Dutch Belted (Lakenvelder)
A Nobel Breed
The Dutch Belted breed is, according to records, the only belted breed of cattle tracing back directly to the original belted or “canvassed” cattle which were described in Switzerland and Austria throughout history. These “Gurtenvieh” were evidently moved by Dutch nobility from the mountain farms of Canton Appenzell and Tyrol Mountains during or soon after the feudal period. Kept privately by both Dutch nobility and royalty, the Lakenvelder cattle was unable to take its place in history as a widely successful breed. However, it has instead its place in history as being one of the best, rarest, and most admired breeds in history. From the Royal House of Orange, to the nobleman who ruled during the Stadholderless periods, once brought to Holland, these cows were revered by cultured artists, poets, and all who lay eyes on them.
With one of the most remarkably peculiar patterns of any animal, the name Lakenvelder means “white sheet” describing the unique white belt that starts just after the shoulders, and ends just before the hips; engulfing the entirety of that portion of the body. With black at both ends, you have what now a days is most often described as an “oreo cow”. Needless to say the color pattern drew the initial attention, but upon closer experience one discovers why the Dutch coveted and refused to share these belted beauties for so long. They produce arguably the best milk in the world. Without even knowing what homogenization was, the Swiss, Austrians, and now the Dutch had bred it into their cows, along with a naturally softer curd, with smaller fat globules, and an incredibly high protein/fat ratio making it a remarkably smooth and digestible milk.
As one of the first purebred standardized breeds in Holland, the Lakenvelders by the seventeen fifties, had become widely popular and reputable within the region. Due to the individualistic aspect of ownership at the time, herdbooks were kept on and off with little records remaining today. However, started in 1886, the Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America (DBCAA) is the oldest continually operating Belted registry in the world. A good thing too, as not long after World War II, all purebred Lakenvelders were either crossbred or slaughtered. It was thanks to a few devoted individuals, and the result of Mr. P.T. Barnum, that the US purebred stock was able to rescue and start repopulating the Dutch National Herd.
Bulletin #21 of the Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America published June, 1923, gives this insight into the history of the breed in North America:
“It is said that the first importation of Dutch Belted Cattle was by the United States Consul D. H. Haight in 1838; however, the first importation of importance was made by P.T. Barnum, the great showman in 1840. He was able to secure a few animals for show purposes only by agreeing that they were to be used principally for exhibition, as a feature of his great circus. Barnum’s herd of cattle were exhibited for several years. Later they were placed on a farm and this seems to be the beginning of the Dutch Belted cattle in America. From that time until 1906 a number were imported, but since 1906 our government has not allowed any importations owing to the prevalence of the foot and mouth disease in Europe.”
“In America the Dutch Belted Cattle are recognized as a dairy breed, and we find them in 1908 at the California State Fair, where the cow, Julia Marlow No. 1187, made the most butterfat at each milking for five consecutive days over all breeds. Again in 1909, Lady Fresno No. 1183 won the first prize and Julia Marlow the second prize over all breeds on a five day butterfat test. These performances were the more remarkable because in 1909 there were only 18 Dutch Belted females of milking age in the state of California. Passing on to the year 1914, we find we have the best four cows in milk over all breeds at the Arizona State Fair. In 1920, the champion diary cow of the state of Florida was Ferndell No. 1961.”
While experiencing a rising popularity among farmers in the United States up to just after World War II, the Dutch Belteds took a hit here in America. It seems their lack of ability to perform well confined, and on a grain based diet, removed them from consideration for the monoculture based future the agricultural world was destined for. As it happened, by the early nineteen eighties, the breed was all but extinct, with just enough remaining to make saving the breed possible. It was mainly thanks to Winnifred Hoffman and her late husband Kenneth Hoffman, that the breed was whisked away from extinction to the couple’s quaint little farm in Earlville Illinois. There they helped start the DBCAA, and proceeded to develop the largest farm with the widest selection of animals and semen in the world.
In our first days after deciding to give Arcadian Acres the green light, we spent much time researching different breeds histories, uses, and availability. Just as with our Marans chickens, and most endangered breeds, almost all of them required a significant waiting list before you could obtain animals. We had applied to a grant that looked like we could qualify for if we had animals on the property. As the farm had been used for cattle for most of its life, and was set up to still house cattle, that was our first focus. Deciding on the Dutch Belted as our primary dairy breed of choice we sent out, as we did to all the other breeders of the rare breeds we chose, letters introducing ourselves, our backgrounds, and our aspirations. Lucky for us, a few people from a few breeds responded and gave Arcadian Acres the substance of living breathing animals.
One such breeder, was the above mentioned Winnifred Hoffman. She had taken a liking to the sound of what we are aspiring to do, and decided to part with one of her new heifers. Not long after talks started did she resolve to part with a second personal herd heifer. December fourth twenty ten was the day Neil picked up #20 and #24, better known as Like It “Dream” and “Sally Forth”, and after a long twelve hour ride home in a chilling snowstorm, the girls arrived to their new home. We had our first critically endangered heritage breed livestock, and our own piece of history. It was so odd telling people you have more than one percent of the world population of an animal, and yet we feel such a sense of honor in being able to do our part in the stewardship and re-population of these pieces of history.
For a while now, the DBCAA has allowed for a breeding up program within the breed. It is basically crossing a pure bred Dutch Belted bull with another breeds cow such as a Holstein. The resulting heifer is half pure bred. Cross her with another pure bred bull, that heifer is seventy five percent pure bred. Continue for about six generations and eventually you have what is called pure bred through breeding up. In the registry they have a pure bred mark with a little asterisk by it. These animals are still considered in the censuses that show the world Dutch Belted numbers at around one thousand. Upon closer inspection, the number of actual pure bred Dutch Belted animals are still under two hundred. We are fortunate to have at this point two of them. While still young heifers, and a ways away from starting their long destinies of calving and milking, they provide us the start of all that we aspire for.