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Dairy crossbreeding trials in California

A crossbreeding project in California, led by a research group from the University of Minnesota spanning 5 lactations, showed that crossbreeding to Scandinavian Red (Norwegian Red and Swedish Red) sires decreases calving difficulty and stillbirths.

When these Scandinavian Red-sired crossbred calves became cows they had improved reproduction and survival and competitive production when compared with Holsteins.


Seven cooperating dairies in central California participated in a project that mated Holstein heifers and cows with imported semen of the Normande and Montbeliarde breeds from France and of the Norwegian Red and Swedish Red breeds from Norway and Sweden.


Nine Norwegian Red bulls and four Swedish Red bulls were used in

the trial. Because the Norwegian Red and Swedish Red breeds share similar ancestry and freely exchange sires of sons, researchers conducting the trial regarded the two breeds collectively as "Scandinavian Red."


Some cows in the California dairies remained pure Holstein, which permitted the comparison of pure Holsteins and crossbreds. Crossbreds and pure Holsteins calved for the first time from 2002 to 2005.

Service sire calving ease and stillbirths

Holstein dams bred to Scandinavian Red sires (855) had a significantly less difficult 1st calvings at 5.5% compared to Holstein dams bred to Montbeliarde sires (158) at 11.6% and to Holstein dams bred to Holstein sires (371) at 16.4%. Additionally, the Holstein dams bred to Scandinavian Red sires had a significantly lower stillbirth rate of 7.7% at 1st calving compared to the Holstein dams bred to Montbeliarde sires at 12.7% and to the Holstein dams bred to Holstein sires at 15.1%.

Calving performance of 1st lactation crossbreds

All crossbred heifers had significantly less calving difficulty than did the Holstein heifers (Table 1). The 1st lactation Scandinavian Red x Holstein heifers and Montbeliarde x Holstein heifers had significantly lower stillbirth rates (Table 1).


Table 1. Calving difficulty and stillbirth rates for breed of dam at 1st calving. 

Breed of dam

No of calves 

Calving difficulty % 

Stillbirth rate % 
Holstein 676 17.7 14.0
Normande x Holstein 262 11.6*  9.9 
Montbeliarde x Holstein  370 7.2**  6.2** 
Scandinavian Red x Holstein  264  3.7**  5.1** 

Breeds of sire of calves were Brown Swiss, Montbeliarde and Scandinavian Red.
** p<.01, * p<.05


Crossbred cows were clearly superior to Holsteins for days open and pregnancy rate. Days open was 21 (Normande x Holstein), 16 (Montbeliarde x Holstein) and 14 (Scandinavian Red x Holstein) days shorter in 1st lactation cows versus pure Holsteins; 17, 24 and 11 days shorter, respectively, in 2nd lactation cows.


Pregnancy rates were higher in 1st and 2nd lactation for all crossbreds compared to pure Holsteins. Pregnancy rates in 1st lactation were 23% for Normande x Holstein, 19% for Montbeliarde x Holstein and 18% for Scandinavian Red x Holstein versus 16% for Holsteins.


Second lactation conception rates were 20% for Normande x Holstein, 22% for Montbeliarde x Holstein and 19% for Scandinavian Red x Holstein versus 15% for Holsteins.


Crossbred and pure Holstein cows were compared for survival to 1st test day and to 305 days postpartum during the 1st lactation. More crossbred cows remained in herds than did pure Holstein cows, with only 2.6% of crossbred cows removed (died or culled) before the 1st test day compared with 8.7% of pure Holstein cows.


Also, 7.4% of crossbred cows versus 15.9% of the Holstein cows were removed before 305 days of the 1st lactation. The percentage of crossbreds removed before 305 days were 9.6%, 7.0% and 6.2%, respectively, for the Normande x Holstein, Montbeliarde x Holstein and Scandinavian Red x Holstein crosses.


To read more about survival and profitability from the California Crossbreeding trials, see this article from the University of Minnesota.


Projected 1st through 5th lactation 305-day milk, fat, protein and fat + protein yields were presented in the final report. Combined 305-day fat (lb) + protein (lb) production are in Table 2. Actual Holstein yields are presented, but yields for crossbreds are expressed as a deviation from Holstein yield for easier comparison.


Table 2. Combined 305-day (projected) fat (lb) + protein (lb) for cows in lactations 1-5. Yields for crossbreds are deviations from Holstein yield. Number of cows in parentheses.

Breed of cow

1st lactation

2nd lactation








1468 (380)

1738 (310)

1746 (220) 

1739 (127) 

1704 (63) 

Normande x Holstein 

-103** (242) 

-182** (215) 

-175** (164) 

-208** (121) 

-154** (65)

Montbeliarde x Holstein

-48* (491) 

-83** (432) 

-60** (344) 

-47 (247) 

-22 (139) 

Scandinavian Red x Holstein





-72** (213) 

-81** (145) 

-60 (76) 

 ** p<.01, *p<.05, †p<.10


Scandinavian Red service sires and Scandinavian Red x Holstein crossbred cows performed very well compared to purebred Holstein service sires and pure Holstein cows in a California crossbreeding project.


Norwegian Red sires were an important part of the Scandinavian Red sire group and contributed to the competitive production and superior service sire calving performance, cow fertility and cow survival of this group.


For additional survival, production and reproductive final report results go to

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