Improve fertility and production with crossbreeding 

A new study published in the Journal of Dairy Science (September 2020) confirms the advantages of crossbreeding over the pure Holstein. Holstein x Coopex Montbéliarde x VikingRed had better fertility and comparable production.
Improved fertility

  • Up to +10% first service conception rate
  • -16.5 days open over three lactations
  • ~3 weeks fewer days open in 3rd lactation 

No compromise on production 

  • Lifetime Daily Yield (kg fat + protein) is almost identical for crossbreds and Holsteins
  • Crossbreds produce milk with higher percentages of fat and protein than their Holstein herd mates.
A growing body of evidence is demonstrating that crossbred cattle are significantly more fertile than the pure Holstein. Their improved fertility has been shown to be achieved without compromising their milk production.

A series of investigations into the performance of the Holstein x Coopex Montbéliarde x VikingRed has found that the three-breed cross perform better than the purebred for every measure of fertility. At the same time, the crossbreds produce almost the same amount of fat plus protein as the pure Holstein.

The latest study to confirm this message is reported in the prestigious, peer-reviewed Journal of Dairy Science this month, (103:8683-8697, September 2020). Undertaken as part of a 10-year study at the University of Minnesota, it investigated the performance of the three-breed cross using Holstein (HO), Montbéliarde (MO) and VikingRed (VR), known as the ProCROSS programme.
Better fertility without compromise on production

Commenting on the fertility of the ProCROSS, the study’s lead author, Dr Amy Hazel, said: “For every parameter we looked at, the crossbreds were overwhelmingly better than their Holstein herd mates.”

For example, the three-breed crossbreds had significantly higher (+9% to +10%) first service conception rates. They also had lower ages at first, second and third calving; significantly fewer (-16.5) days open over three lactations; and their advantage in days open increased to almost three weeks for their third lactations.
The improved fertility of the crossbreds has been achieved without any compromise to their milk production.
When converted to a lifetime daily yield (LDY) of kg fat + protein, the ProCROSS cows produced 2,537 kg per day, only 1% lower than the 2,554 kg per day of their Holstein herd mates.

“Lifetime daily yield of fat plus protein is an important economic parameter, as it is influenced by a range of traits including conception rates, return to peak production and survival, all of which are influenced by the cow’s fertility,” continued Dr Hazel.
Following the three-breed cross on to the next generation revealed there was no difference in weight of fat plus protein between the third (Holstein-sired) cross of ProCROSS cattle and the pure Holstein. All of the crossbred generations also produced milk with higher percentages of fat and protein than their Holstein herd mates. 

Improved profitability with ProCROSS

Dr Hazel said the better performance of the ProCROSS was also reflected in greater profitability – which was the subject of additional research at the University of Minnesota and was expected to be published in detail in the Journal of Dairy Science over the coming months. 

“The immediate financial benefits of good fertility come largely through lower insemination, hormone treatment and pregnancy diagnosis costs.” said Dr Hazel.
“Fertility also has a direct and positive impact on lifespan. This was seen in the ProCROSS cattle whose herd life averaged 997 days, compared with 850 days for the Holstein – a lifespan advantage of +147 days”, she added. 

The extra lifespan also gave rise to lower replacement rates, which were important in lowering costs of production.
“For every parameter we looked at, the crossbreds were overwhelmingly better than their Holstein herd mates.”

Choice of breeds and hybrid vigour

Dr Hazel attributed the crossbreeds’ advantage to the choice of complementary breeds alongside hybrid vigour (heterosis). The use of three breeds in rotation was said to maintain heterosis at a constant 86% in perpetuity, so giving the outcrossed animal better performance than the average of its parents. 

“We found the breeds used in the trial to be very complementary. The Holstein brings production and udder traits; the Coopex Montbeliarde brings fertility, body condition and strength; and the VikingRed brings calving traits, udder health and fertility. Furthermore, the three breeds are complementary for stature, helping to bring size uniformity and ease of management.” added Dr Hazel. 

More robust, fertile and long-living cattle 

The motivation for the trial was said to have come from concern over the narrowing of Holstein bloodlines, the resulting inbreeding depression and the desire to gain the benefits of hybrid vigour.

“The inbreeding coefficient in the USA’s Holstein population now exceeds 8% and continues to rise at a rate of 0.35% each year,” she said. “This inevitably results in inbreeding depression which silently steals profit from dairy producers, because it mostly affects traits which are not readily noticeable, such as embryo loss, less disease resistance and shortened survival.”

This was clearly reflected in the newly published fertility results, while improved health, lower stillbirth rates and improved feed efficiency have also been demonstrated in ProCROSS cattle.

“This trial has demonstrated how the qualities of two complementary breeds can be blended with those of the Holstein to create more robust, fertile and long-living cattle which retain the production of the Holstein. By choosing the Montbeliarde and VikingRed, we were introducing breeds whose strong suits complemented those the Holstein lacks.” concluded Dr Hazel. 

“As pressure increases on the finite resources we use for food production, our economic sustainability has to consider the expenses for feed, health care, fertility, herd replacements and labour. For this reason, genetic selection of dairy cattle must move its emphasis away from the single trait of milk production and crossing these three breeds provides an effective means of achieving this,” she said.
Learn more about the benefits of ProCROSS

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