Common sense will be needed if crossbreeding is to work here
Over the past month, many spring calving dairy cows have been dried off. The impact of an impending superlevy has resulted in cows being dried off early, empty cows being culled and a decision made to shut down milk production until February.
I have always said that a breeding programme begins from the time a cow is dried off. The primary focus should be a target body condition score at the time cows are dried off.
Integral to any breeding programme are the sires to be used on the dairy herd. More than 90pc of sires used on spring calving dairy cows are Holstein Friesian.
Based on some reports, there is a belief that a considerably lower proportion of Holstein Friesian sires are being used in favour of more crossbreeding with Jersey, Norwegian Red, Brown Swiss, Montbeliarde and Ayrshire.
This is not just a trend in grass-based milk production in Ireland. American and Canadian studies show an increased use of crossbreeding in large dairy herds homed indoors.
In a 3,000-cow herd in South Dakota, Jersey, Norwegian Red and Fleckvieh sires are used to produce crossbred progeny for the dairy herd in a four-way crossbreeding programme. They avoid the birth of Jersey crosses in the harsh winter months because of poor survival rates. This farmer claims that the health status and thereby reproductive performance of the herd has improved.
Crossbreeding will enhance hybrid vigour in the dairy herd. The primary benefits are enhanced milk components and reproductive performance. But crossbreeding programmes are long-term decisions.
Performance of the first crosses will display full hybrid vigour and will result in uniform animals. But the first cross then has to be bred to a third breed or a backcross to the parent breed. About half of the hybrid vigour will be lost with a backcross when compared with the first generation crosses.