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14 Jun 2021

VikingHolstein in crossbreeding

VikingHolstein in crossbreeding – where smaller size matters!

Cow size is one of the focal points for improving the profitability of your crossbreeding herd. Stature differences among breeds combined can be a challenge with crossbreeding. To achieve a more homogenous herd, have a closer look at VikingHolstein sires that are special in terms of their shorter stature compared to any other Holstein bulls.

Globally, the idea that Holstein cows are becoming too tall for their production environments is not a new topic of discussion. Also in the Nordic countries, some dairy producers find that the size of the Holstein cows is a matter that is getting more and more attention.

“A smaller cow requires less maintenance feed and is therefore likely to be more efficient”, says senior breeding manager for VikingHolstein, Claus Langdahl. He continues and points out that cubicle size is another motivation to work towards a smaller dairy cow.

“There is also a worry for many dairy producers regarding cows outgrowing the cubicles in both barns and milking parlors, which can lead to serious extra costs and even culling in the worst case,” he states.


The shortest Holstein available

The VikingHolstein set itself apart from other Holstein populations of other countries when it comes to its breeding values for stature. An Interbull summary of daughter proven bulls born in 2012 and later showed that VikingHolstein sires have the lowest breeding value for the stature of any Holstein population in the world.

In summary, the VikingHolstein sires had an average breeding value for the stature of 101, whereas the equivalent Holstein bulls born in the USA and Canada had 113 and 116, respectively. This means that the average VikingHolstein cow is approx. 2.5 cm shorter than the average US Holstein cow.

Some will argue that this difference seems insignificant, but with stature being perceived as the single type of trait with the greatest degree of heritability, the effects of using the right type of Holstein over generations should not be underestimated.

More homogenous crossbreeding herd with VikingHolstein

In crossbreeding, the VikingHolstein brings the breed specific traits, such as production and udder conformation. The product manager for VikingCross, Hielke Wiersma, points out that a challenge with crossbreeding can be differences in stature among the breeds combined.

“The challenge can be that the Holstein breed is often significantly taller than the breeds they are used alongside in a crossbreeding system,” he states, but continues to say, “the VikingHolstein bulls are special in terms of shorter stature compared to any other Holstein population available.”

In the crossbreeding study from Minnesota, which has been running for 10 years, the ProCROSS cows (a three-way cross between Coopex Montbeliarde, VikingRed and Holstein) showed significantly shorter stature in both 1st and 2nd lactation when compared to pure US Holsteins.

“Any crossbreeding will lead to a larger variance in stature when mixing genes from different breeds together with different stature averages, but if you are looking to increase homogeneity, the shorter VikingHolstein might just be the right choice for you if you use Holstein in your crossbreeding program” Wiersma states.


Stature and weight effects of individual bulls

Among the VikingHolstein sires, there is also a big difference in stature from bull to bull. For example, high NTM bull VH Bohemy is a bull that transmits significantly shorter stature to his daughters than the average VikingHolstein bull.

The VH Bohemy daughters are about 0.9 cm shorter compared with the average VikingHolstein cow and  4.5 cm smaller than an average US Holstein – which is ideal if you are looking for a bull to get more homogeneous stature in your crossbred herd.

On the other side of the spectrum, VH Bleech adds 2 cm on average with a breeding value for stature of 120 and should be used very carefully in a crossbreeding system that consists of breeds that are shorter in stature than the Holstein breed.

Maintenance efficiency in crossbreeding systems for grazing

But stature is not the whole picture, as weight is at least as important as stature in some crossbreeding systems for grazing. From large scale AMS (Automatic Milking System) data, VikingGenetics has been able to measure the live body weights of VikingHolstein cows.

This has created an opportunity to estimate breeding values for Maintenance efficiency which is equivalent to body weight. Alongside Metabolic efficiency, these are the drivers in the Saved feed index.

In the intensive production systems, the average VikingHolstein cow weighs 545 kg in the first lactation and grows to 629 kg in third lactation. In the breeding value for Maintenance efficiency, +10 units for a VikingHolstein bull means that an average daughter will weigh 15 kg less than an average VikingHolstein cow.

As an example, VH Bohemy, has a Maintenance efficiency of 122, which is equivalent to more than 30 kg less live weight compared to the average VikingHolstein cow.  Maintenance efficiency should be considered as a selection tool when choosing Holstein sires for VikingGoldenCross.


Text by Hielke Wiersma

Product Manager, VikingCross

See the available VikingHolstein sires