Mixing dairy breeds may reduce feed costs 

Crossbred dairy cattle are common in the dairy world due to hybrid vigor. This can be an effective breeding strategy but must be managed thoughtfully to maintain a productive and profitable herd.

Before crossbreeding, Reagan Bluel, field specialist in dairy with the University of Missouri Extension, advised that producers “identify what their market is.” 

Once that step has been taken, dairy farmers can create a herd that compliments their market. For some, this may be continuing with purebred cows. If there is no justifiable reason to crossbreed, it is a strategy best left alone. If there is an identifiable reason to do so, crossbreeding can make positive change. 

There are a number of dairy breeds producers can select from to crossbreed, but Holstein/Jersey crosses are the most common. They are a productive cross, and there can be a market for Jersey and Jersey-influenced steers. Holstein and Brown Swiss is another popular breed mix.

The hybrid vigor in crossbred dairy animals may increase milk components, or at the least create more efficiency in achieving the same amount. A four-year trial at the University of Minnesota showed crossbred dairy cows produced the same amount of butterfat and protein as purebred Holstein cows, but with 2 pounds less of feed per day on a dry matter basis. Bluel noted crossbred cows tend to have smaller frames but can complement a grazing dairy operation well due to less dry matter intake required for production. It is possible for a crossbred herd to reduce a producer’s feed costs. 

When crossbreeding, it’s important to keep herd goals in mind for long term success. 

“Having records is so critically important,” Bluel said. “Once you have an F1 cross, who do you breed her to?” 

Good records will allow producers to retain the best of their crossbred heifers, make breeding choices to ensure herd health, and market their culls in a productive manner. Crossbreeding can help reduce inbreeding, but that only goes so far. Records can keep producers from falling into breeding too closely and creating health and infertility issues.

A producer’s crossbreeding program can be amplified in a positive way by selecting a good quality sire from a reputable purebred dairy, or through artificial insemination. 

Crossbred dairy cattle still need to be quality dairy cattle. Simply mixing and matching on a whim is not a sustainable strategy. Producers interested in crossbreeding might consider visiting dairy cattle shows to research breeds and develop an eye for useful traits that will benefit their program.


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