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Most read articles
|0709PD: Producers share their crossbreeding results|
|Dairy basics - A.I. and Breeding|
|Friday, 24 April 2009 07:53|
Crossbreeding has recently gained a lot of attention in popular press articles; however, in 2008, the amount of semen from non-traditional breeds (Swedish Red [SR], Montbeliarde [MO], etc.) imported into the U.S. was reportedly down from previous years. Scientific research studies with large amounts of data are still relatively limited, and therefore initial research out of California herds, compiled by the University of Minnesota, is still often quoted. Some promising research was started about five years ago by a collaboration of universities to create and evaluate F1 and F2 crossbreds in university herds, but the quantity of animals hasn’t been as large as planned, and therefore the data sets have not been as comprehensive as many had hoped.
In this article we will evaluate the results that two large, well-managed, progressive dairies from Wisconsin have had with crossbreeding. The first dairy is Rosy-Lane Holsteins, LLC, owned by Lloyd and Daphne Holterman and Tim Strobel. The second dairy is a 2,500-cow dairy that wishes to remain anonymous. Both dairies decided to begin crossbreeding for similar reasons, including improved calving ease, longevity and fertility in the herd. However, each took a different approach.
Rosy-Lane, a 900-cow operation with cross-ventilated barns, decided to use Jersey bulls on all its Holstein virgin heifers, primarily due to calving ease issues. Genetics have always been extremely important to Lloyd, so he didn’t use any average bulls, but made sure he was using the best Jersey bulls in the industry at the time. Lloyd did not feel that the industry had paid enough attention to health traits – specifically calving ease – up to that time, and that he had no other choice but to crossbreed with Jerseys to limit the issues around calving and reduce the number of first-calf Holsteins that had metabolic issues or never bred back due to a difficult first calving. Shortly after this decision was made, a group of high-health-trait Holstein sires with exceptional calving ease began getting proofs and were used extensively at Rosy-Lane, providing the perfect comparison, now six years later.
Dairy Two also decided to go the crossbreeding route about five years ago, but decided to take a different direction. After a trip to California, the owners decided they would utilize some Swedish Red and Montbeliarde genetics to cross with in their Holstein herd, specifically to improve reproductive performance and longevity in the herd. They liked the reports from the California dairymen and were encouraged that the production differences did not seem too large versus the pure Holsteins. At the same time, most of the Holstein genetics utilized in the dairy were extremely high-health-trait sires (with specific emphasis on Productive Life [PL], and Daughter Pregnancy Rate [DPR]).
Both herds provide a perfect environment for an evaluation of the results to date. Rosy-Lane has a substantial amount of data from both first and second lactation for its Jersey-Holstein crosses and Dairy Two has completed, or nearly completed, first lactations on 175 Swedish Red and Montbeliarde animals. However, instead of blindly crossbreeding, both dairies had a specific breeding plan for their Holsteins. They focused specifically on the traits that they wished to improve; Rosy-Lane put a major emphasis on calving ease (CE), while both herds chose to select intensely for both PL and DPR. What we ended up with was a group of animals we designated as “High- Health Holsteins” in each herd. This group included daughters of the top Holstein bulls for the traits selected – specifically PL and DPR.
When looking at the results for Dairy Two in Table 1 on page 46, a few key points are worth recognizing:
1. Holsteins out-produced SR by 2,300 pounds, and MO by nearly 3,400 pounds per lactation.
2. Component percentages are relatively even between groups, giving Holsteins the edge in total pounds of fat and protein produced.
3. High-health Holsteins not only had an advantage in fertility over other Holsteins, but also yielded the same or higher for all production traits.
4. There was no real difference between any of the breed groups for percent sold and died greater than 60 days in milk (DIM), Somatic Cell Score or CE – all traits which generally those thinking about crossbreeding hope to improve.
5. The MO breed crosses not only performed below the Holsteins for production, but also were less fertile than the “High-Health Holsteins.”
