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  Ten Years of Cross-Breeding Data Demonstrates Advantages
Daily profit of the ProCROSS vs. Holsteins
Jen Carrelli, B.Sc. Agr., M.Sc. (An. Sci.) University of Alberta
Jen recently completed her Masters degree focussed on dairy cattle reproduction and genetics. Her thesis explored a novel fertility phenotype in Holstein cattle.
Summary of differences of crossbreds from Holstein herdmates
      305-d fat + protein Daily fat + protein
their effect on profitability.
Much like Canada, the
health treatment cost of
U.S. dairy cows is not well- documentedduetothelack
of uniform (and complete)
data recording. Veterinary
costs (including cost of
medication and veterinary
care) and labor costs were
estimated based on input
from herd veterinarians and herd managers, and grouped into five main categories:
• Mastitis (including mastitis diagnostic testing)
• Lameness
• Reproductive (retained placenta, metritis, cystic ovary, and other)
•Metabolic (milk fever, displaced abomasum, ketosis, and digestive)
• Miscellaneous (respiratory, injury, and all other)
The majority of the differences in health treatment costs came from reductions in mastitis, metabolic, and miscellaneous treatment costs for both the 2-breed and 3-breed crossbreds compared to pure Holstein herd mates. Overall, total health treatment costs for 2-breed crossbreds were an average of 23% less than pure Holsteins, whereas the 3-breed crossbreds averaged 17% less than their Holstein herd
2-breed 3-breed
+2% –3% +1% –1%
    Presentation by Dr. Les Hansen, University of Minnesota, Western Canadian Dairy Seminar
In 2020, the average inbreeding of U.S. Holstein females had an annual increase of 0.43% to 8.6%. Looking at historical trends, we can expect average inbreeding of females to increase almost one full percentage point every 2-3 years. At some point, we will lose genetic diversity if we continue down this road, which ultimately isn’t sustainable for our industry. Inbreeding depression has negative effects on traits such as cow fertility, stillbirth, health, mortality, and longevity, that are “hidden” and steal your profit; however, these same traits can be boosted through hybrid vigor or the “bonus” genetic improvements achieved through crossbreeding. The increaseingeneticimprovementcanbeup to 4 – 10% for production traits, and more than 10% for fertility, health, and survival traits.
A three-breed rotational crossbreeding system will optimize hybrid vigor vs two breed rotations (flip-flop) which limit hybridvigor,andfourbreedswhichlimitthe influence of the individual breeds. Looking at this 10-year field study on the popular ProCROSS three-breed rotation (Holstein, Viking Red, and Montbeliarde), 3,550 purebred Holstein heifers and cows were enrolled in the study from seven herds, with 44% bred to Holstein A.I. bulls, 28% bred
to Montbeliarde A.I. bulls, and 28% bred to Viking Red A.I. bulls.
Some would argue that with genomic selection we can really improve traits of interest for the Holstein breed, which is true, but that does not eliminate the bonus of hybrid vigor resulting from a crossbreeding program... so why not use both? We can use purebreds that are genetically outstanding and put hybrid vigor on top. If we delve into some of the above profit stealing traits, both 2 and 3-breed crosses had less first calving stillbirths, showed improvements to first service conception rate, and displayed dramatic reductions in days open in all generations compared to pure Holstein herd mates. These noteworthy improvements in fertility measures equate to reduced reproductive inputs and quicker returns to peak milk production for both primiparous and multiparous cows.
In addition, crossbred cattle stayed in the herd longer than pure Holsteins. As replacement costs are extremely high, and cull sale prices are low, it makes sense from an economic standpoint to focus on longevity (and reduce the number of replacements). To that effect, death loss of 3-breed crossbreds was only about one-half ofthatoftheirHolsteinherdmates,further reducing losses to the bottom line. Uniquely to this study, Les Hansen’s group really delved into health treatment costs and
Stillbirths –2.5%
   First-service conception rate Days open
+7.3% +8.7% –12.0 d –16.5 d
–23% –17%
–4.0% –4.2% +158 d +147 d
+13% +9%
Image courtesy of Les Hansen Presentation.
mates. Upon first glance it may appear as the 2-breed cross supersedes the 3-breed cross; however, it is important to consider this crossbreeding system a “package deal” in order to optimize on hybrid vigor, where three distinct breeds have a 17% improvement in average hybrid vigor over a 2-breed program.
Toputthisdataintoperspective,dailyprofit (based on lifetime profit divided by number of days in the herd) of the 2-breed crossbred cattle was improved by 13% to $4.21/ day, whereas daily profit of the 3-breed crossbreeds was up 9% to $4.29/day compared to their respective pure Holstein herdmates.Whenthescopewasbroadened to look at added annual profit based on herd size (assuming 10% advantage for ProCROSS acrossgenerations),Hansenandcolleagues estimate additional profits of $72,088 for a 500 head milking herd, based solely on the data collected in this 10-year designed study.
   Health treatment cost
Daily profit
   Lifetime death loss Days in the herd
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