Crossbreeding has always been a little bit of an unknown in the dairy industry but a recent two-year project led by Dr Jo Coombe and funded by Dairy Australia has started to shed some light on what was once quite an under-researched subject.
Crossbreed herds in Australia are on the rise, particularly a systematic three-way cross, containing a combination of Holstein/Friesian, Jersey and Australian Red cows.
It was this three-way cross that was used for the basis of the study and compared to the more traditional Holstein Friesian/Jersey backcross.
“Nobody had ever really researched the three-way cross before but here in Australia we had 23 years of herd testing to provide data,” Dr Coombe said.
The project looked at:
- How many farmers were crossbreeding, including those using a three-breed rotational system.
- Data on production, cell count, reproduction and survival which was used to answer the question: What is the best option after the first cross?
- Farmers attitudes toward cross breeding.
- An economic model to compare the performance of a purebred herd with a two-breed or three-breed crossbreeding herd.
Dr Coombe said the research showed crossbreeding is a profitable option for dairy farmers and in an economic model, crossbreds are predicted to be more profitable than purebreeds, but it can take up to six years for this to become evident (selecting good sires is an important aspect of this success).
On average a crossbred cow produces less milk per cow but they are not as big so they have less fodder requirements. To maintain farm production more crossbreds may be required, so where does the margin lie?
A crossbred cow is more fertile, she lives longer and depreciates less.
Friesian: $2000 cow lasts four year and is sold at $800 = $300 depreciation p.a.
Xbred: $1400 cpw lasts six years and sold at $650 — $125 depreciation p.a.
Fewer replacements means less mating and rearing costs.
Friesian: $500 cow/year in replacement costs (25 per cent replacements p.a.)
Xbred: $330 cow/year in replacement costs (17 per cent replacements p.a.)
“These benefits more than offset the slightly higher herd and shed costs and reduced cull cow sale income,” Dr Coombe said.
In summary Dr Coombe found:
- Crossbreeding farmers tend to be younger.
- Farmers already crossbreeding are more likely to want to learn more about it, but all farmers are interested.
- Crossbreeding has increased since 1990 including farmers using three breeds.
- Two-breed crossbreds performed worse than Holstein/Friesians for volume and kilograms but better in several cases for components, survival and some reproduction measures.
- The AusRed x Holstein/Friesian/Jersey three-breed performed better than either backcross for a number of measures.
- The economic model showed an advantage to crossbreeding versus purebred herds, but this assumes an increase in herd size and the benefits can take several years.
- There are real life case studies showing improved profitability with crossbreeding in seasonal herds.
- Importantly, crossbreeding won’t fix poor genetics — choosing good sires will.