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ProCROSS tackles inbreeding for better Parmesan production

Tackling high levels of inbreeding is crucial for Genesi Project, VikingGenetics' Italian partner. Their goal is to boost Italy's world-famous cheese production via healthy, profitable crossbred cows.

Using genetics too close in the same herd family has created herd health problems on dairy farms worldwide. This is due to increasingly high levels of inbreeding in purebred cows.

Genesi Project SrL, an Italian breeding company and VikingGenetics’ distributor in Italy are pioneers in crossbreeding in the country. Since 1997, the company has offered breeding support to farmers from all over Italy. Over the last few years, it has made its mission to reduce inbreeding and change the mindsets of farmers.

Claudio Mariani, Marketing Manager and partner in the business, joined the company in 2005. “In 1997, we were distributors of Svensk Avel, mainly selling Swedish Red semen, which today is VikingRed,” he recalls. “We have been pioneers for three-way crossbreeding (in Italy) and took over Dansire, a Holstein/Jersey Danish company. When VikingGenetics appeared in Italy, we were already selling their products for some time,” he adds.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Italy Genesi Project Claudio Mariani

The inbreeding issue

Over the last few years, farmers worldwide have made substantial advances to improve their cows’ environment and animal welfare. Investments in watering and cooling systems, heat detection, genomics, nutrition, bedding, and milking, among others, have grown continuously.

However, Claudio believes investments in genomics could have been used better in Italy, arguing that the country needs to be better at keeping inbreeding in check. “Everything is under human control, except one thing: inbreeding,” he says.

Genesi Project aims to reduce inbreeding in the Italian national herd, which has become an issue. All farmers want to breed healthy, high-producing cows; however, achieving that goal is not automatic nor easy; it requires precise choices, including a breeding strategy to help keep inbreeding at a minimum.

“We have developed a genetic welfare concept, meaning that a cow should have the right not to be too related to the sire. All of our customers appreciate real outcross bulls, although they know they will never be high up in the common international rankings,” says Claudio, highlighting the changing mindset of dairy farmers in Italy.

“To guarantee a real outcross, you have to source genetics from different bloodlines,” he adds.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Italy Genesi Project Claudio Mariani

Crossbreeding in Italy

Crossbreeding in Italy is very special. Farmers appreciate cows that are easy to work with and with similar or better economic performance than purebreds. To help dairy farmers achieve this, VikingGenetics and Genesi Project are introducing new bloodlines into the country.

“Around 95% of our bulls are selected for traits that other companies do not consider or have a low impact on their index. The Nordic Total Merit Index (NTM) is completely different compared to others,” says Claudio, emphasising the focus on health traits in Nordic genetics.

Nordic cattle breeding has always put health in a balanced focus with production traits for all breeds. Due to the emphasis on extensive, real-life data from commercial dairy farms, index reliability is very high.

Genesi Project also like Nordic breeding programmes due to the continuous improvement and innovation. This helps them meet the demands of modern dairy farming in Italy and guarantees healthy, high-producing cows.

“When we speak of health traits, we consider average what other selection systems consider good; we have much higher standards,” says Claudio.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Italy Genesi Project Claudio Mariani
ProCROSS is by far the best crossbreeding programme for intensive systems; it is backed by tons of scientific studies worldwide.

Claudio Mariani,
Genesi Project

ProCROSS for Parmesan production

Genesi Project SrL is active in many parts of Italy, but the company is based in the Reggio Emilia region – where Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made. The ProCROSS system works exceptionally well for the farmers there.

“ProCROSS is by far the best crossbreeding programme for intensive systems; it is backed by tons of scientific studies collecting records worldwide,” says Claudio.

Every morning, 100,000 cows in Italy of no particular breed enter the milking parlour. 75-80% of the milk produced is used for transformation, and ProCROSS cows have proven superior in this aspect.

Typically, Holstein cows produce more milk per cow per day than crossbreds. However, ProCROSS cows achieve excellent results over the full lactation and have a higher lifetime production.

“Milk from crossbred cows has much better technological properties, so more cheese can be produced from the same amount of milk processed. These things are changing the approach of many farmers. It’s a slow process, but the trend is clearly going upward,” adds Claudio.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Italy Genesi Project Claudio Mariani

Benefitting from heterosis

Besides their superior cheese-making traits, according to Claudio, ProCROSS cows have also shown incredible numbers for many other parameters.

“They have a higher lifetime and milk solids production, are more feed-efficient, have lower replacement rates, and require fewer treatments and antibiotics,” he adds, highlighting the profitability of the three-way cross and the free benefits of heterosis.

Heterosis is an extra benefit for the animal’s favourable traits on top of the parent’s average.

“Even the carcass value is higher at about €110 more per cow,” he adds, highlighting how crossbreds are a profitable option for farmers seeking to maximise returns while meeting production targets to satisfy the world’s growing demand for food. “ProCROSS is so far the best option for this, proven by results,” ends Claudio.

Learn more about ProCROSS
ProCROSS Crossbreeding Italy Genesi Project Claudio Mariani

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