Quite commonly, Holstein and Jersey cows are used here in the U.S., although there could be any number of breeds used here and abroad that are not well known (in Nicaragua, for example, use several cross breeds bred to produce better in the heat of the tropics http://www.uwex.edu/ces/international/events/documents/09wiegand.pdf).
Common dairy cow breeds used in the United States are Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein-Friesian, Jersey, and Milking Shorthorn. All originally from Europe, they were brought to the United States in the 19th century, if not slightly earlier (the Milking Shorthorn was brought to New England in 1783!). These breeds are used by the dairy industry because they all produce a large amount of milk relative to other cows. Some are relatively very small in size as well, which would not make them well suited for beef production.
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