The Dutch Belted breed comes to us from Holland, as its name suggests. It probably descended from Swiss and Austrian cattle which shared its distinctive trait—a band of white hair wrapped around its middle. This interesting color pattern attracted the attention of the Dutch nobles, who adopted the breed to add to their collections of other belted animals, including rabbits, goats, pigs, and the unique Lakenvelder chicken.
The breed made its appearance in Holland by the 1600s, and by the mid-1700s began to thrive. The Dutch nobles were proud of their belted cattle, and it was some years before anyone could persuade them to sell a few. D. H. Haight, United States consul to Holland, was one of the first Americans to have any success, and he introduced a few Dutch Belteds to our shores in 1838. In 1840, P. T. Barnum made the next importation. The breed’s stunning appearance made a sensation in Barnum’s traveling circus, and when the time came for the cows to retire from show business, they set to work providing the milk for his farm in New York.
The Dutch Belted’s milking ability thoroughly impressed Barnum. Through his enthusiastic breed promotion, Americans began to import more of the cattle. Shipping them from Holland was costly, however, so they were never introduced in great numbers. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe in 1906 put an end to the importations.
Although it never became wildly popular, the Dutch Belted slowly spread throughout the United States until around World War II. As the post-war economy began to take off, the Holstein became the dairy breed of choice due to its unequaled production ability, and all other breeds of milk cattle suffered accordingly. Only a few dedicated breeders thought it worthwhile to preserve their belted herds. The Dutch Belted was in danger of global extinction by the 1970s, many of the Dutch herds having been decimated in the Nazi invasion of Holland.
To make matters worse, in the early 1980s the United States Department of Agriculture began a campaign to raise the price of milk by reducing the national cow herd. A buyout program led to many dairy cattle being slaughtered for beef, and it was typically the non-Holstein breeds that suffered most. By 1985 the Dutch Belted breed was in a perilous predicament.
However, help was on the way. The few devoted Dutch Belted breeders left began increasing the breed’s numbers through the process of upgrading. Interest in pasture-raised livestock in the 1990s brought with it an interest in heritage breeds that were designed to function best on grass, such as the Dutch Belted. As a result, the future of this unique breed is looking much brighter. In fact, its numbers have increased so much that American Dutch Belteds are being used to revive the breed in its native Holland.
While some hobby farmers keep Dutch Belted cattle just for their looks, the primary purpose of the breed is to produce milk, particularly in a grass-based system. Dutch Belted milk works well for making cream, butter, and cheese, but it is great just for drinking, as well.
Other uses of the breed include draft work and beef production. At present, breeders caution against raising Dutch Belted cattle for meat, since they are still fairly rare. However, there does seem to be potential for breeding Dutch Belted bulls to beef-type cows in order to raise crossbred calves for beef.
The Dutch Belted is known for its sweet, trusting nature and its amazing patience. It is a very smart breed that quickly catches on to what is expected of it, and will amply reward its owner’s loving care.
Most Dutch Belteds are sound, healthy animals, typically free from the metabolic problems that plague the higher-producing breeds. Both their feet and their udders are structurally sound.
However, the skin on their white parts is somewhat sensitive. Owners should avoid using insecticides on their Dutch Belted cattle, or at least try to apply them only to the colored parts.
- Consistent quality.
- Suitability for grass-based systems.
- Good foraging instincts.
- Ability to maintain body condition on limited resources.
- Amazing longevity; some continue to calve and milk until age 20.
- Early maturity.
- Exceptional fertility.
- Very easy calving.
- Calf vigor.
- Excellent mothering instincts.
- Persistent milk production.
- Excellent milk flavor and quality.
- Small, easy-to-digest fat globules.
- High butterfat and protein content, perfect for cheese-making.
- High beta-carotene content.
- High beef yield.
- Flavorful, tender meat.
- Significant hybrid vigor in crossbreeding.
- Milk production a little high for homestead use.
- Lower production than commercial dairy breeds.
- Calves sell poorly at sale barns.