7 May 1999


Crossbreeding cows could

be a route to higher profits

on commercial dairy units.

Jessica Buss reports

SERVING Holstein Friesian cows with Brown Swiss sires has proved it could improve profit by almost 1p/litre on a Wilts dairy unit.

The greatest cost saving is that Brown Swiss cross cows last longer in the herd reducing replacement costs, says Andrew Groom, herd manager at Purlieus Farm, Minety, near Swindon.

When he took over the herd in 1991, his budget for replacing stock was limited, but many of the cows needed replacing. Poor feet and low milk protein were the main concerns.

"Buying a young Brown Swiss stock bull from a local breeder seemed the best option. The bull was imported as an embryo from a top US cow family with a good pedigree. His great grandmother was US champion and his dams milk was 3.6% protein.

"Purchasing a well bred stock bull for a reasonable price was a commercial decision." Brown Swiss bulls have cost £1000-2000 each, when a Holstein bull of the same quality would have cost far more. Semen for AI is also better value for Brown Swiss sires, adds Mr Groom.

In 1996, 52 heifers were introduced into the 200-cow herd, 14 were Brown Swiss crosses the rest black-and-whites.

"Three lactations on, in 1999, and nine Brown Swiss cows are still in the herd, whereas only 15 of the black-and-whites remain," says Mr Groom. Replacement rates are, therefore, 12% a year for the Brown Swiss cows and 20% a year for the black-and-whites.

Lower replacements

The lower replacement rate is consistent with US studies, where Brown Swiss pure and crossbred cows have a 17% replacement rate and black-and-whites 35%, adds Mr Groom.

Farm records show that Brown Swiss crosses yield less at 6069 litres in 305 days, compared with 6541 litres for the black-and-whites. "But crossbreds produce higher quality milk at 4.21% fat and 3.32% protein, with black-and-whites averaging 4.13% fat and 3.24% protein."

Milk price is, therefore, higher for the crossbreds, with milk sold on contract to Express.

To fill the farms 1.25m litres of quota using just Brown Swiss crossbred cows would save £9840 a year, calculates Mr Groom (see table). Thats a 0.8p a litre saving and there would be additional benefits from improved health, such as less need for foot trimming, and less time needed to rear fewer replacements.

Income decline

Income is slightly lower for a crossbred herd, but the savings in replacement costs – of over £10,000 a year – easily outweigh the £1000 lost income.

To fill quota, 205 crossbred cows would be needed, compared with 191 black-and-whites, but the extra forage eaten by crossbred milkers would be saved by keeping fewer replacements, explains Mr Groom. Milking a few extra cows takes little extra time, he adds.

Calf income is higher from crossbreds served with a Belgian Blue or Simmental sire to produce beef calves with a larger frame, than black-and-whites, and were selling for a £35 premium 18 months ago.

Mr Groom says that fewer culls sold reduces cull income under the current Over Thirty Month Scheme. But when barren cows can be marketed again, crossbreds will be worth more because they are heavier.

There are also cost savings through improved cow health. Since 1996, Mr Groom has only treated three Brown Swiss cows for mastitis. The cost of vet treatment for them is £3 a year less than black-and-whites at £19 and £22, respectively, including vaccinations and dry cow therapy costing £12 a year for both breeds.

Fewer vet treatments also mean less milk discarded. Each case of mastitis is estimated to cost £100 in lost milk sales and antibiotic treatment.

The crossbreds also suffer fewer cases of lameness and require less foot trimming. "Lameness was our biggest problem in 1991. Its rare to trim a Brown Swiss cows foot, but they still suffer the same from digital dermatitis."

The milking herd is now 20% crossbred, but more cows will be replaced with crossbreds over the coming two years. Of the 325 cattle on the farm, 35% are crossbred. These are sired by one of two stock bulls or semen from AltaPon, Avoncroft or Future Genetics.

Mr Groom hopes that breed improvement will continue to increase yields for the Brown Swiss cows at the same rate as Holsteins.

"In their first lactations crossbreds outyield black-and-whites because they eat more forage, which may help increase their longevity. But black-and-whites overtake them in their second and third lactations."

But despite being keen feeders, the Brown Swiss crosses are not aggressive – just bold, he explains. When they realise at their first milking that concentrate is given in the parlour, they are queuing to come in for their second milking.

"A first cross has the highest % chance of showing improvement." When it comes to breeding a crossbred, she is bred as an individual either to a Holstein or Brown Swiss sire.

Crossbreds do not receive any preferential treatment in the herd which is fed a total mixed ration of whole-crop, maize and grass silage with concentrates in winter, and grass during the grazing season. Concentrates average 0.28kg a litre of milk. n


&#8226 Fewer replacements.

&#8226 Higher milk price.

&#8226 Improved cow health.

&#8226 Higher calf value.

Partial Budget. Using crossbreds to fill quota

£/herd Holstein Crossbreds


Herd size 191 205

Milk output 225,189 225,705

Milk bonuses 20,752 20,446

Calf income 10,696 13,325

Culls 11,269 7380

RELATED OUTPUT 267,906 266,856

Replacement cost 30,369 19,885


(0.28kg/litre) 35,335 35,260

Vet costs 4192 3860

RELATED COSTS 69,896 59,005

Output saving 198,010 207,851

Crossbred saving 9840

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