Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Dairy experts differ on value of cross-breeding

Dr Andrew Cromie ICBF. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Dr Andrew Cromie ICBF. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Debate is growing in dairy farming circles over the long-term merits of cross-breeding.

While purebred 'black and white' cows have almost disappeared in countries such as New Zealand as farmers adopt crossbreeding as the norm, the use of Jersey on the predominantly Holstein Friesian herd in Ireland has remained at less than 10pc.

Despite the promotion of the benefits of the hybrid vigour effect from crossbreeding cows for over a decade, the latest data from ICBF shows that the benefits of out-crossing disappear in high genetic merit herds. "Five years ago we believed that crossbreeding would deliver an extra €100-150 per cow annually," said ICBF geneticist, Andrew Cromie.

"We didn't anticipate the rate of genetic progress that genomics would deliver in the Holstein Friesian population. Now we think that crossbreeding probably isn't justified at EBI's over €170."

ICBF data shows that there was no difference in profitability between 50,000 high EBI Holstein-Friesian and crossbred cows.

Mr Cromie also questioned the merits of paying for breeding programmes to support the multiple breeds required for optimising crossbreeding.

"There's only about three or four purebred Jersey herds in the country. The high genetic merit cows that are being sourced by Moorepark will be very useful for research, but they're a drop in the ocean in terms of getting enough genetic potential to keep up with the progress in the black and white herd.

The introduction of genomics along with the larger pool of genetics available in the Holstein-Friesian population, has seen the average genetic merit of black and white cows improve 240pc faster than Jerseys.

Also Read

Even though the average Jersey EBI was double the average Holstein-Friesian a decade ago, the latter is set to pass out Jerseys in the coming two years. If this trend persists, farmers will be faced with the prospect of crossbreeding high genetic merit black and whites with Jerseys of a much lower genetic merit.

Gene Ireland

"Look at the Gene Ireland bulls on offer this year. The average EBI for the Holstein Friesian is €370, compared to €270 for the crossbred bulls. That means that the crossbred bulls have to be able to deliver an extra €100 in profit just to stay on par with the Holstein Friesian equivalent. And the gap is widening. Next year, those Holstein Friesians could be at €400, while the crossbreds will only be €10 higher," said Mr Cromie. He added that further research would be required in 2016.

Teagasc's crossbreeding specialist Frank Buckley said that they were preparing a "technical position paper" to be released in the coming weeks before the start of the 2016 breeding season.

"I am very clear Jersey crossbreeding still has the potential to offer significant benefits in terms of performance and profit for the majority of Irish dairy farmers," said Mr Buckley.

Indo Farming