Dutch Belted cattle are a dairy breed named for their country of origin and its striking color pattern: black with a bright white belt around its middle. In the Netherlands, it’s also known as the Lakenvelder. The term ‘laken’ means a sheet or blanket around the body. The Dutch Belted has been known in the Netherlands as a standardized breed since the 1700s. It was selected as a specialized dairy cow able to convert lush pastures and little grain supplementation into 12,000 to 15,000 pounds of rich milk per lactation period.
For centuries, the Lakenvelder was bred and kept by the Dutch who were not fond of selling their prized cattle. Never a widely popular breed, the Dutch Belted suffered a large decrease in their European population during and after World War II. By 1950, only four or five herds were known to exist in Holland. By the 1970s, semen from American bulls was imported back to Holland to revive the breed in its native home. As of 2007, numbers in Holland were increasing but the breed is still considered extremely rare with a population of less than 1000 worldwide.
Dutch Belted cattle were first imported into the United States by the U.S. Consul of Holland, D.H. Haight of Goshen, New York, in 1838. He made two more importations of the breed in later years. Shortly after, in 1840, the famous showman P.T. Barnum imported these flashy cattle for use in his circus shows, having exhibited them as “rare and aristocratic” in his show. “They struck my fancy in Holland,” he said. “I imported a few and then found their unique and novel appearance not their only quality, for they proved wonderful milkers, far superior to any other cattle to which my attention has been drawn.”
Barnum soon moved the exhibition herd to his farm in Orange County, New York. Following Barnum’s importation, H.W. Coleman imported a small herd during 1848, which he placed on his estate in Pennsylvania. Another notable importation in later years was of a fine cow named “Peapack Dutchess” No. 1390 made by W.H. Lance of Peapack, New Jersey, in 1906. It was from these early importations that the Dutch Belted breed was established in the U.S.
The Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America (DBCAA) was formed on February 4, 1886, in New York. N.W. Howell was elected President of the new association. H.R. Richards of Easton, Pennsylvania, was the first secretary of the organization – subsequently serving for 25 years in the post. The first herdbook created by the association recorded a total of 31 herds in the U.S.
By the 1970s, the Dutch Belted neared global extinction. The DBCAA lapsed into inactivity and only a few purebred breeders remained. Unfortunately, their decline coincided with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dairy buy-out program of the 1980s, where thousands of dairy cattle were sold for beef as part of the national dairy herd reduction to help raise milk prices. Many Dutch Belted cattle were lost through this program. It was only through the action of a handful of breeders, especially Kenneth and Winifred Hoffman of Earlville, Illinois, that the Dutch Belted breed survived in the U.S. Their work also had a global impact since semen from the Hoffmans’ bulls have been used in the Netherlands.
The Livestock Conservancy began management of the Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America’s registry in 1993. The Conservancy facilitated the Association’s reorganization, providing the structure and representation necessary for the breed to survive. The DBCAA registry has established grade-up and recovery programs to increase numbers in the breed. In the 1990s, a renewed interest in Dutch Belted cattle began, mainly among farmers interested in grass-based dairying. As of 2007, the Dutch Belted is in a stronger position than it has been in several decades. In 2013 the Dutch Belted Cattle Association took over their own registry and management of the association.
Dutch Belted cattle are black, or occasionally red, with a white belt. Bulls range up to 2,000 pounds and cows from 900 to 1,500 pounds. They have long horns that curve slightly upward at the points. The heads of Dutch Belted cattle are broad, but comparatively long and somewhat dished. Their bodies reflect the classic triple wedge shape of dairy cattle, with a straight top line, deep middle, long wide rump, and good spring of rib. They consistently demonstrate reproductive efficiency and longevity of production. Cows are known to be productive and producing calves well into their teens.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.