Would a smaller cow suit your barn better?

Are your cows, getting too big for your barn, then maybe Jersey is a good alternative. Cows that don’t have enough room have a shorter lifespan, lower milk production and more health problems. Switching to a smaller breed such as Jersey, can give a greater economic result, despite a slightly inferior milk production, due to increased longevity and healthier cows.

There are many considerations when looking into a change of breed, but for many it is especially the barn, that is the main constraint. If the stalls are too small for the cows, the amount of laying time will be decreased, which can have an unfavorable effect on the milk production, health, and longevity. It can be a large investment to upgrade and expand the stalls, to suit larger cows, alternatively you can breed towards smaller cows or change to a smaller breed such as Jersey. Another important factor, to take into consideration is the harmony of the whole farm. The high feed prices, make it more attractive to produce as much of your own feed as possible, given the land is available.

Economics of changing breed in a case herd
In a case herd with 230 annual cows we have investigated the economic potential in switching from a pure Holstein herd to a Jersey herd. The current milk yield is 11,800 kg ECM with a replacement rate of 29 %.  We have used the SimHerd program to calculate the consequences of switching, whilst maintaining the same number of cows or if the herd can be expanded with 20 additional cows. Beef- and sexed semen is used to maintain the same number of youngstock in all scenarios.

Additional cows increase revenue most
If the number of cows in the barn can’t be increased, the annual net return will be €12.900 higher for a Jersey herd compared to a Holstein herd. In some barns, it is possible to have more Jersey cows, compared to larger breeds. If it is possible to have 20 additional cows, the annual net return will be increased with €49.100, compared to the current herd.



+20 Jersey cows



– 53,500 €

+ 18,100 €

Slaughter cows

– 18,800 €

– 18,300 €


– 13,300 €

– 13,300 €

Saved costs


83,700 €

55,300 €


14,800 €

7,300 €

Annual net revenue

+ 12,900

+ 49,100

Smaller cows = lower costs
In table 1, the economic results from the calculations are presented. The main driver of the increase in annual net revenue is saved feed costs, due to the smaller frame and increased feed efficiency of the Jersey cow and fewer youngstock. There is a decrease in the income from sale of cows for slaughter for two reasons, firstly fewer cows are slaughtered due to better health and longevity and secondly Jersey cows have a lower slaughter value compared to larger breeds, this also affects the value of sold of calves.

Differences in milk production determine the profitability
The economic impact of changing breed is largely driven by the milk production. For the case herd, we assumed a decrease in milk production of 11 % for Jersey cows compared to Holstein, which is the average difference between the two breeds in Denmark. This results in a decrease in income from milk of 53,500 €, whilst maintaining the same number of cows, but if there is room for 20 additional Jersey cows in the barn, the income from milk is increased by 18,100 €.

In figure 1, the annual net revenue for different levels of milk production is presented. If the Holstein cows are in an old barn, with small stalls, it can be expected, that the difference in milk production will be lower (8 %) and the benefit of switching to Jersey is therefore higher. In contrast for a high yielding Holstein herd with large stalls a larger difference of 14 % would be expected, which would make it less attractive to switch to Jersey.  

Feed- and milk prices are crucial
A very important consideration in the calculations, is the prices and especially the expectancy of the future prices. In figure 2, a sensitivity analysis of the milk- and feed prices is shown. All results are based on Danish circumstances from the case herd. If the milk price in 2022 0,43 € is applied, the annual net return of switching to Jersey is -8,000 €, whereas if the price is 0,28 € as in 2016 the annual net return is +22,100 €. This illustrates that Holstein have an advantage when milk prices are high, but Jersey cows have an economic advantage when milk prices are low. For feed prices the opposite is the case. If the feed price is 20 % lower, Jersey is 2,600 € inferior, but if feed prices are 20 % higher, they are 30,800 € superior.

Changing breed is not black and white
The economic potential of changing from a large breed to Jersey, is dependent on local prices and the current status of the herd. It is not always economically feasible to switch breed, but if feed prices are high and the barn is putting a constraint on the welfare and production, then Jersey could be a good alternative.

If you are interested in a specific calculation for your herd or customer, please contact us for more information.