The Viking Genetics Viking Golden Cross dairy cow
The Viking Genetics Viking Golden Cross dairy cow.

Viking Genetics has launched a new, three-way crossbreeding programme in the UK that’s particularly suited to spring-calving herds on grazing systems.

The programme, called Viking Golden Cross, brings together the Holstein, Jersey and Viking Red breeds in a rotation that delivers efficient, high-quality milk production from fertile, high-health cattle. The system achieves this by using breeds developed in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Here, farmers have measured and improved their herds’ health and fertility through national genetic programmes for more than 40 years.

The Viking Golden Cross also optimises the benefits to be gained from heterosis (hybrid vigour). This gives the programme a particular relevance to dairy producers already crossing with two breeds. By introducing a third breed, hybrid vigour produces greater long-term benefits than a two-breed cross. These benefits – which give the progeny of unrelated animals better performance than the average of their parents – are seen in health, fertility and lifespan more than any other traits.

Viking Genetics UK manager, Matt Stott, said the first cross between two unrelated breeds will give the benefit of 100 per cent heterosis. However, when the first (F1) generation is bred back to either of the same breeds, heterosis levels out at a lower level. Over the generations, a backcrossing, or two-breed system, levels out at 67 per cent heterosis.

“However,” he added, “when a third breed is introduced to the rotation, heterosis stabilises at a higher level, at 86 per cent.”

The benefits of three-way crossing have been demonstrated around the world, especially in New Zealand and Australia. Here, the Viking Golden Cross system has grown in popularity in recent years.

The Dairy Australia levy board has compared the performance of two-breed and three-breed crossbred herds. Using data from nearly 7,000 cows with more than 25,000 lactations on pasture-based farms, it found the Holstein/Jersey/Red cross showed significantly higher lifespan, conception rate and six-week in calf rate compared to the two-way cross. The three-breed crossbreds also showed no significant difference in volume of milk, but outperformed the two-breed cross for milk solids production.

Viking Genetics UK country manager, Matt Stott
Viking Genetics’ UK manager, Matt Stott.

“This research, along with on-farm experience, is giving more and more producers confidence to go with the three-way cross,” Mr Stott added. “It helps overcome many concerns of those involved in crossbreeding who’ve sometimes lacked a long-term breeding direction. By using the Viking Golden Cross, they’ve a clear system to follow that will maintain the benefits of hybrid vigour at the maximum practical level in their herds.”

With the right combination of breeds, dairy farmers can achieve significant gains in fertility, lifetime production and ease of management. By choosing the three breeds from Viking Genetics, UK dairy farmers are tapping into decades of research and structured breed improvement. Denmark, Sweden and Finland have been renowned for their breeding innovations such as hoof health index and udder health index for many years.

In the Viking Golden Cross, the three unrelated breeds complement each other and bring different traits to the programme:

  • the Viking Red brings calving traits, longevity and overall health;
  • the Viking Jersey brings milk solids, fertility and hoof health; and
  • the Viking Holstein brings milk volume, excellent udders and medium stature.

All of this has helped earn VikingGenetics bulls high genetic rankings in the UK, and elsewhere in the world.

“National rankings show VikingGenetics bulls of all three breeds score well on UK indexes,” Mr Stott said. “This includes the £PLI (profitable lifetime index), £SCI (spring calving index) and £ACI (autumn calving index). Now, we’re delighted to be able to offer UK farmers a means of benefiting from the qualities of each of these breeds in a structured crossbreeding programme. We can also make the system easy to use with colour-coded eartags, which clearly indicate which breed of sire should be used for every female in the herd.

“All of this will contribute to our ultimate aim, to help UK producers breed cattle that efficiently produce good yields of high-quality milk across long lifespans, perform well off grass and have low costs of production.”