American cows are famous all over the world. Many of the breeds of cows in this country are highly prized abroad because they grow quickly, are hearty, and provide plenty of delicious steak and other cuts of meat. If you go to other places in the world, especially in developing nations, you’ll find that cows are often much smaller.
U.S. cows have been bred for high-quality meat and dairy products, and the U.S. cattle industry is massive. Farmers have used science to develop select cows from the best breeds that deliver the best results. They quickly discovered that not all breeds are created equally.
Some are better for those thick, grilled steaks you love, and other cows are more ideal for making milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products.
Let’s explore some of the different cattle breeds and why they’re so popular. Here are 11 of some of the best American cattle breeds out there.
The Cattle Industry Is Always Changing
There’s a lot of science that goes into the beef we eat and the milk we drink. Farmers and agricultural scientists are always looking for ways to breed cattle that grow larger, have fewer health issues, and taste better. It’s one of the reasons why the most prized breeds of cattle don’t stay constant through time.
People find ways, through the selection process, to make better cows that are easier to raise and make more sense economically. That’s why you’ll see some examples on this list of cows that were once popular in the U.S. but now are found in fairly small numbers.
As of 2019, there was reportedly over 102 million head of cattle in the country, so a lot is at stake to get things right.
The Black Angus Cow
There are more than 70 cattle breeds in the U.S., but the black angus deserves special mention. It’s the most common breed of cattle in the country, and chances are that as you drive across the country, you’ll see farms and homesteads dotted with these large, black cows.
Farmers and consumers love Black Angus cattle because their meat is well-marbled with fat, delivering intense beefy flavors in every steak or pound of ground beef. They are also relatively easy to raise and do well out on the pasture.
Herefords originated in England, but have quickly become recognized as a core American cattle breed. You can spot a Hereford by its dark red coloring paired with a white face and hooves.
These cows have famous beef because they can carry a lot of fat and grow in a short amount of time. They have calves without too much trouble and are used for milking on a lot of farms as well.
Red Angus Cattle
Cousin to the famous Black Angus cow, red angus cattle are more ideal for warmer temperatures in the U.S., so you’ll find them more in southern states where things get hotter.
These are docile cows that are easy to care for and have delicious beef.
The Texas Longhorn
If you’re looking for the quintessential American cattle breed, then look no further than the Texas longhorn. These massive cows are almost synonymous with Texas and are the state university’s mascot. They have large horns that stick several feet out from their heads. Good luck to anyone on the receiving end of a longhorn bull charge.
What’s interesting about this cow is that it originally came to the Americas with Christopher Columbus, and has ancestry tied to high-quality Spanish cattle. They have spots and a range of colors on their hides and are a mainstay at a lot of American rodeos.
When you think of a cow or see cows in a children’s coloring book, the Holstein is what typically comes to mind. It’s your stereotypical yet beautiful white and black cow. These cattle are used mainly for milk production in the country but are also valuable beef cattle.
Farmers and consumers love them because they offer consistency. There isn’t a lot of variation in the breed. With a Holstein, you pretty much know what you are going to get.
This breed of cattle is the oldest in the entire world and has been in the United States for over 100 years.
They are red and white cows with large bodies good for meat and dairy production. One thing great about these cattle is that cows don’t need much assistance calving. They can handle things on their own typically, a big bonus for farmers looking after thousands of head of cattle.
This cattle breed has been popular in Germany and other parts of Europe since the 1800s. Germany, after World War II ended, started a process of refining the breed as it regrew its cattle numbers that were decimated in the war.
By using a selection process, they were able to produce Gelbvieh cows and bulls that were excellent milk producers. These cattle were late arrivals in the U.S.; coming only in the 1970s.
The French love beef and they have several homegrown cattle breeds that are ideal for making steaks as well as supporting their famous dairy industry. All those incredible cheeses and butter don’t happen in France by accident. Farmers there have refined their craft over centuries using only the best products from the top cattle.
The Charolais breed is one of France’s most famous breeds of cattle, so naturally, the United States was eager to import some and start breeding them here. Interestingly, they first came into the U.S. via Mexico around 1934, and these lovely white and cream cattle have been here ever since.
Native to the United States, the Barzona breed is a mix of Angus, Hereford, and other cattle breeds.
When the Barzona breed first appeared in the 1940s, farmers found that they did very well in drier, hotter climates in the country, so they became more popular in places like Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.
They have a lovely red color and are generally regarded as one of the smarter breeds of cattle in the country.
The Florida Cracker
The Florida Cracker is a very old breed brought to the U.S. by the Spanish in the early 16th century. Having lived here for hundreds of years, they’ve adjusted well and are heat-tolerant cattle that thrive in hot and humid climates.
One interesting fact about the Florida Cracker is that they almost went extinct around 100 years ago as farmers transitioned to other breeds. They are still listed as a threatened breed, though work is underway to bring back their numbers.
Pineywood Cattle has a long history in the U.S., similar to the Florida Cracker. Farmers bred them from Spanish cows that came across the ocean hundreds of years ago but adapted to local conditions.
These animals also almost went extinct as farmers found more preferable breeds, but they are making their way back. For the most part, finding purebred pineywoods is a tall order. But you can find them mixed in with other cattle breeds almost everywhere you go.