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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Reproduction and genetics > Comparison of Montbeliarde × Holstein and Viking Red × Holstein crossbreds with pure Holstein cows during first lactation in 8 Minnesota dairies

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Comparison of Montbeliarde × Holstein and Viking Red × Holstein crossbreds with pure Holstein cows during first lactation in 8 Minnesota dairies

Amy Hazel, Brad Heins, and Les Hansen

A 10–year designed study on crossbreeding is ongoing with 8 large–scale and high-performance dairies in Minnesota. The end of 2015 marked the conclusion of the 8th year of the 10–year study. The objective of the study is to assess the profitability of crossbreds from a 3-breed rotation using the Holstein, Montbeliarde, and Viking Red breeds (ProCROSS) compared to their pure Holstein (HO) herdmates. The Viking Red breed resulted from combining the previously separate Swedish Red, Finnish Ayrshire, and Danish Red breeds. Results for only the first-lactation performance of 2-breed crossbreds compared to their pure HO herdmates are available from the study at this point.

The 8 Minnesota dairies range in size from 275 to 1,940 cows and, the dairies currently have DHI average production of 30,410 lb milk, 1,115 lb fat, and 943 lb protein on 3X milking. In 2008, the dairies offered 3,550 pure Holstein heifers and cows to serve as “foundation” females for the study. Researchers then randomly assigned the foundation females to one of 2 genetic groups – crossbred or pure Holstein. Across the 8 dairies, 56% of the foundation pure Holsteins were mated to either Montbeliarde or Viking Red A.I. bulls with exactly one half to bulls from each of the two breeds to initiate a 3-breed rotation. The remaining 44% of the foundation pure Holstein were bred to Holstein A.I. bulls, as were the subsequent generations of descendants across the years of the study.

Only proven A.I. bulls from all 3 breeds were used and service sires were chosen in consultation with genetic advisors employed by Minnesota Select Sires. The bulls ranked highly for their home country indexes: Net Merit (U.S.), ISU (Montbeliarde) and Nordic Total Merit (Viking Red). The proven A.I. Holstein bulls were marketed by Select Sires. Inbreeding protection was provided for the pure Holstein matings.

For analysis, cows calved for the first time between December 2010 and April 2014. Cows that aborted were excluded. The 305–day production for first lactations is reported on an actual basis (not as mature equivalent). The Montbeliarde × Holstein crossbreds had significantly more protein production (lb) and fat + protein production (lb) than the pure Holsteins. The Viking Red × Holstein crossbreds were similar to their pure HO herdmates for fat + protein production. The majority of U.S. dairy herds are paid for the solids in milk rather than the fluid carrier of those solids.

Not surprisingly, both crossbred groups were superior to the pure Holsteins for fertility. Both crossbred groups had higher conception rates than the pure Holsteins. Therefore, both crossbred groups also had fewer days open than their pure Holstein herdmates. The results for production were not adjusted for the pregnancy status of cows. Because of their superiority for fertility, the crossbred groups returned to peak production sooner when calving the second time than did the pure Holsteins. A significantly higher proportion of the crossbred cows calved again within 14 and 17 months after first calving than the pure Holsteins.

Trait Actual production (not mature equivalent) for the first 305 days of first lactation.
  Holstein Montbeliarde × Holstein Viking Red × Holstein
Number of cows 978 513 540
Age at calving (months) 23.9 23.8 23.7
Milk (lb) 24,185 24,150 23,229*
Fat (lb) 900 920 910
Protein (lb) 733 756* 740
Fat + Protein (lb) 1,633 1,676* 1,651
  Fertility during first lactation
  n Average n Average n Average
Overall conception rate (%) 950 38 499 46* 528 43*
Days open 901 125 480 113* 514 117*
  Survival during first lactation
2nd calving within 14 months (%) 1021 63 530 72* 552 70*
2nd calving within 17 months (%) 1021 76 529 83* 551 81*
*Statistically significant difference from pure Holsteins; "n" – number of cows

Additional take–home points

Montbeliarde x Holstein contributing to study.

Viking Red x Holstein contributing to study.

The full report on first-lactation performance is at the website.


June 2016

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