5 Animals to Thank for Your Dairy Products

National Dairy Month — celebrated in June — began in 1937 as National Milk Month, an initiative to get people to drink more cow's milk when the industry had a surplus. But cows aren't the only species who produce dairy products.

Let's take a look at some of the animals favored by farmers to put dairy treats, from cheese to ice cream, into your family's refrigerator.

Learn About These 5 Dairy-Producing Breeds

Holstein Cow

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Holstein Cow

These large, beautifully marked, black and white cows are instantly recognizable as the nation's milk cows. A single, high-producing Holstein cow can supply 60 to 80 pounds of milk a day. That productivity is what gradually pushed other breeds off dairy farms. Today, most dairy herds are primarily Holstein, a breed that originated in the Netherlands and was imported to the United States beginning in the 1800s. Although different cow breeds might be favored by artisanal cheesemakers and boutique creameries, most milk, cheese, chocolate and butter on supermarket shelves come from the Holstein.

Alpine Goat

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Alpine Goat

Goats are important producers of dairy products, especially for people who are allergic to cow's milk. One of the better producers of dairy products, particularly cheeses, is the Alpine goat, sometimes known as the French Alpine. These medium-size, hardy goats are beautifully marked in a variety of colors, and their milk is good for both drinking and cheesemaking. Chèvre is the French word for goat, but in the United States, it is often used interchangeably as a name for that delectable goat cheese at your local cheese counter.

Jersey Cow

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Jersey Cow

Eran Wajswol, who owns Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, New Jersey, prefers Jersey cows for the delicious milk they produce. Wajswol owns a small dairy herd comprising cows, goats and sheep, and uses their milk to produce gourmet cheese products. He uses only Jersey milk to produce butter. Of the Jersey, he says, "This cow was the family cow for more than 100 years in the United States." Jerseys were popular backyard cows because they were small, easy to manage and produced milk high in butterfat. Jersey cows are not high-volume producers, though, and as dairy farming became more industrialized, larger breeds replaced the petite and deerlike Jersey. It is still popular with small-scale and artisanal owners, however.

Fresian Sheep

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Friesian Milk Sheep

Who knew that sheep produce not only wool but milk? Sheep's milk is the source of many popular cheeses, including Pecorino from Italy, Manchego from Spain and Roquefort from France. Individual countries may have regional dairy breed favorites, but most sheep dairy products come from one breed: the Friesian. Friesian sheep originated in Holland — the same country as their bovine cousin, the Holstein cow — and like that breed, they are also prolific producers of milk. The milk from Friesian sheep has an especially high fat content that lends itself well to cheese production.

Brown Swiss Cow

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Brown Swiss Cow

Like the Jersey, the lovely Brown Swiss cow produces milk that has high percentages of fat and protein. Brown Swiss come in many shades, from chocolate brown to almost silver. In their native Switzerland, the cows are an important part of the local farming culture, and festivals are held in the spring and fall when it's time to move the herds between their summer and winter pastures. Herdsmen dress in traditional clothing, and the cows are adorned with flower garlands and large brass bells. Brown Swiss are good, all-around milk and cheese cows whose milk is excellent for producing traditional Swiss, Gruyère and Emmental cheeses.

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