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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Reproduction and genetics > Survival of crossbreds versus pure holsteins

Survival of crossbreds versus pure holsteins

Brad Heins

Published in Dairy Star August 22, 2009

Cows that die on-farm or need to be culled for various reasons affect the profitability of the dairy farm. Research by University of Minnesota professor of dairy genetics Dr. Les Hansen and me is showing promise that crossbred dairy cows have a higher rate of survival and have a lower culling rate compared to pure Holsteins from the time of calving to first observation for milk recording and during the first 305 days of first lactation. This information can be significant to dairy producers to help maintain cow numbers in the herd. It can also be important to the breeding industry and USDA in providing new information for genetic evaluations.

In a research study in six California dairies, survival from calving to first observation of milk recording was compared for crossbreds versus pure Holsteins that calved for the first time. The cows calved for the first time from June 2002 to January 2005, and these cows continue to also be gauged for production, fertility, and other traits. A 7th dairy in the broader study of California dairies participated in the whole-herd buy-out program, although heifers were retained to continue dairying; therefore, cows from that dairy were removed from the analyses of survival.

The percentages of 416 pure Holstein and 1075 crossbred cows that died or were culled in the six dairies during first lactation are shown in the table that accompanies this article. Death rate, culling rate, and total removal rates reflect the actual percentage of cows that left the six dairies prior to first observation for milk recording and up to the 305th day of lactation. The difference of crossbreds and pure Holsteins was statistically significant in all cases.


Percentage of cows that were removed prior to first observation for milk recording and during the first 305 days of first lactation.
Breed Number of cows
Prior to first milk recording
Calving to 305th day
Died
Culled
Total Removed
Died
Culled
Total Removed
   
----------- %-----------
----------- %-----------
Pure Holstein
416
3.6
5
8.7
5.3
10.6
15.9
All Crossbreds
1075
0.9
1.7
2.6
1.7
5.7
7.4
Normande/Holstein
251
0.8
2.8
3.6
1.2
8.4
9.6
Montbeliarde/Holstein
503
1
1.4
2.4
2
5
7
Scandinavian Red/ Holstein
321
0.9
1.2
2.2
1.6
4.7
6.2

 

Death Rate
As shown in the table, only 0.9% (10 of 1075) crossbred cows died prior to first observation for milk recording; however, 3.6% (15 of 416) pure Holsteins died prior to first observation for milk recording. Furthermore, 1.7% (18 of 1075) crossbred cows compared to 5.3% (22 of 416) pure Holstein cows died during the first 305 days of first lactation.

Total removals
More crossbreds remained in these dairies than pure Holsteins, with only 2.6% of crossbreds removed (died or culled) before first observation for milk recording compared to 8.7% of pure Holsteins. In other words, pure Holsteins were three times more likely than crossbreds to die or be culled in these dairies before the first observation for milk recording. Also, only 7.4% of the crossbred cows versus 15.9% of the pure Holsteins in these dairies were removed by the 305th day of first lactation.

Interpretation of results for the industry
With replacement heifers valued at more than $2,000 in the U.S. in recent years (although less now), the 6.1% difference (8.7% pure Holsteins minus 2.6% crossbreds) in first-calf heifers lost after calving but prior to first observation for milk recording has huge financial implications for profitability of dairying.

Cows lacking a production record are often excluded from genetic evaluation in the U.S. for productive life (PL). Consequently, cows that die or are culled before the first observation for milk recording are also often excluded in those genetic evaluations. Therefore, the transmitting ability (PTA) for a bull for PL might be under-estimated or over-estimated based on daughters that did or didn’t survive to first observation for milk recording. Perhaps, editing of data for genetic evaluation for PL and Net Merit (NM$) should be altered to include cows that do not survive to first observation for milk recording to more accurately reflect the true survival of daughters.

Additionally, this also leads to under-reporting of death rates by USDA. Death rates of cows during first lactation would be higher than is often reported, especially by the Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory of USDA, if all cows that died prior to first observation for milk recording were included in data files. Accurate and complete data is essential to provide dairy producers with information that fully represents the dairy cattle population.


 

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