Here’s a quote/goal from the 2014 Crossbred Cow of the Year contest – – “A PROFITABLE type of cow that does her job without any problems.”  In other words “a cow with more gives and less takes.” Less of these profit-stealers:

  • Less inseminations per pregnancy – less cost per pregnancy, less days open, less synchronization costs
  • Less sick cows – particularly from mastitis and metabolic diseases
  • Less feet and leg disorders – lesser incidence of lameness and hoof disease
  • Less premature death from birth on – less stillbirths, less calf mortality, less involuntary culling
  • Less trouble at transition period for cow and calf
  • Less white water -If you’re paid for components, go for them.

But you ask, “How can a dairy producer work toward more problem-free cows?”

Look at the “gives” a breed can reliably offer. Has genetic progress occurred in a breed for important traits like fertility and health that significantly affect a herd’s bottom line?

Has a breed made a decades-long commitment for selection of important traits that are lowly heritable and make a more trouble-free cow?  If a breed has not been selecting for a trait such as fertility (lowly heritable) for many years, then selection for a trait negatively correlated to fertility like milk production has actually hurt fertility.*

Consider the breed-level “gives” of the Norwegian Red population in Norway, for example, and compare to your herd:

  • 79% and 72% non-return rate in heifer and cows, respectively
  • Calving interval of 12.5 months; age at first calving 25.7 months
  • 2.7% stillbirths and 2% difficult calving across all lactations
  • 2011 average of o.526 disease treatments per cow per year.  Proportion of this 1/2% due to reproductive disorders (9.2%), retained placenta (5.1%), milk fever (9.8%), ketosis (5.9%), clinical mastitis (40.3%) and other diseases (29.8%). The proportion of herds with no clinical mastitis, ketosis or milk fever are 17.5%, 68.2% and  50.5%, respectively.
  • 8% of 1st lactation cows with mastitis; average SCC =127,500
  • Average 4.2% fat and 3.4% protein, so that Norwegian Red sires typically will increase the solids output in a Holstein herd and in most cases will sustain close to the same volume of milk
  • >50% of NRF calves are polled (& increasing)

The above is the result of well-documented simultaneous genetic improvement for health, fertility, milk yield and other important traits over time in the Norwegian Red breed. During the 1970’s fertility and health was included in the breed selection index and the relative weight on these traits has gradually increased while the weight on milk has decreased. Currently 28% of the weight is placed on milk**, 21% on mastitis resistance and 18% on fertility in the Total Merit Index used for selection of sires for AI.

The Norwegian Red is “staying the course” with significant emphasis on production, health, fertility and overall profitability.  In other words, more “gives” and less “takes.”

*USDA/CDCB April 2014 genetic evaluations: Genetic differences in daughter pregnancy rate (DPR) for breeds compared to the current USDA Holstein base.  1.0 DPR = 4 less days open. DPR of zero for an average Holstein cow born in 2005 versus 7.2 for an average Holstein cow born in 1960. Current average DPR for Norwegian Red (8.2), Swedish Red (7.0), Montbeliarde (6.0), Jersey (5.0), Finnish Ayrshire (4.4) and Brown Swiss (0.1).

**Current milk production index is made up of 3 subtraits with these relative weights: kg milk (5%), kg protein (47.5%) and kg fat (47.5%).


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