FAQs for Dairy Crossbreeding 

Our teams have put our heads together to answer all the questions we get asked most frequently regarding dairy crossbreeding, the benefits, and how to implement on your dairy farm. Use this FAQ resource to answer your crossbreeding questions.  

What is ABS’s recommendation for crossbreeding? 

At ABS we recognize that not every farm has the same goals, facilities, climate, or milk market, that’s why we think it is important to customize your crossbreeding approach to fit your system. Therefore, before making recommendations, our team needs to hear your story to help customize a crossbreeding approach that will help you meet your goals in your situation. 

What kind of dairy should consider crossbreeding? 

Crossbreeding works best in situations when the producer: 

  • Is focused on efficiency and profitability. For example, looking for smaller, lighter, more feed-efficient cows; lowering input costs 
  • Is committed to following a program 
  • Is prepared to accept change and implement the program  
  • Knows that traits they value are present in other breeds and can be backed by heterosis 
  • Wants rapid change 

What is heterosis (hybrid vigor)? 

Heterosis or hybrid vigor is added performance that results when crossing two different breeds. Geneticists believe that heterosis results primarily from breeding individuals that are more variable in their genetic material. Heterosis is measured as the difference in performance from the parent average performance. Usually, heterosis is expressed as a percentage of the parental average. 

Will dairy crossbreeding solve all problems? 

No, dairy crossbreeding will not solve all herd management problems. However, it is one more tool that commercial dairy producers can use to improve their profitability, and crossbreeding will help with many modern dairy management challenges. Plus, crossbreeding can help adapt your herd to changing breeding goals quickly. 

Hybrid Vigor is one of the reasons I started crossbreeding. I hear that if I incorporate a third breed it will give me more. Is this true? 

While using a three-way rotational cross will result in a higher rate of heterosis retention (86% vs 67%) this 19% difference is worth about ½ lb. of milk/day on most farms. Because of this it is more important to consider how your breeds complement each other. If your third breed is bringing qualities you are not getting from your other two breeds without big negatives, adding it to the rotation is probably a good choice.  

Would crossbreeding be a good option if I produce in a fluid market?  

It depends. Many herds paid on a fluid basis are either located in the hot and humid South-East or have an organic milk contract. In both cases the increased fertility offered by crossbreeding with Norwegian Red is especially valuable. 

It is well-accepted that the first cross cows perform well, but where do I go next? 

The F1 is a fantastic dairy animal offering fertility, health, and production. However crossbred parents produce offspring with more variation than if two purebred parents are used. Breeding your F1 animals to a purebred dairy bull is the best way to get a genetic daughter from her. Alternatively, ABS can help you create a terminal line of F1s using Embryos, Sexed Semen, and Beef Semen. This is the only way to maintain a herd of true F1 cows! 

I want a consistent herd of cows as I find them easier to manage. Will my herd have a lot of variety when I introduce dairy crossbreeding? 

Rotational crossbreeding will result in a less uniform herd than a purebred herd. However, some rotational programs will result in less variation than others. If you are looking to limit variation in stature, we recommend using a two way cross with breeds that are more similar in size such as Holstein and Norwegian Red. 

Alternatively, if a terminal F1 program is used a farm could create a herd entirely of F1 cows. These F1s will be extremely uniform because they will be exactly half the sires breed and half the dam’s breed. Furthermore, the use of IVF allows for multiple full siblings to be created simultaneously. This will improve uniformity. 

How can dairy crossbreeding give you more robust calves and cows? 

There are two reasons. 

First, dairy crossbreeding can result in more robust calves and cows because of heterosis for cow and calf health, survival, and reproduction. Heterosis is typically higher for health, survival, and reproduction than for milk production traits, which means that crossbreeding will be more advantageous for health, survival, and reproduction than for production traits. This effect is immediately seen in more vigorous, robust calves. 

Secondly, because some breeds have better health, survival, and reproduction than others. Breeds like the Norwegian Red have proven to transmit outstanding health, survival, and reproductive performance. Incorporating these breeds in a crossbreeding program will introduce these genetics into a herd. It is also important to remember that these genetics will transmit to future offspring. 

How does the milk, fat, and protein production of dairy crossbred cows compare with purebred Holstein cows? 

In general, milk volume may be slightly less than high-producing Holsteins, but fat and protein pounds will remain about the same because crossbreds produce a higher % of fat and protein. 

How can dairy crossbreeding lower replacement rates? 

Dairy crossbreeding will generally result in lower replacement rates because of improved cow health, survival, and reproduction due to heterosis and breed complementarity. The Norwegian Red has outstanding performance for health, survival, and reproduction so, adding the Norwegian Red breed to a crossbreeding program will improve replacement rates. 

How can dairy crossbreeding improve reproductive performance? 

There are two main reasons. First, heterosis for reproductive performance is very high. This benefit is gained whenever different breeds are crossed. However, this heterosis advantage is not transmitted to the next generation, so if you stop crossbreeding, the advantage is gone. Second, some breeds like Norwegian Reds, have concentrated on genetically improving reproductive performance for years. This has resulted in much better reproductive performance that is transmitted to their offspring and later generations. Like all genetic benefits, this advantage is built up and compounded in the herd. 

How can dairy crossbreeding increase bull calf value? 

For many farmers finding homes for their Jersey influenced calves is difficult. Using a crossbreeding program using Holstein and Norwegian Red can give you herd smaller with higher component percentages than a conventional Holstein herd without taking the hit in bull/beef calf price that results from Jersey cattle. 

Crossbreeding is a tool to put in your dairy’s toolbelt that give you more, fast. With crossbreeding, you can expect a decreased workload and improved returns from crossbred cows because of consistency in excellent production, exceptional health, and unmatched fertility. You can customize your crossbreeding program for your particular herd, system, and environment with the aid of ABS. 

Design your crossbreeding program today by contacting your ABS Genetic Advisor or completing the form below!