19 October 2001

Farmers forced to look at dual purpose breeds

By Richard Allison

DECLINING conception rates to first service in Eire is forcing its dairy industry to consider whether dual-purpose breeds are better suited to high forage spring-calving systems than Holstein Friesians.

Results of a five-year Teagasc study comparing Dutch Holstein Friesians with Irish-bred Holstein Friesians and two dual-purpose French breeds, Normandes and Montbeliardes, have revealed differences in profitability.

Dual-purpose breeds offer more favourable milk fat-to-protein ratios and higher value calves and cull cows, says Teagasc Moorepark researcher Pat Dillon. "They may also have better fertility than Holstein Friesians."

Low conception rate

Dutch Holstein-Friesian cows produce the most milk, while Normande cows have the highest milk fat and protein content, explains Dr Dillon. Body condition loss in early lactation was lower for both dual purpose breeds compared with Dutch Holstein Friesians, which may explain some of the difference in fertility.

"During the study, more than a quarter of Dutch Holstein-Friesian cows were not pregnant at the end of their breeding season, reflecting the low conception rates. In contrast, less than 10% of dual-purpose breeds were not pregnant in the same period, allowing low replacement rates," he says (see table).

Higher milk production by Dutch Holstein Friesians did not compensate for their lower fertility, he says. Montbeliardes proved the most profitable breed with a gross margin of 0.6p/kg of milk more than Dutch Holstein-Friesians. When milk prices are low, this difference in margin is increased due to the low production costs of Montbeliardes.

There was no difference between breeds for somatic cell counts. From mid-March until end of lactation, somatic cell counts were equal to or less than 50,000/ml for all four breeds.

However, lameness in the Normandes made the breed unsuitable for Irish grazing systems," says Dr Dillon. Solar ulcers and white line disease were the main lesion types observed.

Improve fertility problems

Additional breeds are now being evaluated at Teagasc, including Norwegian Reds and several crossbreds. There is an increasing interest in crossbreeding to improvethe fertility problems associated with Holstein Friesian cows, adds Dr Dillon. &#42


&#8226 Fertility better.

&#8226 Lower replacement rate.

&#8226 More profitable.

Dutch HF Irish HF Montbeliarde Normande

Milk yield (kg/cow/year) 5994 5321 5119 4561

Replacement rate (%) 33 22 15 20

Conception rate (%) 73.7 83.9 91.2 91.9

Milk price (p/litre) 22.6 22.1 22.8 23.6

Gross margin (p/kg)* 9.8 10.4 11.5 10.41

HF – Holstein Friesian. *Adjusted for milk fat.

Holstein-Friesians may not be the most profitable breed for high forage spring-calving systems in Ireland, says Pat Dillon.