The University of Minnesota has initiated a crossbreeding study including more than 10,000 dairy cows over an 8-year period in 10 commercial dairies in Minnesota.
The objective of the study is to compare the profitability of crossbred dairy cattle with pure Holsteins, which currently comprise more than 90% of dairy cows in the United States. The project will compare pure Holsteins to crossbreds in a 3-breed rotational system using the Holstein, Montbeliarde, and Swedish Red breeds.
Only pure Holsteins will be initially enrolled in the project as foundation cattle, and 4,185 heifers and cows have been committed to the study across the 10 dairies. Approximately 40% of the foundation pure Holsteins will continue to be bred to Holstein A.I. bulls in successive generations across the years of the study. The other roughly 60% of the foundation heifers and cows will be mated to Montbeliarde or Swedish Red AI bulls – exactly one half of heifers and cows to bulls from each of the two European breeds.
The 10 dairies are located throughout Minnesota and are among the top managed dairies in Minnesota. The dairies range in size from 250 to 1620 cows. Collectively, however, these dairies are near the Minnesota average for stillbirth rate, death rate, and turnover rate – all three of which have a huge impact on profitability of dairying.
Inbreeding continues to mount in the global Holstein breed, and inbreeding has been documented to reduce the fertility and health of all farm animals. Crossbreeding provides a breeding system that should result in reduced labor requirements and less treatment of individual cows for health disorders.
The Minnesota research is a follow-up to a field study with seven cooperating dairies in California. The California study ignored data for health traits, which will be emphasized in the new study.