Have farmers forgotten why they were crossbreeding in the first place?

“Crossbreeding with Jersey is an effective way to improve the performance and profit of many dairy herds,” according to two herd improvement scientists from opposite sides of the globe.

Dr. Richard Spelman, a chief scientist with the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) in New Zealand, and Dr. Frank Buckley, a research officer at Teagasc Moorepark, spoke at a recent event held by the LIC.

The event focused on the science underpinning crossbreeding, with high EBI Jersey, in a seasonal pasture-based system along with the critical importance of calf welfare.

John Tobin, systems manager at LIC Ireland, said: “The event offered assurance to farmers regarding crossbreeding, by showing the science and numbers behind the practice.

Frank shared Irish trial results that revealed higher productivity and higher production efficiency through crossbreeding with elite high-EBI Jersey sires.

“He also presented two breeding scenarios, based on mating a typical (average EBI) Holstein-Friesian herd, to either a team of the highest EBI Holstein-Friesian sires or a team of the top EBI Jersey sires – both from the ICBF Active Bull List.”

Hybrid Vigour

According to Frank, while the EBI of the resulting Jersey-crossbred heifers will be lower than that of the Holstein-Friesian sired heifers; when the “contribution of hybrid vigour is factored into the profit generating potential of the Jersey crossbred heifers, it is expected to be greater by approximately €100/cow/lactation.”

Frank also pointed out that the “hybrid vigour is maximised in the first cross and is reduced in later generations”.

However, its “expression varies depending on breeding strategy after the first cross”.

Continuing, he said: “Where criss-crossing of Jersey with Holstein-Friesian takes place in alternate generations, the level of hybrid vigour expressed will be, on average, 66% of that in the first cross or approximately €100/cow/lactation.

The gains are largely due to a combination of the complementary breed traits – giving a higher milk price of up to 6c/L – and hybrid vigour, which is worth up to €150/cow/lactation in the first cross.

He did stress, however, that “as herd EBI increases and particularly where herd fertility is excellent, the advantage of crossbreeding with Jersey is lessened”.

Furthermore, in a crossbreeding trial in Clonakilty between 2014 and 2017, it showed that – compared to high EBI Holstein-Friesian cows, with excellent fertility performance – the Jersey cross Holstein-Friesian cows produced 9kg more milk solids while being 50kg lighter in body weight.

The net effect was an estimated “difference in profit of €138/ha in favour of the Jersey-crossbred cows”.

Longevity

Richard then touched on the longevity of the crossbred cow, when he said:

“New Zealand research shows that the crossbred cow also has the ability to last an extra 220 days longer in the herd.

Fertility and longevity are important for reducing environmental footprint and crossbreeding will continue to be important to generate profitable dairy cows.

Despite all this, both researchers stressed that calf welfare cannot ever be compromised and farmers need to take individual responsibility.

So, planning ahead and making the necessary provisions for 2020 is essential.

This event was the first of a series of three LIC information events in Ireland focusing on herd improvement. The next two events will be held in September and October 2019.

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