For dairy herds looking to cross breed a three-breed rotational cross is the way to go according to a recent Dairy Australia study.
Dairy Australia lead for animal health, welfare and fertility Jo Coombe presented the results from extensive analysis of herd testing data at the International Red Dairy Breeds Federation conference held last month in Mount Gambier.
The latest study follows analysis by Dairy Australia from 1990 to 2013 involving more than 18,000 farms and 900,000 cows. It showed that a two-way Holstein-Friesian/ Jersey cross in commercial dairy herds added benefits, but those who adopted an Aussie Red, Holstein, Jersey three way cross performed even better.
"The purebred Holsteins produced more milk and larger quantities of protein and fat but the crossbreds produced a higher percentage of protein and fat and had better survival and some measures of fertility," Dr Coombe said.
"In the three-way cross compared to the backcross all production traits were higher (except the backcross to a Jersey which had higher milk components) but the three-way cross was a long way in front on reproductive aspects and they survived better."
The proportion of herds using crossbreeding had risen to 35 per cent by 2013 , with young farmers especially keen to try crossbreeding, but Dr Coombe acknowledged it wasn't for all farms.
"There are certain systems it suits, like those with tight calving patterns where high fertility is important and it is more suited to lower input systems which tend to be smaller cows," she said.
An economic model also developed as part of the study indicated that seasonal calving crossbred herds could be more profitable than a purebred herd in the same system.
However it took up to six years for this to become evident.
Dr Coombe said both purebred and crossbreeding herds could be profitable especially if the number of crossbreds grazing the pasture is increased because the cows are smaller.
However the big benefit of crossbred cows was their higher fertility and longevity, meaning lower depreciation.
A case study of a Gippsland's farmer's 15 year transition to crossbreeding was also presented at the conference, and demonstrated that this strategy had resulted in (adjusting for inflation) an annual increase in gross margin of $110.90 per hectare.
Dr Coombe said theoretically a four-way cross could deliver even more hybrid vigour benefits but with its increased complexity she encouraged farmers to stick with a three-breed system.
"With a three breed cross you start with a Holstein, then a Jersey and then an Aussie Red animal and you keep rotating so it is easy enough to follow," she said.
She stressed the need for farmers to continue to select high quality sires within each breed.