Economic Merit of Crossbred and Purebred US Dairy Cattle

P. M. VanRaden and A. H. Sanders
Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory Agricultural Research Service, USDA Beltsville, MD 20705-2350

ABSTRACT Heterosis and breed differences were estimated for milk yield traits, somatic cell score (SCS), and productive life (PL), a measure of longevity. Yield trait data were from 10,442 crossbreds and 140,421 purebreds born since 1990 in 572 herds. Productive life data were from 41,131 crossbred cows and 726,344 purebreds born from 1960 through 1991. The model for test-day yields and SCS included effects of herd-year-season, age, lactation stage, regression on sire's predicted transmitting ability, additive breed effects, heterosis, and recombination. The model for PL included herd-year-season, breed effects, and general heterosis. All effects were assumed to be additive, but estimates of heterosis were converted to a percentage of the parent breed average for reporting. Estimates of general heterosis were 3.4% for milk yield, 4.4% for fat yield, and 4.1% for protein yield. A coefficient of general recombination was derived for multiple-breed crosses, but recombination effects were not well estimated and small gains, not losses, were observed for yield traits in later generations. Heterosis for SCS was not significant. Estimated heterosis for PL was 1.2% of mean productive life and remained constant across the range of birth years. Protein yield of Brown Swiss × Holstein crossbreds (0.94 kg/d) equaled protein yield of purebred Holsteins. Fat yields of Jersey × Holstein and Brown Swiss × Holstein crossbreds (1.14 and 1.13 kg/d, respectively) slightly exceeded that of Holsteins (1.12 kg/d). With cheese yield pricing and with all traits considered, profit from these crosses exceeded that of Holsteins for matings at breed bases. For elite matings, Holsteins were favored because the range of evaluations is smaller and genetic progress is slower in breeds other than Holstein, in part because fewer bulls are sampled. A combined national evaluation of data for all breeds and crossbreds may be desirable but would require an extensive programming effort. Animals should receive credit for heterosis when considered as mates for another breed.

(Key words: crossbreeding, heterosis, breed difference)

2003 J. Dairy Sci. 86:1036-1044

© 2003, by the American Dairy Science Association. All rights reserved.