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How many and which breeds to use

How many and which breeds to use

One of the frequently asked questions in our visits with dairy farm managers and owner/operators is, "How do I decide which breeds to use in my dairy crossbreeding program?"

At Geno we believe this decision is an important one, and it requires some thought and evaluation. Here are some things to consider in order to make a good, sound decision on which breeds to incorporate into your crossing rotation:


1) Always base your decisions on performance of large breed or crossbreed groups and within herd comparisons.


Testing of Norwegian Reds (NRF) outside of Norway has become very extensive over time. NRF animals are tested for a range of traits and compared primarily with Holstein and Holstein x NRF crosses, but also with other breeds. Trials have been made in various countries and farm systems by universities and research organizations.


2) Consider your milk market. Producers who are looking at fluid sales tend to favor high production breeds like Holstein, Brown Swiss and Norwegian Reds.


A Penn State University study of USA DHI data from Brown Swiss crosses on Holsteins compared to purebred Holsteins on a within herd basis, showed that the crosses were as productive as the Holsteins and superior for fertility and somatic cell counts. Similar data emerged in a Canadian 70-herd crossing project at the University of Guelph, which compared 1000 Norwegian Red crosses on Holsteins to several thousand purebred Holstein herd mates. Based on this data, Norwegian Reds crossed on Holstein will give similar fat and protein yields with much lower incidence of mastitis, as well as superior fertility and higher livability of calves, heifers and cows.


Two plus is a 2-way rotational program using Norwegian Red and Holstein breeds. This program gives dairy farmers high production and greatly reduced production costs for fertility, disease and calf and cow livability.


3) If you are in a cheese producing market for your milk, then Holsteins, Jerseys and Norwegian Reds can give you a medium sized cow with good production, high solids, easy calving and improved fertility and cows that will last.


A three-breed crossing program with Holstein x Jersey x Norwegian Red will give you smaller cows than Holsteins for increased feed efficiency, greatly improved calving performance and fertility. Additionally a 3-way cross is an easy and excellent way to keep heterosis at a maximum.


Consideration of the physical plant where the cows work and the market you are gearing up for are very important practical points in deciding on breeds for crossing.


4) Consider the breeding goals of the candidate breeds in relation to your herd's current breeding goal.


For example, if you have been selecting for high production within your Holstein herd, but experience reduced cow fertility, increased health issues, and cow and calf losses, you should be looking for the breed which attaches the highest pressure to the traits that need improvement – female fertility, disease resistance and calf and cow viability! Norwegian Red breeding goals complement Holstein breeding goals admirably. In crossbreeding parlance, we look for breeds that have complementarity traits.


5) Consider the historical progeny testing programs. Have the historical progeny test programs been successful over the past 30 to 40 years? Have the progeny test programs included health and fertility data during this time period or have health and fertility data only been included recently in the breeding program? Success over the past 30 to 40 years may give a good indication of the current population performance level.


We can make these comparisons between the Nordic Red breeds by asking a few questions, for example:


How many milk recorded cows are in the breed now?

  • For Norwegian Reds: 200,000 milk recorded cows
  • For Finnish Ayrshires: about 135,000 milk recorded cows
  • For Swedish Reds: 104,000 milk recorded cows
  • For Danish Reds: 34,000 milk recorded cows

How many young bulls in general have been progeny tested (before the adoption of genomic selection) per year over the past 30 to 40 years?

  • For Norwegian Reds: 125 young bulls/ year
  • For Finnish Ayrshires: 125 young bulls /year
  • For Swedish Reds: 75 young bulls/ year
  • For Danish Reds: 40 young bulls/ year

How many daughters have been included historically in first crop of daughter groups for progeny tested sires? This tells us how accurate the proofs have been over the years?

  • For Norwegian Reds: 200 daughters/sire
  • For Finnish Ayrshires: 150 daughters/sire
  • For Swedish Reds: 140/sire
  • For Danish Reds: 100/sire

How many years have fertility and health traits been included in the selection program?

  • For Norwegian Reds: 35 to 40 years depending on the trait
  • For Finnish Ayrshires: 20 to 25 years depending on the trait
  • For Swedish Reds: 35 to 40 years depending on the trait
  • For Danish Reds: 20 to 30 years depending on the trait

Note that all of the Nordic Red breeds have a very high number of daughters per sire when they get an official proof. Thus, selection for traits can be more accurate than within North American Dairy Breeds which usually get only 50 to 100 daughters in first official proofs.


6) What about current genomic selection and resulting progeny tested sires? Viking Red now represents Danish, Finnish and Swedish red breeds so they are combined now. Even with the use of genomic selection we get progeny tested sires to use in breeding programs.


How do current Viking Red programs compare with Norwegian Red programs?


How many milk recorded cows are in the populations now?

  • For Norwegian Reds: 200,000 milk recorded cows
  • For Viking Reds: about 273,000 milk recorded cows

Approximately how many young bulls will be screened for selection using genomic tools each year? Since genomic selection is still new in the Nordic Red populations, these numbers could fluctuate significantly for the next several years.

  • For Norwegian Reds: up to about 3000 young bulls/ year
  • For Viking Reds: up to about 3000 young bulls /year

How many young bulls (without progeny test results but with genomic breeding values) are currently used heavily in the population each year? These numbers will likely change as genomic selection is finely tuned.

  • For Norwegian Reds: 115 young bulls/ year
  • For Viking Reds: 100 young bulls /year

Approximately what percentage of the current breedings within the population is made to daughter proven sires that are initially selected based on genomics and then selected again based on progeny testing?

  • For Norwegian Reds: 55%
  • For Viking Reds: 30%

In Summary: If you chose to use Norwegian Red sires

The Norwegian Red Progeny Test program is able to deliver superior proven sires with accurate proofs that don't change. In addition, young genomic tested sires are available for herds who want a more aggressive approach to sire selection with more risk involved. The Norwegian Red program can meet the needs of all dairy producers doing crossbreeding.


Norwegian Red sires are characterized by improved female fertility, (1.6 A.I. services/conception in Norway), lower calf losses (2.7% of calves die at birth) and mastitis resistance (12% incidence/year ) and low incidence of ketosis and other common problems. They can also "dehorn" your calves genetically.

Geno's dairy crossbreeding programs

Geno companies and partners in various markets provide several breeds that can be succesfully used when crossbreeding. Breeds used in a crossbreeding program should complement each other well. To look at various established programs and information about what they will contribute to a herd, click on this link: Geno's crossbreeding programs

Contact us

Geno Global Ltd.
Storhamargata 44,
N-2317 Hamar, Norway
Phone: +47 950 20 600
VAT Reg. 985194378

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