referred to as the “oreo cookie” breed, which has a white band around its midsection. There is another breed of cattle not so well known, however, with a white belt, the Dutch Belted. This is a dairy breed with roots going back to the 1500s in the Netherlands. Dutch Belted cattle were imported into the U.S. between 1840 and 1900 but became rare in the 1900s when the dairy industry began focusing more on Holsteins for greater production in confinement. They are now listed on the critically rare list of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

The Dutch Belted have many fine qualities, and, in my opinion, make a wonderful family cow. They are of moderate size, larger than a Jersey but smaller than a Holstein, and have a high meat yield. They have friendly dispositions making them easy to handle. Dutch Belted cattle are known for their longevity with many teenage cows still in production. They are small boned making them easy calvers and they breed back easily producing a calf every year. Average birth weight is 70 pounds which also assures calving ease. Dutch Belted milk is believed to be more easily digested due to its soft curd and high protein/fat ratio.

While making a slow comeback, the Dutch Belted are still a rare cattle breed.
While making a slow comeback, the Dutch Belted are still a rare cattle breed.

I became aware of Dutch Belted cattle while starting a search for a family milk cow after moving back to the country. Much to my dismay, after many months of searching, I could not locate a Jersey, which at the time I considered the perfect family cow. There were Holsteins but I didn’t want that large an animal, didn’t like Holstein milk and, after subscribing to The Stockman Grass Farmer, knew that the larger breeds don’t do well on grass and hay alone but need supplemental feed.

This led me to an Internet search of dairy breeds. Several breeds interested me but I was drawn to the Dutch Belted. Not only are they beautiful animals to adorn the pasture, but I was also interested in the highly digestible milk due to my many digestive problems. (I wasn’t even able to drink goat milk.)

If I thought it was hard finding a Jersey, finding a Dutch Belted sounded almost impossible with only around 300 registered head in this country! But, the search was on and I contacted the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) which sent an informational packet on the breed. It included a member’s list of the Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America (DBCAA) and after some calling, I found a farmer several hours away who had a 75% cow and her heifer for sale, although they had no papers. He was using the Dutch Belted breed to obtain a belt on his beef cattle.

Since I was anxious to start milking, I bought the bred cow. Two months later, we were drinking fresh milk. I still recall drinking that first glass of milk. The taste was good but what struck me was the effect it had on my system. That first glass was like drinking a very pure glass of water. It was so easy going down and immediately had a calming effect. With a sigh of relief, I knew I had made the right choice.

Lest you think the difference was going from processed, store-bought milk to fresh milk, I must add that in the interim between that first Dutch Belted cow and my next Dutch Belted milker, which incidentally was the daughter of my first cow which I later bought, I did find two Jerseys to milk. Their milk, however, made me hyper and did not have the gentle effect of the Dutch Belted milk. The Jerseys are gone now to new homes and I am again enjoying Dutch Belted milk.

Not only do I find the milk so superior from this breed, but I also appreciate how well they do on grass. I have gradually gone to grass farming with no supplemental grain. At milking time, I either use alfalfa pellets or alfalfa hay. The rest of the time the cattle eat grass, forbs (a fancy word for weeds!), browse or hay. This is possible with the right size and genetics which the Dutch Belted possess. At seven months, I totally weaned the calf from that first cow and was shocked to find she was still giving two gallons per day on grass and once a day milking!

A Dutch Belted calf.
A Dutch Belted calf.

My herd is increasing now as I recently purchased a 50% bred heifer and a 75% heifer calf who both have papers. My goal is to keep breeding up to get as close to pure registered stock as possible. In order to increase the numbers, the DBCAA allows the use of a dairy cow of any breed to be bred to a registered bull. This is a 50% animal. By continuing to use a registered bull on the heifers born, it is possible to have a 96.88% pure animal in five generations. This animal is eligble for full herdbook status if it meets the DBCAA requirements. It may take some time to reach that point, but, meanwhile, I am very content with a lesser percentage animal which carries so many of the Dutch Belted traits. Plus, it is a good feeling to know I am helping bring back a rare breed.

If your interest is piqued now at this wonderful breed, I must tell you that you probably won’t be able to just run out and buy one, although some dairies have limited numbers for sale. I consider myself fortunate to have the few percentage cattle that I do. Through the breeding up program, however, it is possible to AI with semen from registered bulls and work toward registered status while still enjoying the Dutch Belted traits.

The main concentration of animals seems to be in the dairies of the Upper Midwest and the East although they are found throughout the country. Also, they are reasonably priced compared to some other rare breeds and are affordable for the hobbyist or homesteader. The semen is reasonably priced as well though the shipping can add up. But, if you have an AI technician in your area and choose to go this route, it is far cheaper than keeping a bull, and much safer, too! Just be sure to inquire about the sire’s registration status. Unless he is registered with the DBCAA, his offspring will not be eligible for registry.

For more information, check out the DBCAA’s web site at www.dutchbelted.com or the ALBC at www.albc-usa.org. You can also write to Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America, c/o American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, PO Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312 or call them at 919-542-5704. By sending $10 to the ALBC, you can become an associate member of the DBCAA and receive the Dutch Belted Bulletin, a quarterly publication with pictures, excellent information on the breed and a classified section where an occassional animal is offered for sale.

There is a wonderfully dedicated core of people who are helping to preserve this critically rare breed. The commercial dairies have historically kept the breed from extinction. Perhaps now it is time for the small farmer to lend a hand. Who knows? Maybe you will choose to help by becoming a Dutch Belted enthusiast, as well!

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