The University of Minnesota began crossbreeding some of its Holstein heifers and cows at the St. Paul, Minn. and Morris, Minn. dairies to Jersey A.I. bulls more than seven years ago. It was the first university to begin crossbreeding in the 2000s, but others have followed. Also, the university began breeding some Holstein cows at St. Paul, Minn., and Morris, Minn., as well as all of its Jersey-Holstein crossbreds, to Montbeliarde A.I. bulls in 2002.

For all three breeds, highest bulls for breed index (Net Merit or the French equivalent) have consistently been selected, which is critical for top herd performance, explain researchers Les Hansen, University of Minnesota professor of dairy genetics, Brad Heins, University of Minnesota PhD research assistant and Amy Hazel, University of Minnesota graduate assistant.

Jersey-Holstein crossbreds and pure Holsteins that calved for the first time from September 2003 to May2005 were studied. A total of 149 cows calved for the first time and production records during this period were compared for milk, fat, protein, somatic cell count score (SCS), fertility and udder measurements during their first three lactations.

Generally speaking, the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds were good young cows. They became pregnant much quicker than their pure Holstein herdmates (-24 days). Also, their production as young cows was essentially the same as compared to pure Holsteins for pounds of fat plus protein (Table 1).

However, as the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds aged, they had significantly lower fat plus protein pounds than pure Holsteins and had a tendency to have higher SCS. However, in second and third lactation the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds also became pregnant sooner (-42 days) than the pure Holsteins.

Udder clearance was measured within the first 300 days of lactation. Udder clearance was measured from the floor to the bottom on the udder and front teat placement was the distance between the front teats. For udder traits, the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds had less udder clearance in first (-2.8 inches), second (-3.5 inches), and third (-3.4 inches) lactation, which indicates that they had more udder depth. The Jersey-Holstein crossbreds also had more distance between the front teats across the three lactations.

The Jersey-Holstein crossbreds tended to be good cows; however, better sorts of crossbreds probably exist for confinement dairying in the northern hemisphere. Dairy producers might find Jersey-Holstein crossbreds to be more suitable for lower input systems that incorporate loose housing or pastures for grazing, the researchers suggest.

The good news is the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds were much more likely to survive to third and fourth lactation than their pure Holstein herdmates. The not-so-good news is, in later lactations, the Jersey-Holstein crossbreds tended to become extremely deep in the udder, become high in SCC, and leave the herds quickly at that stage of life.

Furthermore, with Jersey in a crossbreeding system, temperament of cows often becomes an issue, value of bull calves is reduced and variation of cow size can be a problem in some management systems.

 

Table 1. Results of Jersey-Holstein crossbreds vs. pure Holsteins during their first 3 lactations

 

Jersey-Holstein

Holstein

Difference

First lactation cows (n)

76

73

Fat plus protein(lb.)

1142

1160

-18

SCS

3.05

2.91

+0.14

Days open

124

148

-24*

Udder clearance (in.)

18.8

21.6

-2.8*

Second lactation cows (n)

61

55

Fat plus protein(lb)

1334

1389

-55*

SCS

3.11

2.87

+0.24

Days open

121

163

-42*

Udder clearance (in.)

16.7

20.2

-3.5*

Third lactation cows (n)

50

37

Fat plus protein(lb.)

1343

1455

-5

SCS

3.79

3.4

+0.39

Days open

158

200

-42*

Udder clearance (in.)

15.9

19.3

-3.4*

* Significant difference of crossbreds from pure Holsteins

At the University of Minnesota, the Swedish Red breed has replaced the Jersey breed to use alongside the Holstein and Montbeliarde breeds for 3-breed rotational crossbreeding. Therefore, into the future, University of Minnesota crossbreds will be rotational crossbreds of Holstein, Swedish Red, and Montbeliarde.

Crossbreeding systems should make use of three breeds, say the researchers. Preliminary results in California and at the University of Minnesota show no loss in production by adding a third breed into a crossbreeding system. Individual dairy producers should carefully choose three breeds that are optimum for conditions unique to their dairy operations (facilities, climate, nutritional regime, reproductive status, level of management and personal preferences).

Source: University of Minnesota