Meuse Rhine Issel (also spelled Yssel or Ijssel) is a Dutch breed of cattle. They have origins in both the Netherlands and Germany, so they can go by a lot of other names as well. In addition to Meuse Rhine Issel, common names for these cattle include Rotbunt, Dutch Red-and-White, and Red Pied Dutch. They may also be abbreviated as simply MRI.

No matter what you choose to call them, the Meuse Rhine Issel is a very common cattle breed used for milk production. They are very popular in Europe, due to the moderate climate and being where the cattle were originally bred. If you’re considering owning one or more of these cattle for farming purposes, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know.

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Quick Facts About Meuse Rhine Issel Cattle

Breed Name:Meuse Rhine Issel
Place of Origin:Southeastern Netherlands
Uses:Dual-purpose cattle farming
Bull (Male) Size:2,300 pounds
Cow (Female) Size:1,500 pounds
Color:Red and white
Lifespan:15-20 years
Climate Tolerance:Moderate climates but adaptable
Care Level:Low
Production:Meat and milk, including cheese

Meuse Rhine Issel Origins

The Meuse Rhine Issel cattle breed originates from both the Southeastern Netherlands and Northwestern Germany. The breed was first developed in the second half of the 1800s but was officially recognized as a breed in the early 1900s.

The name “Meuse Rhine Issel” comes from the area in which the breed originated: near the Meuse, the Rhine, and the Ijssel Rivers in the Netherlands and Germany. However, Meuse Rhine Issel is the name used to refer to the cattle in the Netherlands. In Germany, the cattle are called Rotbunt.

After the Meuse Rhine Issel became recognized as a breed, other European countries such as Belgium, Denmark, France developed similar cattle breeds. But, they based those breeds off of the Meuse Rhine Issel.

Beef Cattle Close Up
Image Credit: WolfBlur, Pixabay

Meuse Rhine Issel Characteristics

The Meuse Rhine Issel is considered to be a medium-sized cattle breed. The bulls can weigh as much as 2,300 pounds while the cows usually weigh a little less than 1,500 pounds. They are described as having a solid build, which makes them great for producing meat.

When it comes to their adaptability to different climates, Meuse Rhine Issels are very hardy. The climate in the Netherlands is described as being “moderate and maritime”. However, since the Southeastern part where these cows originated is farther inland, the terrain is hilly. These cattle have been able to adapt in order to graze on this rough terrain.

As far as the temperament of Meuse Rhine Issel cattle, they are very docile. They are very easy to milk and aren’t hard to take care of due to their temperament and adaptability. They have a lifespan of up to 20 years and can produce a lot of calves in their lifetime due to having a short gestation period and being easy to calve.


Meuse Rhine Issel cattle were originally bred for both meat and milk production. Cows that are used for both meat and milk are known as dual-purpose cattle. Although they are still bred for their meat and are still considered a dual-purpose breed, today their primary use is for milk.

Meuse Rhine Issel cows produce milk that is very high in overall quality. Their milk is also high in the Kappa Casein-B protein, which is necessary for cheesemaking. The characteristics and adaptability of Meuse Rhine Issel cattle make them an overall very prolific and versatile cattle breed.

Appearance & Varieties

Meuse Rhine Issel cattle are easily recognized by their red and white pied appearance. This is why they are sometimes referred to as Red Pied Dutch or Dutch Red-and-White. The main color of these cattle is white, with red markings on and around their face and midsection.

However, you may see some Meuse Rhine Issel cattle with hardly any red on them, and some with more red than others. And due to other European countries using the Meuse Rhine Issel as a model to create similar breeds, you may see other red and white pied cattle that aren’t necessarily Meuse Rhine Issels.

A breed that is very similar to the Meuse Rhine Issel is Holstein cattle. They have similar origins to the Meuse Rhine Issel, originating in Germany and the Netherlands as well. The red and white Holstein is the most similar in appearance to the Meuse Rhine Issel, but Holsteins often have larger red markings compared to the Meuse Rhine Issel.

Cattle Bos Taurus
Cattle Bos Taurus (Image Credit: Bramans, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0 International)

Population, Distribution & Habitat

Most of the population of Meuse Rhine Issel cattle is in the hilly regions of central Europe. These cattle are still very common in the Netherlands and Germany where they originated, but they can also be found in countries such as Belgium, Denmark, France, and Luxembourg where they were bred to create other cattle with similar characteristics of the Meuse Rhine Issel. These breeding practices led to an increase of Meuse Rhine Issel in these countries as well.

While the largest population of Meuse Rhine Issel cattle is in the countries mentioned above, they have been found in other parts of Europe, primarily the United Kingdom and Ireland. As far as their distribution to other countries outside of Europe, they have been exported to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and North America. However, the population in these countries isn’t nearly as large as it is in Europe.

Are Meuse Rhine Issel Cattle Good for Small-Scale Farming?

If you were considering using Meuse Rhine Issel cattle for small-scale farming, your best bet would be a small-scale dairy farm, especially one that specializes in cheese-making. Meuse Rhine Issel cattle are known for producing high-quality milk, which is thought by some people to be the best milk in the world. But as you learned earlier, their milk also contains the main protein that is necessary for making cheese.

With that being said, running a small-scale dairy farm isn’t as simple as purchasing a few Meuse Rhine Issel cattle. It also involves purchasing the equipment needed for processing milk and making sure that you have the means to feed, shelter, and care for the animals. It’s a big commitment, both financially and time-wise.

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Final Thoughts

We hope this guide provided you with some useful information about Meuse Rhine Issel cattle. This is a very common cattle breed in Europe, easily recognizable by their red and white pied appearance. Although they were originally bred to be dual-purpose cattle, their main production today is milk. However, some farmers do still use them for meat as well.

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Featured Image Credit: Andrew Balcombe, Shutterstock