After a decade’s worth of data compilation, researchers have determined the benefits of using a three-breed rotation in commercial dairy herds.
     In a virtual press conference hosted by ProCROSS Sept. 29, Dr. Les Hansen highlighted the 305-day production and fertility results of Montbéliarde-sired, Viking Red-sired and Holstein-sired crossbred cows compared to their purebred Holstein herdmates from a 10-year study of seven Minnesota dairy farms.
    “The key things we wanted to focus on were production and fertility because they are major concerns for dairy producers around the world, phenotypically and genetically,” Hansen said.
    Hansen, a professor at the University of Minnesota, conducted the study alongside graduate students Amy Hazel-Loetschke and Brad Heins.
    The study reviewed the crossbred data compared to purebred Holsteins based on one of three lactations and included a sample size of more than 9,000 dairy cattle. While each data summary provided differences amongst the crossbreds and lactations, certain data points were statistically significant for research, meaning there was at least 1% difference from the purebred Holstein herdmates.
    When reviewing age at calving, purebred Holsteins, Viking Red-sired and Montbéliarde-sired animals were calving at an average of 23.8 months. That value decreased in three-breed rotations of the same sires and increased in second and third lactations.
    The greatest difference was noted in the Montbéliarde-sired animals of the third lactation in a two-breed cross. Purebred Holsteins recorded a calving age of 48.9 months where as those crosses were at 48.4 months.
    “Dairy producers are getting these animals into the herd at a young age,” Hansen said. “If they’re getting pregnant quicker, that contributes to a younger age at subsequent calvings.”
    The results of first service conception rate showcased dramatic improvement within the two-breed crossbreds – purebred Holsteins at 37% compared to 45% for Viking Red-sired and 43% for Montbéliarde-sired animals. The three-breed crosses were more pronounced at 43%, 52% and 51%, respectively.
    Overall conception rate was also observed and capped at five services.
    “There were big differences when we compared the crossbreds to purebred Holstein herdmates,” Hansen said. “And the differences were in the right direction.”
    Notable values included the Montbéliarde-sired animals in two- and three-breed rotations across first, second and third lactations.     
    Times bred – up to five services – as well as days open were also examined. The study found both data points were improved in the crossbred animals compared to their purebred Holstein herdmates.
    The study also looked at pregnancy rate.
    “Pregnancy rate is heavily used to gauge fertility and is a reflection of days open,” Hansen said. “When we look at two-breed crosses, they surpass 30%, and in some cases that was statistically significant. In three-breed crosses, there was a big advantage. Fertility is clearly superior in crossbreds.”
    When the researchers observed production records on the purebred Holsteins and their crossbred counterparts, the first-lactation two-breed crossbreds had greater 305-day actual fat production. Viking Red-sired animals in a two-breed cross had 13 pounds more fat and Montbéliarde-sired animals had 22 pounds more fat than the Holsteins at 927 pounds. However, in subsequent lactations and crosses, that value decreased.     
    “There was tremendous production in these herds. The Holstein herdmates of two-breed and three-breed crosses increased with lactations,” Hansen said. “That shows a positive genetic trend and the herds’ improving management.”
    On a percentage base, there were slight increases of fat in the crossbreds compared to purebred Holsteins throughout all lactations. Yet, none of the values were statistically significant.
    When reviewing 305-day actual protein production, the Montbéliarde-sired two-breed crosses demonstrated an increase in protein that was statistically significant.
    “Protein production in these herds is considered very high for Holsteins in the United States,” Hansen said.
    The most notable difference was in the three-breed crosses of Viking Red-sired animals at more than 30 pounds of protein less than the contemporary Holsteins.
    “But, those cows were getting pregnant quicker and it wasn’t adjusted to consider their return to production quicker,” Hansen said.
    On a percentage base, the crossbreds had about a 0.15% higher protein, but it was not statistically significant.
    The final data set reviewed the crossbreds 305-day actual milk in 1,000 pounds compared to purebred Holstein herdmates.
    “Going across the rotations and lactations, these were extremely high production herds with third lactation herdmates average 30,000 pounds of milk,” Hansen said. “We were not surprised the crosses were not as good, generally speaking.”
    Across the data set, the crossbreds were consistently lower in production than the Holsteins.
    “Remember, we get paid for solids in milk,” Hansen said. “Yes, there’s less volume but that’s not what we’re paid for.”
    To put the results into context, Hansen and his colleagues converted the data to lifetime values rather than 305-day for daily fat and protein.
    The purebred Holsteins, across lifetimes on a daily basis, averaged 5.53 pounds of fat and protein production when comparing two-breed crosses. Montbéliarde-sired crossbreds were 2% greater, but Viking Red-sired crossbreds were 1% less on a daily basis across the lifetime.
    The opposite was true for the three-breed groups. Holsteins recorded 5.63 pounds of daily fat and protein production, whereas Viking Red-sired crossbreds were 2% less and Montbéliarde-sired crossbreds were 1% greater.
    “There is only so much space and capacity for cows on the farm,” Hansen said. “You want as much daily performance as possible for production for cows.”