Red Dairy Breeds - Rejoice !

On the 10 -11th of June 2005 delegates from all over the world will meet in South Africa to interchange ideas about the present and the future of the Red Dairy Breeds.

Only a few years ago, the Red Dairybreeds were considered breeds of little importance and with the exception of the Red Holstein ( which genetically is not a different breed, but a black and white Holstein dressed up in red..) and the Red Breeds lived in the shadow of the Big Giant which undoubtedly is the Holstein breed.

But today things are changeing and the Red Breeds have every reason to rejoice.

At the ADSA Congress in Phoenix, Arizona in May 2003, Professor Leslie Hansen presented the first results of his research on the Crossbreeding experiments carried out in Southern California that are being monitored by him and his collaborators at the University of Minnesota.

The results fell like a bomb in the Dairyworld.

Since more than three decades, the Holstein cow has been considered the undisputed Dairy Queen, the Supreme Milk Producer of the World. 

Suddenly she found herself surpassed in some comparative tests by an insignificant red little cow from some remote Northern countries : The SRB or Swedish Red and the Norwegian Red or NRF.

These crossing experiments had been carried out mainly to try to solve the Fertility- and Calvingproblems that were causing trouble in the huge dairyherds of Southern California. However, when data were evaluated, it was found that the pure Holstein cows had been surpassed even in production of milk by the crosses with these obscure Red breeds !!

Thanks to a very strong selection for Production and " Dairy type", the Holstein breed has during the last decades been transformed into a Super Effcient Milking - Machine.

But at the same time, the breed is experiencing an increasing lack of hardiness and female fertility, and in Holstein herds all over the world, culling frequency, especially when caused by reproductive problems, is increasing.

It turned out that Milking Machines can sometimes be hard to get back in calf ...

Even if a cow that has been selected only for a high production of milk and for determined traits of conformation, certainly may be able to produce lots of litres and in some cases may even enjoy a long productive life, as an average this type of selection leads to a series of problems, primarily as to the fertility of the dairycow.

Today it is well known that a unilateral selection for High Productions and Dairytype only, has a strong negative genetic correlation with Female Fertility and with the Resistance to certain Disease, especially to Mastitis. This fact, together with the increasing inbreeding coefficient within the Holstein breed, would explain at least in part, why this formerly healthy and hardy breed has today run into such an amount of functional problems.

The calvings of Holstein heifers have become a real nightmare for many farmers. Some have tried the use of Jersey bulls or even bulls of Beef breeds to aliviate these problems, rather than risking to lose their valuable Holstein animals by breeding them to Holstein bulls. In the large Californian herds recruitment has turned into a real headache, as the calves that are born and survive are not enough in numbers to replace the cows that die or that are culled because of reproductive problems or mastitis or foot and leg problems.

In some countries like France, Holland, Australia and New Zealand and also in Scandinavia, all countries, where normally the owner himslef milks his cows and so has to fight all the practical problems personally, the search for solutions to these problems has been on for some time.

Many recurred to crossbreeding, thus also taking advantage of the Hybrid Vigor of the crosses, others tried different kinds of selection within their breeds. In Sweden since more than 30 years a selection for traits within the Swedish Red Breed SRB and the Swedish Holstein breeds has been carried out. This selection for many traits at a time ( The "Total Merit Index" or TMI) was for many years ridiculed by many geneticists in the rest of the world.

It was maintained that it is virtually impossible to select for too many traits at a time, as this would impossibilitate any faster improvement as to production and that the problems of mastitis and high cellcounts were only caused by lack of hygiene and incorrect milking routines.

But in Sweden, in spite of the critisisms, the selection for almost 50 traits and subtraits was continued, including the selection for Funtional traits with a very low hereditability. Bulls whose daughters had problems getting back in calf or experienced difficulties calving or who suffered from too many cases of mastitis, were continually being culled and removed from the breeding programme. Large groups of daughters were evaluated before the semen of a any bull was again used, once the performance of his test- group were known.

In Sweden, production and conformation are certainly evaluated, but special emphasis is put on the reproductive traits, on calving, resistance to disease and on the culling reasons for any of the 150 daughters that are monitored by each bull. Thanks to this selection a cow has emerged that is not only healthy and fertile and has very easy heifer calvings, but who is also very highproducing, both as to milk and to solids.  The male descendants of each bull are also evlauated as to the production of beef.

Thanks to this patient and detailed follow - up of each bull and his offspring during many years, the SRB is today a breed on which the whole dairyworld today is focusing its attention, not only because of high productions of milk and solids but mostly because of its excellent functional traits. 

The Swedish Merit Index is a Profitability index, where emphasis is put only on those traits which may help to improve the profitability of the farmer. To prove how this works, the example of the SRB bull Backgard should be mentioned.

Backgard is the most successful bull ever within the SRB breed. However, his dorsal line was somewhat weak, a fact which migth not have helped him to win any rosettes in the Showring and would possibly have excluded him from the breeding programmes of most breeds.. However, Backgard was a strong, calm bull and his daughters inherited not only good conformations and kind tempers, but also exceptionally well adhered and shallow udders. They did not suffer from calvings problems or excessive cases of mastitis, they got back in calf readily and they walked on strong and correct legs. On top of these functional traits, they inherited the capacity to produce vast amounts of milk and solids...( and only very few inherited the weak topline..!!)

Fortunately for Dairy farmers from all over the world, the Swedish geneticists in charge of the SRB selection programme, considered that all these traits combined were far more important than a showy topline !  Today Backgard has successful sons and daughters and even "grandchildren" who help to make life more pleasant and profitable for dairyfarmers on both sides of the globe...

