Why Crossbreed With Guernseys?
* Calving Ease Specialists!
* Improved Components!
* Medium Framed Black & White Cows Fit Existing Facilities
* Black & White Bull Calves Sell for Full Price
* North American Selected Udders, Frames & Type
Crossbreeding. The word stirs debate in the dairy industry like no other. If you have a commercial group of cattle that need to test higher to take advantage of inviting component premiums and you are spending too many nights assisting with difficult calvings, read on, because the Guernsey breed has something more to offer you. Guernsey genetics can play an important role in crossbreeding programs.
When Seth Spencer moved his small herd of Registered Guernseys south from Gresham to Lebanon in Oregon several years ago, he purchased a large operation that came with nearly 300 black and white cows. For a lifelong Guernsey breeder, it was a disappointment to give up the high component premiums he had been receiving for his quality Guernsey milk prior to the move. Since the move, Spencer has used Guernsey clean-up bulls across the herd and, for the past six months, has bred all heifers on the farm AI to a Guernsey sire. In addition, any black and white cow without sire ID was bred to a Guernsey bull to “absolutely avoid the possibility if inbreeding.” This has resulted in a number of Guernsey-sired crossbreds that Spencer is very happy with.
“Not a single crossbred was culled in the first lactation and most are still in the herd today in their third and fourth lactations” states the satisfied dairyman.
The 20 crossbreds in the herd now (all 50% Guernsey) have achieved a rolling herd average of 21,395M 3.9% 840F 3.2% 676P compared to the 23,345M 3.7% 868F 3.1% 731P for the 205-head commercial herd. Spencer stresses that there is a difference between the crossbred daughters of top Guernsey sires and herd bulls. Many think that just the act of crossbreeding will result in improved offspring. “The genetics make a difference”, says Spencer. Using top Guernsey sires on commercial cows has yielded higher producing crossbreds. A pair of crossbreds recently finished with 3-00 365D 36,510M 1,423F 1,155P and 2-03 365D 28,510M 1,151F 841P. A third-lactation crossbred has over 100,000M already and a top record of 3-03 365D 31,750M 1,252F 1,023P.
Ripley Farms in Cortland, New York, milk over 300 cows three times per day. When the herd expanded from two 70 tie-stall barns to the large freestall with a parallel parlor that it is today, many commercial cattle were added to quickly expand. However, the Ripleys valued the high components and calm disposition of a good Guernsey cow and almost immediately began using Guernsey herd sires on all the heifers in the herd. Twenty-five of the crossbreds currently milking are by AI sires, with the balance sired by home-bred bulls used naturally on the heifers. Using the AGA’s Genetic Recovery Program, Ripley Farms identifies all heifers and continues to breed most of their crossbreds to Guernsey sires in order to gain the benefits of having fully registered Guernseys. However, their crossbreeding program means that there is always a string of 50% and 75% Guernseys, almost all of which are black and white. These crossbreds (any percentage Guernsey that is not fawn and white) are kept in a separate DHI string from the Holsteins and the Registered Guernseys, but they are all managed as one herd. Tom Ripley states, ” we started out breeding all the heifers to Guernsey sires for calving ease, but we were pleasantly surprised by how well the crosses performed, and we have not had any problems with the second and third crosses (most to Guernsey sires). They have milked and lasted really well too.”
The crossbred string of 71 cows is averaging 22,747M 4.2% 952F 3.1% 699P compared to the 102 Holstein’s output of 23,141M 3.8% 888F 3.0% 689P. The average days open for the Holsteins is 216 with a 15.9 month calving interval while the crossbreds average 175 days open and a 13.5 month interval between calvings. The crossbred cows average ten less days to first service than their purebred counterparts and 15% less of the breeding herd is open over 100 days. It is obvious that Ripley Farms is seeing the benefits of increased reproductive performance due to hybrid vigor while enjoying more efficient production of fat and protein.
The calf that results from using a Guernsey sire on a black and white cow is nearly indistinguishable from a typical commercial calf. Almost always black and white, it will be of similar frame size to an average to small commercial animal. Using a Guernsey sire will be similar to using an extreme calving ease sire and will result in a healthier, more vigorous calf and a dam that starts her lactation without the stress of a difficult calving.
“It is difficult to tell the 50% Guernseys from the Holsteins,” says Tom Ripley, “and we don’t notice a difference in bull calf prices between the purebreds and the crossbreds.”
The bull calves will not be discounted at market as they will be identical to 95% of the other bull calves that pass through a market on a normal day, not priced with many of the other crossbred or colored- breed calves. The resulting cows will appear similar to any other commercial cow and will fit easily into existing facilities designed for large-breed cattle. Test the market for the difference in price between a black and white springer and her smaller, all-black crossbred relative. There is added value in marketing Guernsey cross replacements and bull calves that will not be realized with other crosses. Appearance is where the similarities end however, the Guernsey cross cow is equipped to be a more profitable animal in today’s dairy industry.
Guernsey cows experience very few calving problems. This calving ease will be passed on to Guernsey crossbreds as well. In addition to the direct calving ease realized from using a Guernsey sire on a heifer or cow prone to calving problems, the crossbreds themselves will experience easier calvings. This benefit is realized in the maternity pens at Ripley Farms, where they rely largely on family labor. The Holstein herd has 6% of their observed calvings listed at a score of 3 or higher (on a scale of 1 to 5) while the crossbreds have not had a calving scored higher than a 2 in the past twelve months. The crossbred herd has had 20% less calves born dead during this same time span.
“My crossbred cows have easily calved with both Holstein and Guernsey-sired calves with no problems,” a relieved Seth Spencer observes. “I feel the Guernsey pelvis is shaped differently than the Holstein’s. This difference carries through to the crossbreds and results in much easier calvings. After pulling every calf from a Holstein sire rated 6% for calving ease, I decided to breed all our heifers to Guernsey sires. We have eliminated major calving problems in first-calf heifers,” Spencer concludes.
Increased fat and protein in Guernsey milk has been returning more dollars to dairymen’s pockets for more than one hundred years. Choosing Guernseys for a crossbreeding program makes sense in areas that receive premiums for fat and protein. Guernsey crosses will test higher than commercial cattle. Both Ripley Farms and Spencer Dairy have increased their protein percent by a full point while increases in fat percent range from two to four points when compared to the purebred commercial strings. Choosing to use components improvers from among the Guernsey sires available will yield impressive results when the offspring enter the milking string.
“We have been crossbreeding Holsteins with Guernseys for a while now. Mainly Holstein heifers bred to our Guernsey bull,” stated Robin Marsh of Oregon on an internet chat site recently. “The crosses have had nice conformation with a large frame, great feet and udders, and most important, they can milk. I like the vigor in the crosses. They are easier to settle.”
Diane Miller of Chesapeake, Maryland, echoed these sentiments on the same site. “We have had great success with crossbreeding Holstein and Guernsey here. We like the
frame (larger than a Jersey/Holstein cross) of the Guernsey cross and the
feet and udders have not suffered. Their temperaments are superb and they seem to
milk and test well”