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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Reproduction and genetics > Crossbreeding with Jersey sires - What have we learned?

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Crossbreeding with Jersey sires – What have we learned?

Brad Heins, PhD Research Assistant; Amy Hazel, MS Junior Scientist; and Les Hansen, Professor of Dairy Genetics - University of Minnesota, St. Paul

Published in Dairy Star September 27, 2008

The University of Minnesota began crossbreeding some of its Holstein heifers and cows to Jersey A.I. bulls at the St. Paul and Morris dairies more than 7 years ago. We were the first university to begin crossbreeding in the 2000s, but others have followed. In 2002, we began breeding some Holstein cows at St. Paul and Morris, as well as all of our Jersey-Holstein crossbreds, to Montbeliarde A.I. bulls. For all three breeds, highest bulls for breed index (Net Merit or the French equivalent) have consistently been selected, which is critical for top herd performance. Jersey-Holstein crossbreds and pure Holsteins that calved for the first time from September, 2003 to May, 2005 were studied. A total of 149 cows calved for the first time and had production records during this period compared for milk, fat, protein, somatic cell score, body and udder measurements, and dry matter intake. Results from this study have recently been published in the March and September 2008 issues of the Journal of Dairy Science.

What have we learned to-date?

Generally speaking, our Jersey-Holstein crossbreds were good young cows. They became pregnant much quicker than their pure Holstein herdmates. Also, their production as young cows was essentially the same as pure Holsteins for pounds of fat and only slightly lower than pure Holsteins for pounds of protein (Table 1).

Body weights, body condition score, udder clearance, and front teat width were measured within the first 200 days of lactation. Udder clearance was measured from the floor to the bottom of the udder and front teat placement was the distance between the front teats. The pure Holsteins weighed 132 pounds more than Jersey-Holstein crossbreds immediately after calving. Also, the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds had higher body condition scores, which may explain why they became pregnant faster than the pure Holsteins. For udder traits, the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds had 2.7 inches less in udder clearance, which indicates that they had more udder depth. The Jersey-Holstein crossbreds also had more distance (+0.7 in.) between the front teats.

Jersey-Holstein crossbreds and pure Holsteins consumed similar amounts of dry matter on a daily basis, which was measured during the first 150 days of first lactation. Consequently, feed efficiency was also similar for the Holsteins and Jersey-Holstein crossbreds. Some might expect Jersey-Holstein cows to consume less dry matter than pure Holstein cows because of their similar production but smaller body weight. Apparently, Jersey-Holstein cows consumed dry matter beyond their needs for production and body maintenance to achieve greater body condition.

The Jersey-Holstein crossbreds tended to be good cows; however, better sorts of crossbreds probably exist for confinement dairying in the Northern Hemisphere. Jersey-Holstein crossbreds continue to grow in popularity in the Southern Hemisphere, but the intensive grazing production system south of the equator usually is much different than in the northern half of the world where confinement is more common.

The good news is that the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds were much more likely to survive to 3rd and 4th lactation than their pure Holsteins herdmates. The not-so-good news is that in later lactations, the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds tended to become extremely deep in the udder and high in SCC, and leave the herd quickly at that stage of life. Furthermore, with Jersey in a crossbreeding system, temperament of cows often becomes an issue, value of bull calves is reduced, and variation of cow size can be a problem in some management systems.

Table 1. First lactation results of Jersey-Holstein crossbreds versus pure Holsteins.





Number of cows




Milk (lb)



-1230 *

Fat (lb)




Protein (lb)



-32 *

Somatic cell score




Days open




Body weight (lb)



-132 *

Body condition score



+0.09 *

Udder clearance (in)



-2.7 *

Front teat width (in)



-0.7 *

Dry matter intake




* Significant difference of crossbreds from pure Holsteins (JDS, 2008, 91:1270-1278, 3716-3722).


Which breeds should you choose for crossbreeding?

The first breed is probably an automatic selection - most producers will start with Holsteins. However, three breeds are needed for a crossbreeding system. The choice of breeds depends on your management system and preferences. For most dairy producers, the Scandinavian Red breeds will likely rank high among candidate breeds. Why? The answer is because the Scandinavian Red breeds have selected heavily for fertility and health alongside production for many years   the Scandinavians didn't ignore fertility and health as was the case for the Holstein breed until recently.

At the University of Minnesota, the Swedish Red breed has replaced the Jersey breed to use alongside the Holstein and Montbeliarde breeds for three-breed rotational crossbreeding into the future. Therefore, in the years ahead, University of Minnesota crossbreds will be rotational crossbreds of Holstein, Swedish Red, and Montbeliarde.

Crossbreeding systems should make use of three breeds. Preliminary results in California and the University of Minnesota show no loss in production by adding a third breed into a crossbreeding system. Individual dairy producers should carefully choose three breeds that are optimum for conditions unique to their dairy operations (facilities, climate, nutritional regime, reproductive status, level of management, and personal preferences).

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