Mixing it up with European breeds

SALEM, Ohio – Farmers practicing the perfect dairy crossbred mix have new options.

It’s not the ticket to a 10-year-old, 100-pound-producing, eight-calvings herd, but it might be closer.

Some of these newer European breeds offer traits not found in traditional crossbreeding choices, according to Select Sires, which has added three new dairy breeds to its lineup.

The Montbeliarde from France is a “sturdy” animal, said Select Sires’ Chuck Sattler, vice president of genetic programs. It withstands the stress of daily milkings better than most breeds, he said.

Norway and Sweden, where the other two breeds originate, have researched breeds for the last 20 years, selecting animals for lower mastitis and improved calving ease, Sattler said.

Now, the Norwegian Red and Swedish Red are known for these traits.

Piqued interest. Crossbreeding has been around since the 1950s, but only more recently have farmers taken an interest, Sattler said.

He said this is because the market is emphasizing component pricing and farmers are looking for ways to boost their fat and protein percents.

Plus, there’s a renewed interest in cows’ health and fertility, Sattler said.

Most farmers start looking at crossbreeding because they have Holstein heifers and want to breed them with a Jersey for easier calving.

Then they end up with 50-percent animals and want to see what else they can do with crossbreeding, Sattler said.

Creativity. A pocket of California producers and a group there called Creative Genetics have been using the Montbeliarde, Norwegian Red and Swedish Red for years, Sattler said.

“I’ve seen approximately 500 crossbred daughters and found they have low (somatic cell counts), sufficient production and adequate reproductive performance,” said Jeff Ziegler, manager of protein/specialty sire programs at Select Sires.

Ziegler went to California, talked with the farmers, inspected the cattle and came back with plenty of information, Sattler said.

“It’s not an area we can ignore any longer,” Sattler said, adding it was time to give farmers options beyond traditional Jersey and Brown Swiss crossbreeding options.

But he still urges caution.

Trying out new genetics is exciting, but farmers still probably won’t get the perfect herd, he said.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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