The numbers are striking: 5.3% of pure Holsteins died from calving to 305 days in milk compared to 1.7% of crossbreds in a study of six California herds.
The study involved nearly 1,500 animals during a three-year period ending in 2005. The study started with 416 Holsteins. Crossbreds numbered 251 Normande/Holsteins, 503 Montbeliarde/Holsteins and 321 Scandinavian Red/Holsteins.
When culling was added to the total number of pure Holsteins removed between calving and 305 days in milk, the numbers climbed to 15.9%. Crossbred numbers jumped to 7.4%.
Heifer survival rates were also higher for crossbreds. Only 0.9% of crossbred heifers died between birth and their first DHI milk recording. Pure Holsteins had death rates four times higher.
"Only 10 of the 1,075 crossbred cows died prior to first observation of milk recording,” says Les Hansen, a University of Minnesota dairy geneticist who, along with colleague Brad Heins, analyzed the data. However, 15 of the 416 pure Holsteins died in the same period.
Culling before first milk recording was 1.7% for crossbred heifers versus 5% for pure Holsteins. "In other words, pure Holsteins were three times more likely than crossbreds to die or be culled in these dairies before the first observation of milk recording,” Heins says.
"Eighteen of the 1,075 crossbred cows compared to 22 of the 416 pure Holstein cows died during the first 305 days of lactation,” he adds.