The Nordic Red Cattle Breeds: Pioneers in Genetics and Crossbreeding

Publish date: 11/10/23 

Nordic countries have a unique story to tell when you begin to look at the history of the Nordic red cattle breed. This story revolves around the “Red” or “Ayrshire” based breeds, with Norwegian Red being a prominent member of the Nordic Red cattle group. But it’s not alone in this group; it shares the stage with Swedish Red, Finnish Ayrshire, and Danish Red. Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, Scottish Ayrshire played a significant role in their genetic makeup. However, these Nordic Red breeds also have traces of other cattle breeds that were prevalent in the Nordic regions during the 1900s.  

The Nordic Red populations, especially Norwegian Red, Swedish Red and Finnish Ayrshire, shared key sires throughout the 1900s and into the 2000s, but each population also had some uniqueness. Artificial insemination paved the way for semen on top bulls to be used in several populations beginning in the 1960s, and this further enhanced the connectedness between the populations.  

Breeding Populations Worldwide in Nordic Red Breeds  

Norwegian Red boasts the largest population among the Nordic Red breeds with about 200,000 Norwegian Red calves currently born each year. Finland and Sweden currently have about 70,000 cows each in their Finnish Ayrshire and Swedish Red populations followed by Denmark which has slightly under 30,000 Danish Red cows. Populations have declined in number of cows over the last 50 years as productivity has increased much like dairy cattle populations in other developed countries.  

While population size matters in genetic improvement programs, the design and scale of breeding programs can be equally or even more crucial for genetic advancements. Norway, home of Norwegian Red, historically has by far the largest breeding program among the Nordic countries. Prior to the development of modern genomic selection programs, Norway progeny tested 125 or more bulls per year with about 250 daughters in first crop test, allowing for significant improvement in lower heritable traits like health and fertility. Finland and Sweden tested from about 70 to 100 bulls each during this same time. Although, these programs had smaller first crop daughter groups. Denmark tested about 40 bulls per year during this period.  

Competition and Innovation in Nordic Cattle Breeding: Geno and Viking Genetics  

In 2009, Viking Genetics was created to manage international marketing and to coordinate the breeding programs for Danish Red, Finnish Ayrshire and Swedish Red. Danish Red, Finnish Ayrshire and Swedish Red bulls are now all marketed internationally under the Viking Red banner.  

It’s worth noting that Norway and the Norwegian Red breed operate independently. Geno is the marketing entity that takes the reins in managing all international activities related to the Norwegian Red breed. Norwegian Red’s breeding program remains steadfast in its commitment to enhancing fertility and health traits with a continued focus on overall trait improvement as it has done in the past.  

Improvements in the various breeds have accrued because of the healthy competition in industry. Each breed is making improvements to supply a red cattle breed to the crossbreeding scenario. The improvements from the competition only benefit dairy producers as they different breeds create sires with enhanced fertility, health, and production traits.  

ABS and Norwegian Red 

At ABS Global, we are proponents for utilizing the Norwegian Red breed within crossbreeding. Like discussed, this breed is known for superior health and fitness traits. Females tend to have less difficulty calving, breed back easily, and are medium-sized, trouble-free cows that work well in commercial dairies. In other words, that is just what a dairy needs to become more profitable.  

Crossbreeding might be the next step for your dairy to increase profits and decrease expenses. The Norwegian Red breed is an excellent choice to use in a crossbreeding program. To learn more about crossbreeding with Norwegian Red, contact your ABS Genetic Advisor or complete the form below.  

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