By Trygve R. Solberg
The Norwegian Red breed has been recognized for its unique characteristics offering superior fertility, good production, and excellent health.
The key factors to achieve these characteristics are the joint commitments of dairy farmers and the dairy industry in Norway to include health in the breeding goal over fifty years, with an effective herd recording system that has been used as disease control. In addition, Norwegian farmers have long believed in reducing the use of antibiotics to better the health of livestock animals.
Udder health is very important in milk production, and estimates show that the financial loss due to this would be significant. Therefore, it is very encouraging to see a very positive trend for udder health, somatic cell count, and clinical mastitis in the last 10 years (Fig.1). This has been achieved by improved genetics and more focus from advisors and effective use of our herd recording system.
Fig 1. Genetic trends for Somatic cell count and clinical mastitis the last 10 years
Long term breeding work pays off
Health has always been – and still is – a major focus in the breeding goal for the Norwegian Red. Already in 1978, health became part of the Norwegian Reds TMI, and we are reaping the benefits of this focus with a sharp decrease in both mastitis and somatic cell count now, contributing to the low amount of antibiotics needed in Norway (see Fig. 2). >97 % of all dairy cows in Norway are registered in the Norwegian Dairy Herd Recording System, which was the first of its kind. The system is now the most extensive record of dairy cows in the world. Veterinary treatments, hoof treatments, inseminations, slaughter weight, calvings, open days, milking, and milk analysis are all data registered in the Dairy Herd Recording System. As a result, the progress in udder health has reached new heights.
It is clear that long-term investments in health traits in the breeding program are paying off for the Norwegian Red breed. Moreover, crossbreeders may also benefit from increased health and results are visible already after the first cross with Norwegian Red. Research based on USDA data shows that a Norwegian Red x Holstein crossbred will give an expected NET profit gain of >$150 per cow per year, and the health benefits alone stand for >$40 per cow per year compared to purebred Holstein cows (G. Rogers, 2018).
Fig. 2. 2015 report from the European Medicines Agency on the sales of antimicrobial agents in 30 European countries.
What sets Norway apart in the breeding and animal genetics development on health traits?
Norway has strict regulations when treating livestock. A veterinarian must personally examine the animal to prescribe medicine and begin treatment. All treatments are reported on a health card individual to each animal and to a national Animal Health Portal, which then reviews and follows-up as necessary. In addition, veterinarians are not allowed to receive a commission on medical prescriptions ensuring that there is no financial reward for treatments. This system provides accountability and clarity into why, how, and when antibiotics are administered.
Good farming practices show true Nordic values
Norwegian farmers have a history of managing their farms in a way that reduces the need for medical intervention. They were early adopters in the idea that less antibiotic use is preferable and leads to more productive and efficient operations. From pregnancy through to milking, our farmers look at the feed, environment, early detection, breeding plans, data collection, and new technology as means to foster healthy herds.
Long term thinking and an effective and sustainable breeding program
Healthy animals equal healthy food. Healthy food encourages a healthy population.