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Why Would You Crossbreed?

An Extension dairy specialist provides reasons why producers should consider crossbreeding.

By J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist NDSU Extension Service

Dairy crossbreeding was a major topic of discussion at the recent Dairy Cow College educational series.

For most dairy herds where purebreds have been the rule, the question producers asked most was, "Why do that?"

As herds people, we've learned how to manage around a variety of challenges for the sake of breed type and milk, a decision that has come at a cost to fertility and longevity. Since U.S. genetics dominate the dairy industry worldwide, this is not just a U.S. problem. Sixty-four percent of the world's Holstein breed traces back to just three sire levels: Elevation, Blackstar and Chief. But the Holstein breed is not alone; most other breeds are in a similar situation.

So now what? Well, some California dairymen have turned to crossbreeding to reduce high culling losses. The details of crossbreeding are much too extensive to discuss here. However, the take-home messages are:

  • Inbreeding is increasing at about 0.1 percent per year in the Holstein breed, which is causing increased inbreeding depression, especially for mortality, fertility, health and survival.
  • Crossbreeding is a mating system that complements genetic improvement.
  • Crossbreeding results in heterosis, which is the opposite of inbreeding depression.
  • Heterosis is a bonus that comes on top of the average genetic level of the two parent breeds, and should be about 5 percent for production and at least 10 percent for mortality, fertility, health and survival.
  • Crossbreeding systems with dairy cattle should use three breeds to capitalize adequately on the benefits of heterosis.
  • Mating Holsteins to Swedish Red, Norwegian Red, Montebeliarde and Normande artificial insemination sires resulted in fewer stillborn calves, as well as cows with less calving difficulty, enhanced fertility and improved survival, compared with pure Holsteins.
  • Production of Montbeliarde-Holstein crossbreds and Scandinavian Red-Holstein crossbreds was very similar to production of pure Holsteins (about 5 percent lower).

If you would like to read more about the discussions during Dairy Cow College, I have extra copies of our handouts. Simply contact me at (701) 231-7663 or mailto:jw.schroeder@ndsu.edu.

Dairy Cow College is a joint effort of the North Dakota State University Extension Service, NDSU's Animal and Range Sciences Department and the Midwest Dairy Association.

If you turn to crossbreeding, be sure to have a plan. According to University of Minnesota data, the cross needs Holsteins for the third or fourth generation. As for purebreds, someone needs to provide the animals for crossbreeding. Consult your artificial insemination distributor for details.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:J.W. Schroeder, (701) 231-7663, jw.schroeder@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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