If you have questions about Norwegian Red and crossbreeding with Norwegian Red, these frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers may be of help.
How does the milk, fat and protein production of Norwegian Red crosses compare with purebred Holstein cows in the U.S. and other countries
Milk, fat and protein production of Norwegian Red x Holstein crosses will be very similar to purebred Holstein production. In high producing herds in the U.S., and some other countries with high producing herds, milk production of Norwegian Red x Holstein crosses will be slightly lower than purebred Holsteins. Milk yield will be 1 to 2 kg or 2 to 4 lbs lower per day for the Norwegian Red x Holstein crosses in high producing herds, but fat and protein percentage will be slightly higher for the Norwegian Red X Holstein crosses.
Does the Norwegian Red cost more to maintain since it appears to carry more flesh than the average U.S. Holstein?
No. Mature body weight of Norwegian Red and Norwegian Red x Holstein crosses will be lower than body weight of U.S. Holsteins. The higher body condition of Norwegian Red x Holstein crosses does not result in a heavier cow compared with purebred Holsteins. Maintenance feeds costs are driven mainly by body weight, and cows with a little more body condition but with a similar body weight or lower body weight do not require more feed for maintenance than lean cows.
Is it true that all Norwegian Red bulls will be polled someday?
Yes, this is the plan within the Geno breeding program. However it will take several more years to result in all bulls being polled because we do not want to eliminate any outstanding horned animals at this point. Increasing the frequency of the polled gene in the Norwegian Red population at a slow pace will allow us to increase the polled gene frequency, meanwhile enabling us not to sacrifice any genetic improvement in other traits. Currently 40% of all calves born in Norway are polled.
How has the size of the Norwegian Red breeding program provided a historical advantage over other Nordic Red breeding programs?
Genetic progress in a population is driven by four major factors, and one of these factors is what we call selection intensity. Selection intensity is dependent on the proportion of animals that are selected to be used as parents of the next generation. Higher selection intensity (smaller percentage selected) results in increased genetic progress when other factors are similar. Larger populations such as the Norwegian Red population were able to practice more intense selection than smaller populations simply because more animals are available for selection. For example, we can compare the historical Norwegian Red population to the historical Swedish Red population. The Norwegian Red population historically selected 12 to 16 proven bulls each year to use in the Norwegian Red population from 125 progeny tested bulls. This compares favorably with the historical Swedish Red population where they selected about the same number of proven bulls (7 to 12) to use each year but they progeny tested only about 85 Swedish Red bulls per year (85 is approximate average number tested in Sweden over the past several years).
The transition to genomic selection and the heavy use of bulls with genomic information and no progeny test data is underway in Norway and the other Nordic Red populations. It is currently unclear how the transition to genomic selection has impacted selection intensity. The impact of genomic selection will become clearer over the next 5 to 10 years.
Why don't more Norwegian Red bulls appear in the top 100 in the USDA/Interbull production and type rankings and in the top 100 lists in other countries like Australia?
There are many factors that impact how bulls rank on individual country bases. Currently some of these factors do not favor Norwegian Red bulls on the U.S. and other countries bases. Norwegian Red bulls are included with the other Nordic Red bulls on the Ayrshire base in the U.S. as well in other countries outside of Norway. Bulls are normally ranked within the local country's version of a total merit index, such as is the case in the U.S., Australia and other countries. The local total merit indexes may not be as comprehensive as total merit indexes that are available in the Nordic countries, however the U.S. total merit index (called Lifetime Net Merit) is currently closer to the Nordic total merit indexes that is has been in the past. This is also true for some of the total merit indexes used in Australia and the United Kingdom.
When compared with the Nordic total merit indexes, only clinical disease data is missing in the US total merit index, and productive life or longevity is used as an indicator of diseases status. Thus productive life receives a high weight in the U.S. total merit index (22% of the index) and the Norwegian Red does not have a measure of productive life within Norway to convert to the U.S. productive life measure. This is a major disadvantage for the Norwegian Red when it comes to rankings on the U.S. total merit index. This same problem occurs for Norwegian Red sires in Australian rankings where longevity is a large percentage of the Australian total merit indexes.
In addition, we have recently learned that some of Geno's genetic evaluation models for important individual traits need improvement to result in more accurate proofs on the U.S. and other country bases. Both of these issues lead to relatively poor rankings for the Norwegian Red bulls compared with other Nordic red bulls.
What foot and leg characteristics have been in the breeding goal for the Norwegian Red breed?
The Norwegian Red has been selected for improved feet and legs for more than 40 years. Selection for high quality claws with correct claw shape, as well as for structurally correct legs has been part of the Norwegian Red breeding program since the 1960s. From 2014, claw disorders have been included in the total merit index.
Do any Norwegian Red bulls have the A2A2 Beta Casein genotype?
Yes. Many Norwegian Red bulls are A2A2 for the Beta Casein genotype. More than 35 of our currently available daughter-proven-Norwegian Red sires are A2A2 for Beta Casein and many more will be available in the future.
Why are some of the Norwegian Red bulls black and white rather than red and white?
The Norwegian Red breed carries the black gene which presents infrequency. The black versus red color does not have an important economic impact within Norway so the black gene has remained in the Norwegian Red population since the merger of the local breeds to form the modern Norwegian Red breed in the 1940s. Other Nordic Red populations do not have the black gene present in their populations. The black gene is dominant to the red gene so if the Norwegian Red breeding program was to decide to change the frequency of the black gene this could be easily managed. Producers using Norwegian Red for crossbreeding outside of Norway have the option of using either red or black sires if color is important to them.