6. Although the SR breed crosses did achieve high pregnancy rates, the percent of cows pregnant by 100 DIM was no different than the “High- Health Holsteins”, and the percent of cows pregnant by 200 DIM differed by only 5 percentage points.
These producers were not willing to give up that much milk – they have completely stopped crossbreeding, and have stuck with a specific planned breeding approach within the Holstein breed.
At the end of the day, producers must decide if they are willing to sacrifice nearly 2,500 pounds of milk per lactation to gain 5 percent more cows pregnant by 200 DIM. I challenge everyone to calculate the monetary benefits and losses for themselves, but even at $10 milk, an extra $250 of gross income per cow is an impossible revenue hurdle for the crossbred cows to get over by simply being more fertile.
When looking at the results for Rosy-Lane in Table 2, a few key points are worth recognizing:
1. We should focus on the second- lactation animals, as the group of crossbred cows is much larger in this group.
2. The “High-Health Holsteins” again out-produced the other Holsteins, proving that production does not need to be sacrificed to improve the health and fertility of your cows.
3. The “High-Health Holsteins” had a distinct advantage in milk of over 5,000 pounds per lactation for second-lactation animals, and nearly 4,000 pounds per lactation for first-lactation cows.
4. Fat percentage favored the Jersey-Holstein crosses, but the milk production advantage gave the pure Holsteins the edge in total pounds fat.
5. Protein percentage was not distinctly different between groups, which gave the Holsteins a big advantage in total pounds protein.
6. The 6 percent advantage in pregnancy rate for the second- lactation “High-Health Holsteins” over the Jersey-Holstein crosses is substantial and surprising.
Keeping in mind that a primary reason that Rosy-Lane decided to crossbreed in the first place was to reduce the calving difficulty and stillbirths, all was not lost. Although the data on these calvings does not readily exist on-farm anymore (most of those calvings occurred over five years ago), Lloyd recalls that “very few if any of the Jersey-Holstein calves were born dead or had any difficulty at all” – so that objective was clearly reached. However, Lloyd states, “If the bulls which are available within the Holstein breed today, which excel for calving ease and other health traits, were available more than six years ago, we probably would not have had to crossbreed.”
Of course sharing these data and experiences from these producers does not answer a very important question for anyone considering crossbreeding: “How will the F2 generation (the next generation - when the crossbred cow is bred to either a third breed, or one of the original parent breeds) perform, and are there specific breed crosses that should be used? While there is very little data on F2 crosses at this point, we can be confident that the F2 crosses will not be as productive as the first generation (F1) crosses.
Regardless of your breed of choice, there are three things that nobody can question:
1) Developing a strategic breeding plan that is in line with your long-term goals is a vital component in any breeding plan. This goal-setting strategy, along with analysis of how your milk is priced, should be the first step in determining what breeding strategy is used.
2) Utilizing the best bulls for the traits you wish to select – regardless of breed – will always be your best investment.
3) A genetic investment is permanent. You can’t change your mind once you have made a decision to use a herd bull, a poor genetic A.I. sire or a different breed. Likewise, implementing a breeding plan that is in line with your goals, also can’t be taken away. So make sure these decisions are well thought-out!
In conclusion, the jury has still not returned a solid verdict on crossbreeding. However, both dairies highlighted in this article tried it, have experienced the results first-hand, have now stopped creating new crossbred animals, and gone back to use of high-health-trait Holsteins to achieve their goals. Both dairies plan to return to 100 percent Holsteins over time. As more and more data is compiled and shared, the odds are stacking up in favor of the Holsteins, specifically Holsteins that have been selected to excel in health and fertility. The fact that these traits have not been traditionally selected for, may just be the reason discussion about crossbreeding started in the first place. So I challenge each of you to develop a long-term breeding plan, stick to it, and ultimately you will yield permanent results on your dairy. PD