Crossbreeding Analysed

A new study from California on crossbreeding could help you determine if adding European genetics to your herd would benefit your bottom line.

Researchers recently conducted an in-depth crossbreeding analysis on six commercial California dairy farms. The project looked at fertility, somatic cell counts, milk fat and protein production, cow survival and profitability over four to five lactations.

The researchers studied 251 Normande Holsteins, 503 Montbéliarde Holsteins and 321 Scandinavian Red Holsteins. The cows were then compared to 321 pure Holsteins. The Scandinavian Reds were a combination of Swedish Red and Norwegian Red. There were a total 1,396 cows.

The three crossbred cow groups had first-service conception rates five to 10 per cent higher than the Holsteins, and pregnancy rates 2.8 to 5.3 per cent higher. They also had 12 to 26 fewer days open than the pure Holsteins, and slightly fewer days to first breeding.

The Holsteins had a significantly higher death rate during the first 305 days of their first lactation at 5.3 per cent. The Normande crosses' death rate was 1.2 per cent, the Montbéliarde rate 1.6 per cent and the Scandinavian Red crosses two per cent.

All the crossbreds had a higher percentage of cows that calved a second, third or fourth time. On average, they stayed in the herd 317 to 412 days longer than the Holsteins.

SCC was the same for the Holsteins and the Normande Holstein breed. The Montbéliarde and Scandinavian Red crosses had significantly lower SCCs during the study.

The Montbéliarde and Scandinavian Red crosses produced three to four per cent less fat plus protein yield (milk solids) than the pure Holsteins for the 305-day projected lactations. The Normande Holstein cows produced 10 per cent less fat plus protein for the same period. Due to the higher lactation production, the authors believe the Montbéliarde and Scandinavian Red were good candidates for a crossbreeding program, while the Normande cows were not suitable.

Due to their longer herd life, all three crossbreds had higher lifetime production than the Holstein cows. The study used up to four years of data for each cow following their first calving. The Holsteins produced 28,086 kilograms of milk. The Normande crosses averaged 1,680 kg more milk, the Scandinavian Reds were 3,190 kg higher and the Montbéliarde crossbreds produced 4,805 kg more.

The crossbred groups also had higher fat and protein production than the Holsteins. For instance, the Normandes averaged 203 kg more fat plus protein, the Scandinavian Reds were 290 kg higher and the Montbéliardes produced 401 kg more. The researchers calculated lifetime and cow profit per day using U.S. milk prices and expenses. Milk revenue was valued at $33.41 per 100 kg of milk produced. The researchers included feed, breeding and disposal costs, plus daily overhead and dry cow expenses. Health costs were not included.

Each of the three crossbred groups had a higher lifetime profit than the Holstein cows, which reported $4,347 per cow. The Montbéliarde crossbreds' lifetime profit was $6,503, the Scandinavian Reds were $6,272 and the Normandes recorded $5,467.

When calculated on a profit per day basis, the researchers determined the Holsteins returned $4.17 per day. Due to their longer stay in the herd, the Normande crosses calculated a profit of $3.89 per day, $0.28 lower than the Holsteins. The Scandinavian Reds and Montbéliardes had a higher average daily profit at $4.32 and $4.39 respectively.

Higher milk prices increase the lifetime milk revenues for all cow groups in the study. If milk revenue had been valued at $45.44 per 100 kg, the Montbéliarde crosses would have returned the highest lifetime profit of $11,471, followed closely by the Scandinavians Reds at $11,087, the Normande crossbreds at $9,868 and the Holsteins at $7,849.

In addition, higher milk prices change the picture of the profit per day comparisons between the groups. The daily profit for the Holsteins increased to $8.10 when the milk price was $45.44 per 100 kg. The Scandinavian Reds and Montbéliardes still had a slight advantage of two cents and eight cents more profit per day. The Normande crosses came in 58 cents per day less than the Holsteins.

If typical Canadian milk prices had been used in the study, all three crossbred groups would have returned lower daily returns than the pure Holstein cows. The researchers did not report on cow conformation. However, the data showed crossbreds are typically shorter than Holsteins, and are often scored lower for dairy strength, rump and mammary system.

The researchers also concluded crossbreds in Canada produce less milk, but more fat and protein than purebred Holsteins. For some producers, there may be a place in your operation to try some crossbreeding. For others, crossbreeding may not be appropriate.

Brian Lang is a dairy cattle production systems specialist for OMAFRA.

References: Heins, B.J. and L.B. Hansen, 2012, Fertility, somatic cell score and production of Normande x Holstein, Montbéliarde x Holstein and Scandinavian Red x Holstein crossbreds versus pure Holsteins during their first five lactations, J Dairy Sci. 95 (2) 918 - 924. Heins, B.J; L.B. Hansen and A. De Vries, 2012, Survival, lifetime production and profitability of Normande x Holstein, Montbéliarde x Holstein and Scandinavian Red x Holstein crossbreds versus pure Holsteins, J Dairy Sci. 95 (2) 1011-1021

This article first appeared in the July 2012 Milk Producer magazine.

Comparison of selected traits. The table compares the differences for Normande, Montbéliarde, and Scandinavian Red cross breeds to pure Holsteins
x Holstein
x Holstein
Red x Holstein
Days to first breeding (d)
First-service conception rate (%)
Pregnancy rate (%)
Days open (d)
Milk volume (kg, 305-d projected)
Fat (kg, 305-d projected)
Protein (kg, 305-d projected)
Fat plus protein (kg, 305-d proj.)
Lifetime Milk (kg)
(4 years)
Lifetime Fat (kg)
(4 years)
Lifetime Protein (kg)
(4 years)
Lifetime Fat plus protein (kg)
Revenue from production ($)
Days of herd life
Lifetime profit ($)
Profit per Day ($) @ $33.41/100 kg
Profit per Day ($) @ $45.44/100 kg

Adapted from Heins and Hansen and Heins, Hansen and De Vries
†P < 0.10 for difference from pure Holsteins
*P < 0.05 for difference from pure Holsteins
**P < 0.01 for difference from pure Holsteins

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Author: Brian Lang - Dairy Cattle Production Systems Specialist/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 01 July 2012
Last Reviewed: 01 July 2012