Why are some of the sires of Norwegian Red bulls actually Swedish Red or Finnish Ayrshires?
For the Norwegian Red breeding program, some semen from the very best Viking Red bulls is used each year to help maintain genetic diversity within the Norwegian Red population and to allow the use of the best bulls from these other very closely related populations. The Viking Red breed consists of Swedish Red and Finnish Ayrshire in addition to Danish Red. Geno currently progeny tests some sons of the very best Viking Red bulls each year and some of these bulls present good breeding values.
Do the Norwegian Red, Swedish Red, and Finnish Ayrshire all have Ayrshire origins?
Yes, all these populations are Ayrshire-based populations and they have all been impacted by Ayrshires in a significant way. These populations have been closely related since their origins during the early to mid-1900s. The three populations do have some uniqueness, but in general they are closely related breeds that have shared important bulls for at least the last 50 to 60 years.
Any uniqueness comes from the other original populations that may have influenced each breed in a different fashion. For example, the Norwegian Red population has a much higher percentage of polled cattle compared with the Swedish Red and Finnish Ayrshire because the polled gene was present in some of the original populations that contributed to the Norwegian Red population but not to the other two populations.
Is it true that the Norwegian Red and the Swedish Red use the Ayrshire base for milk production instead of the Holstein base?
Yes, this is true. The genetic values for all the Nordic Red bulls are expressed within each country on the Ayrshire base for the local or importing country.
What is heterosis (hybrid vigor) and how much can I expect for different traits when using Norwegian Red bulls on purebred cows of other breeds?
Heterosis or hybrid vigor is added performance that results when we cross two breeds (or species) that have different genetic origins. Geneticists believe that heterosis results primarily from having individuals that are more variable in their genetic material and are less inbred. Heterosis is measured as the difference in performance from the average performance of the parental breeds and usually it is expressed as a percentage of the parental breed average. Heterosis for milk production traits from crossing Norwegian Red on purebred cows of other breeds is likely to be approximately 3 to 6%. Heterosis for cow fertility/reproduction, health and longevity is likely to be 10% or more.
How would a producer who is not paid for protein or fat best use the Norwegian Red in a crossbreeding program?
There are currently few modern dairy industries where producers are only paid based on fluid with no consideration for fat or protein. In these situations, Norwegian Red crosses with Holsteins are likely to be advantageous especially if the management of the herds is intensive. If the herds are in a very harsh environment where feed intake is restricted and feed quality is poor, Holsteins may not be the best to use in a crossing program with Norwegian Red. However even under these challenging production circumstances, it is likely that the Norwegian Red will still work well in a crossing program because of the past selection for health and fertility within the breed. In intensive management systems where payment is only for fluid and is not influenced by fat or protein, producers should use Norwegian Red bulls that are high for milk and not worry too much about the fat and protein of the bull.
Why should I use a Norwegian bull instead of choosing a Holstein bull that has high PTA for Lifetime Net Merit or high PTAs for functional traits?
The use of a highly selected Norwegian Red bull on a Holstein cow will result in a more profitable cow. The combined effects of heterosis and improved breed effects from the Norwegian Red for calving traits, cow fertility, cow health, cow survival and lower feed intakes together with similar fat and protein yields will result in a more profitable cow than a purebred Holstein cow under most economic circumstances in the U.S.
How can crossbreeding eliminate inbreeding?
Crossbreeding eliminates inbreeding by creating animals that have variability in the genes where there is no variability in the inbred animals. Animals receive one copy of each gene from each parent and when the parents are from different breeds (where genes for one breed is not the same as the genes in the other breed) the resulting offspring have one gene from one breed and the second gene from the other breed. This results in heterozygosis, which means that the genes are different within each pair for the crossbred offspring.
How can crossbreeding give you more robust calves and cows?
Crossbreeding can result in more robust calves and cows because of heterosis for cow and calf health, survival and reproduction, and because some breeds have better health, survival and reproduction than other breeds. Heterosis is typically higher for health, survival and reproduction than for milk production traits, which means that crossbreeding will generally be more advantageous for health, survival and reproduction than for the production traits. In addition, the Norwegian Red has outstanding performance for health, survival and reproduction so adding this breed to a crossbreeding program will improve these traits just because of the improved breed contribution.
How can crossbreeding ensure lower replacement rates?
Crossbreeding will generally result in lower replacement rates because of improved cow health, survival and reproduction due to heterosis, and because some breeds have better health, survival and reproduction than other breeds. The Norwegian Red has outstanding performance for health, survival and reproduction so adding the Norwegian Red breed to a crossbreeding program will improve replacement rates and increase herd profitability.
How can crossbreeding improve reproductive performance?
Crossbreeding will generally result in improved reproductive performance because heterosis for reproduction is very high, and because some breeds like the Norwegian Red have much better reproduction than other breeds such as Holsteins. The Norwegian Red has outstanding reproduction rates so adding the Norwegian Red breed to a crossbreeding program will improve reproduction dramatically.
How can crossbreeding ensure increased bull calf value?
Crossbreeding with Norwegian Reds, that have excellent calf survival and produce high quality bull calves for meat, will increase bull calf values for the herd. In some countries and locations, bull calf income can be a significant influence on herd profitability and in these herds bull calf survival is critical. Crossbreeding with Norwegian Red results in a hybrid calf that is very hardy and also results in cows that are great mothers at calving. Having great maternal calving traits will also increase bull calf survival rates.
Will crossbreeding solve all problems?
No, crossbreeding will not solve all herd management problems. However crossbreeding is one more tool that commercial dairy producers can use to improve their profitability and crossbreeding with Norwegian Red will help with many modern dairy management challenges.