Crossbreeding here to stay

The findings are very positive, and crossbreeding is very much here to stay, says Frank Buckley of the Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Moorepark, which has been involved for the past six years in evaluating the merits of crossbreeding with Jersey.

A large on-farm study (2006 to 2009) also provided a clear insight into crossbreeding, with Norwegian Red.

While crossbreeding is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, it is very clear from the research results of both studies that crossbreeding will make an increasing contribution as the industry drives to maximise output and profit per hectare, and reduce production costs, says Buckley.

The results strongly suggest that using Norwegian Red or Jersey sires will deliver high profit to Irish farmers.

In both cases, production potential is not compromised, and crucially, consistent with data from New Zealand (and other countries to a limited extent), reproductive efficiency and survival of the crossbred cows is markedly improved, compared to the Holstein-Friesian cows on trial.

The advantage from crossbreeding is likely to be substantial where the EBI, or more specifically the fertility sub-index, is low. However, farmers will benefit from hybrid vigour even with high EBI herds.

That is the basis for crossbreeding in New Zealand, use the best bulls from both breeds and also benefit from the added bonus that is hybrid vigour.

It is critical that farmers choose high EBI Jersey or Norwegian Red sires, in order to maximise the benefit from a crossbreeding strategy.

Choose sires that will deliver high milk solids yield and positive daughter fertility.

The favourable production and reproductive efficiency of the crossbred cows from the studies at Moorepark delivered profit improvements of up to €180 per cow per lactation, when compared to the contemporary Holstein-Friesian cows on trial (the biological data was simulated, using the Moorepark Dairy Systems Model).

The superior Norwegian Red and Jersey sires currently available (compared to those used in the Moorepark studies), should provide more confidence to Irish dairy farmers this season aiming to avail of the practically relevant benefits that crossbreeding will deliver, most importantly substantially improved fertility.

Reproductive performance at farm level is poor.

Crossbreeding with high EBI sires is a proven avenue to genetically improve it.

* Next week: Joe Sheehy advises on coping with the grass tetany (magnesium deficiency) threat from turnout until about mid-May.

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