Here’s how some commercial producers in the U.S. describe their ideal cow – – quite a contrast to the yesteryear ideal of a long, tall, deep, wide, dairy-quality female:

  • “I need feed efficiency from birth through lactation, smaller stature, good udders, health traits, excellent fertility, and good milk production with high milk solids.”1
  • “(Profitable cows) produce strongly under the radar with minimal inputs, rarely spend a day in the hospital pen and breed back lactation after lactation.”2
  • “We are especially looking for moderate or smaller cow size along with good solids production and high fertility.”3

Interestingly, commercial dairy producers can attain their goal of producing the ideal cow with many of the same principles that purebred breeders use.  That is, if the purebred breeder advice comes from The Bullvine’s Murray Hunt – – see “4 Steps to Faster Genetic Improvement.”4 NOTE: Steps below are from Hunt, but text pertains to crossbreds unless Hunt’s name starts a paragraph.  We recommend reading his article – it’s an excellent read.

Step #1: Measure First

What if less ketosis, retained placenta, cystic ovaries, metritis or milk fever (hypocalcemia) were among the traits where you need improvement?  The Norwegian Red (NR) breeding program has included selection for resistance to mastitis and other important diseases since the 1970’s and today the 6 diseases in Table 1 are included in the breeding program (in addition to mastitis).  Compare your herd’s levels of these diseases to the 2015 averages in the NR population across Norway found in Table 1.

Table 1. Average incidence of disease of Norwegian Red in Norway (percentage of cows that have the disease)
1st lactation 2nd lactation 3rd lactation
Milk fever 0.16 0.66
Ketosis 0.96 1.75 2.44
Retained placenta 1.34 2.43 2.92
Cystic ovaries 0.53 1.14 1.63
Metritis 0.7 0.73 0.76
Silent heat 1.3 1.39 1.46

When considering the entire Norwegian Red cow population (average of all lactations), it’s extraordinary that each disease in Table 1 has an overall frequency of 2% or less.

Hoof health is also included in the NR breeding program.  Hoof diseases are measured and grouped in 3 categories –  corkscrew claw, infectious claw disorders and laminitis-related claw disorders – for the selection process.  Fertility traits have been a part of the NR breeding goal since 1971; calving ease and stillbirth traits have been included since 1978.

Step #2: Set Goals

Hunt recommends having a breeding plan for the next 5 years including the 3 (maximum 5) traits that are to receive primary emphasis.  He points out that with genomic selected bulls there are new front-and-center traits that are available such as reproduction, length of life, milking speed, inbreeding and age of first calving that can be used to improve the genetics of a herd or animal.

What are the 3 traits you need improvement in across your herd?  What are your numbers for this trait and where would you like to be?

What if instead of baby steps toward your ideal cow, you could see giant steps toward improving these traits through a systematic crossbreeding system with the NR?

Hunt cautions all breeders trying to improve 3 primary traits, “It does not matter how popular, how marketed or how high a sire is for TPI or LPI if he has genetic indexes that are significantly below average for your primary traits, then he’s not for you.”

Step #3: Narrowing the List of Sires

Use of NR bulls with Norwegian breeding values (BV) of 100 (average) or above for a trait will result in definite improvement of these traits in your herd.  Many NR bulls offered in the US and Canada will have values of 110+ for several traits which will enable you to take giant steps in improving these traits.

For those producers who are looking for sires that will moderate stature in their herds, even those sires above the average of 53.5” (BV=100) for stature in the NR breed will help you to do so.  We recommend reading “Pretty pictures don’t always make profitable cows5 for a good discussion of why selecting for moderate stature can improve your herd’s profitability.

Step #4: Choosing the Best Mating for Your Cows

Genetic improvement in your herd for your primary traits will be accelerated by using bulls that are above average for these traits.  There are many NR bulls that are above breed average (NR average may be significantly better than other breeds) for traits in Table 1 and 2.

Take a look at the breed averages (100) and the expected difference between offspring sired by a bull with 110 (or 120) vs 100 for actual traits (Table 2).  Bulls at 100+ will be your trait improvers, with bulls at 110 and 120 as extreme trait improvers.  Contact your ABS rep in US or Canada for a list of currently available NR sires that can the improvers for your primary emphasis traits in your future breeding plan.

Table 2. Averages of 100 (plus 110 and 120) for Norwegian Reds in 2015 (add heterosis to average of breeds used when crossbreeding). 110 is one standard deviation above average; 120 is two standard deviations above average (top 5% of the population).
TRAIT BV=100 (average) BV=110 BV=120
Stature (inches) 53.5 53.9 54.3
56-day Non-Return Rate in heifers (%) 77.0 79.0 80.9
56-day Non-Return Rate in cows (%) 68.9 71.3 73.6
Stillbirths, maternal (no stillbirths, %) 96.2 97.8 99.4
Stillbirths, direct (no stillbirths, %) 96.3 97.5 98.6
Clinical mastitis, 1st lact. (no mastitis, %) 91.56 93.88 96.2
Cell count (cells/ml) 57,245 49,151 41,057
Protein % 3.45 3.51 3.57
Fat % 4.25 4.35 4.45

Choosing the best mating for your cows in crossbreeding means finding the best complementary breed and sires within that breed for your herd.  Utilizing NR sires will generate moderate-sized, healthy, fertile and productive crossbreds.  Both crossbreeders and purebred breeders know that genetic progress in a herd ultimately occurs when you breed the best to the best whenever possible.



1 Joan Cooper. GenoBULLetin 2-2015, pages 8-9. “Organic dairyman in Idaho loves his Norwegian Reds

2 Mandy Brazil. Texas Dairy Ag Review, May 2016. “Where Genetics and Profitability Meet

3 Gary Rogers. GenoBULLetin 1-2014, page 10. “Experience from a US dairy producer in Idaho using NRF

4 Murray Hunt. The Bullvine, May. 24, 2016. “4 Steps to Faster Genetic Improvement

5 Mandy Brazil and Evan Schnadt. Progressive Dairyman, Feb. 25, 2016. “Pretty pictures don’t always make profitable cows


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