Through this exceptional bull and others like him, the Proof was definitely there: The Multiple Traits selection works and from there on the success story of the SRB breed only continues ascending!  Today many countries would want to copy the Swedish Selection Programme, but this might not prove all that easy, as great organization and discipline is necessary to be able to recollect and evaluate all the required data.

USA. The most important export market for Swedish semen is today in the US. The results as published by Les Hansen showed that by crossing with these Red Breeds, not only will you solve many fertility and longevity problems, but most likely you will also get an important increase in production...! And this attracted the attention of US dairyfarmers.

When the first results were published, nobody could believe their ears when it turned out that not only did the Holstein Scandinavian crosses surpass all the other breeds used within the crossbreeding programme( = Normande, Jersey and Montbeliarde), but they did even quite a bit better than the purebred Holstein cows, surpassing THEM as well with 6.8 % in production of milk and solids and on top of this having by far the lowest somatic cellcount of all the groups !

It was hinted that these results may have been obtained only by chance, as the Scandianvian cows in the experiment were much less numerous than those of the other breeds or crosses and for this reason results might not be very reliable. However, when the second crop of results were presented, with an equal number of animals of all breeds and crosses participating, the Nordic crosses increased their advantage over the pure Holsteins to 7 %...!

From a humble export of SRB semen to the US of some 5 or 6.000 doses per year, sales suddenly boomed to 50.000 in the first trimestre of 2004 and demand is steadily growing...Considering that the SRB is a small breed with less than 200.000 cows in production, these numbers are not negilible.

Italy is another country where the SRB breed is having a strong impact. It is actually the third importer of SRB semen and live animals in the world. The high productions of milk and solids combined with the low cellcounts makes the milk of the SRB cows especially suitable for the manufacturing of Cheese and today the SRB milk is used ot prepare the traditional Parmesano cheeses from Northern Italy.

In Australia since over 20 years SRB bulls are used to improve on the inbred "IIlawarra" and as a matter of fact the "Aussie Red Dairy Breed" created from this cross is today almost 80 % pure SRB. In grazing conditions these red cows are equalling or even surpassing the Holsteins in productions of litres, Fat and Protein, besides making life a lot easier for the Australian farmers thanks to their calving ease and promptness to get back in calf.

On New Zealand a son of the aforementioned Backgard, "Kilfennnan Challenge" is at the top of the Ayrshire ranking and even competing with the New Zealand Friesians. Other bulls of Swedish and Finnish origin are following suit.

This fact would definitely ruin the theory exposed by many : that a breed cannot be and selected in a stabled environment if you want it to produce and funtion in grazing conditions.

The Swedish bulls have showed that they do function exceptionally well in all conditions and that the key to this success does not lie in the place where the selection is carried out, but to the criteria used. 

In South America since 14 years there is a 350 cows SRB crossbred herd in Argentina, and it is gradually becoming all red, by continuos upgrading of the original Holstein herd. Calving and fertility problems are solved and Productions are very encourageing. Today over 100 farmes all over the country are trying the SRB semen in theri herds ! Especial interest is shown from farmers of the Northern provinces of Cordoba and Santa Fe, where beef production of the male calves is also considered important.

In Chile the SRB breed is used to improve on the Holsteins of North American origin for the same reasons as in other countries: i.e. for easier heifercalvings, more solids and better female fertility without losing production in litres. But the breed is also used to improve production in some Overo Colorado herds, a red breed of German origin. The Over Colorado is a heavy Dual purpose breed with great beef production, but with rather poor productions of milk..

In Colombia, Swedish bulls are used to improve on Fertility, solids and legs in a national herd of 5.000 registered Ayrshires of Canadian origin. The SRB is also being employed by the Dairycooperative COLANTA, the largest in the country, to try to increase the content of solids in the milk that the company receives from its farmers. The Colombian Holstein herds often have problems reaching even 3 % of protein in their milk.... 

In Uruguay imports of SRB semen was initiated in 2003 and the first claves ar enow being born ( without problems!).

To Brazil the first semen import will hopefully arrive in 2005 and Peru is also trying to get the importpermit to be able to start inseminating in 2005, as is Venezuela, who wants to try to improve on the production capacity of its native cattle and zebu crosses..

South Africa already has a growing number of SRB crosses in Shorthorn and Ayrshire herds and SRB semen is also being used successfully in some Holstein herds.

In 2004 the "South African Red Dairy Breed" was created imitating the Successful example of the "Aussie Red Dairy Breed" in Australia.

As can be seen the Red Dairybreeds have more than enough motives to rejoice and also many topics to discuss during the IRCC ( International Red Cow Conference) in South Africa in 2005, concerning the best ways for future cooperation to ensure that the Red Breeds should remain a Useful and Profitable alternative to the Holstein breed.

IRCC 2005. Prominent genetecist from all over the world will be present at the International Red Cow Conference, among them Professor Les Hansen who will show more results from his California crossbreeding trials, now completed with important fertility and reproduction data. Dr Bennet Cassell, well known geneticist and columnist from "Hoard's Dairyman" will speak of the Selection within Breeds, as opposed to crossbreeding and results of comparative trials in Irish Grazing conditions will also be presented at the Congress, together with more interesting talks from local speakers..  

Elisabeth Avendaņo

Haras Tres Coronas
(6405) 30 de Agosto
Tel: 00 54-(0)2392-471468



© 2010 Per E. Falk, Uppsala, Sweden..
Last updated 27 Mars 2010.