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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Reproduction and genetics > Crossbreeding: Why the interest? What to expect

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Crossbreeding: Why the interest? What to expect

Laura Kieser

Published in Dairy Star January 25, 2005


Commercial dairy producers are exploring the potential of crossing breeds more than any time in recent history. Why the interest? This is a result of dissatisfaction with the calving difficulty, pregnancy rate, and postpartum health of dairy cows, particularly of North American Holstein ancestry. North American Holsteins are highly specialized and unmatched for milk production, udder conformation, large body size, and angularity. The crossbreeding of this specialized breed of cow with other genetically-improved breeds of dairy cattle appears to result in commercial dairy cows with both high productivity and superior functionality.

On-Farm Research

Seven large dairies in California crossed some of their Holstein cows (all sired by active A.I. bulls) with imported semen from progeny-tested sires of the Normande, Montbeliarde, Norwegian Red, and Swedish Red breeds. Early results have shown that calves sired by Scandinavian Red sires (Norwegian Red and Swedish Red) have significantly less calving difficulty than Holstein-sired calves. All dams were first lactation pure Holsteins.


There have been significant differences for production of the crossbred cattle compared to pure Holsteins. During the first 150 days of first lactation, average daily production (fat pounds plus protein pounds) was 7% greater for Scandinavian Red x Holstein crossbreds when compared to pure Holsteins. Also, Montbeliarde x Holstein crossbreds had an average daily production that was similar to their pure Holstein herd-mates. The Montbeliarde crossbreds had 2% higher production, but it was not proven significantly different from the pure Holstein cattle. Normande x Holstein crossbreds had 6% less production than pure Holsteins.

For calving difficulty and stillbirths, Scandinavian Red sires had a significant advantage over Holstein sires when bred to pure Holstein heifers calving for the first time (16% versus 6% for calving difficulty, and 16% versus 8% for stillbirth). On the cow side, Scandinavian Red-Holstein crossbreds had roughly half the rate of calving difficulty and stillbirth as pure Holstein heifers calving for the first time.

Reproductively, all of the types of crossbreds had large advantages over pure Holsteins. On average, pure Holsteins had 150 days open, compared to 123 for the Normande x Holstein crossbreds, 131 days open for the Montbeliarde-Holstein crossbreds, and 129 days open for the Scandinavian Red-Holstein crossbreds. Also, all crossbreds had large advantages in survival to 305 days after calving (92 to 93% versus only 86% for pure Holsteins).

More information on these results will be presented by Les Hansen, Professor of Dairy Cattle Genetics with the University of Minnesota, at the 13th Annual Carver County Dairy Expo and 4-State Dairy Management Conference on February 21, 2005 in Norwood Young America, MN. Most of Hansen’s research has been closely tied to the cattle breeding industry in the U.S. Many of his former students have been employed by the breeding industry. Genetic relationships and inbreeding of Holsteins is a current area of research emphasis.

The February 21 st Carver County Dairy Expo and 4-State Dairy Management Conference schedule and topics are as follows:

The registration begins at 9:30 a.m. at a cost of $10 per person which includes refreshments, lunch, and handout materials. There will be an early bird drawing at 10:15 a.m. A number of commercial exhibitors will be on hand. The schedule allows time to visit the exhibitors before the sessions begin and during an extended lunch break as well as after the afternoon program ends. Door prizes will be distributed at 3:15 p.m.

For more information about the Expo, please contact Laura Kieser, Carver/Scott County Extension Educator by email at or by phone 952-442-3028 or 952-492-5410.

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