Breeding for better lives
Geno Norway
Deutschland Polski


Below you will find a list of frequently asked questions and answers about Norwegian Red (NRF):


Question 1:
How does the milk, fat and protein production of Norwegian Red crosses compare with purebred Holstein cows in the U.S. and other countries?
Milk production of NRF x Holstein crosses will be very similar to purebred Holstein production, In high producing herds in the U.S. and some other countries with high producing herds, production of NRF x Holstein crosses will be slightly lower than purebred Holsteins (milk yield will be 1 to 2 kg lower per day for the NRF x Holstein crosses in high producing herds).  
Question 2:
Does the Norwegian Red cost more to maintain since it appears to carry more flesh than the average U.S. Holstein?
No.  Mature body weights of NRF and NRF x Holstein crosses will be lower than body weights of U.S. Holsteins and the higher body condition of NRF x Holstein crosses does not result in a heavier cow compared with purebred Holsteins.  Maintenance feeds costs are mainly driven by body weight and cows with a little more body condition but with a similar body weight (or lower body weight) do not require more feed for maintenance than thin cows.


Question 3:
Is it true that all Norwegian Red bulls will be polled someday?
Yes, this is the plan within the Geno breeding program.  However, it will take several more years to result in all polled bulls because Geno does not want to eliminate any outstanding horned animals from the breeding program at this point.  Increasing the frequency of the polled gene in the NRF population at a slow pace will allow us to increase the polled gene frequency and not sacrifice any genetic improvement in other performance characteristics. Currently 50% of all calves born in Norway are polled.


Question 4:

Why does the size of the Norwegian Red breeding program give it an advantage over the other Red Nordic breeding programs?



Genetic progress in a population is driven by four major factors and one of these factors is what we call selection intensity.  Selection intensity is dependent on the proportion of animals that are selected to be used for the parents of the next generation.  Higher selection intensity (smaller percentage selected) results in more genetic progress when other factors are similar.  Larger populations like the NRF population can practice more intense selection than smaller populations because there are more animals to consider for selection.  For example, in the NRF population, we select 7 to 12 proven bulls each year to use in the NRF population from 125 progeny tested bulls. This compares with Sweden where they select about the same number of proven bulls (7 to 12) to use each year but they progeny test about 85 Swedish Red bulls per year (85 is approximate average number tested in Sweden over the past several years).


Question 5:

Why don’t more Norwegian Red bulls appear in the top 100 in the USDA/Interbull production and type rankings?



There are many factors that impact how bulls rank on individual country bases and some of these factors do not favour NRF bulls on the U.S. base currently.  NRF bulls are included with the other Nordic Red bulls on the Ayrshire base in the U.S.  Bulls are normally ranked within countries on the local country’s version of a total merit index and this is the situation in the U.S.  The local total merit indexes may not be as comprehensive as total merit indexes that are available in the Nordic countries but the U.S. total merit index (called Lifetime Net Merit) is currently closer to the Nordic total merit indexes than anytime in past history. 


When compared with the Nordic total merit indexes today, only clinical disease data are missing in the US total merit index and productive life or longevity is basically used as an indicator of diseases status in the U.S. total merit index.  Thus productive life receives a high weight (22% of the index) in the U.S. total merit index and the NRF does not have a measure of productive life within Norway to convert to the U.S. productive life measure.  This is a major disadvantage for the NRF when it comes to rankings on the U.S. total merit index.  In addition, we have recently learned that some of the genetic evaluation models for important individual traits need improvement to result in more accurate proofs on the U.S. base.  Both of these issues lead to relatively poor rankings for the NRF bulls on the U.S. base compared with other Nordic red bulls.


Question 6:

What feet and leg characteristics have been in the breeding goal for the Norwegian Red breed?



The NRF has been selected for improved feet and legs for well over 40 years.  Selection for high quality hooves with correct hoof shape as well as for structurally correct legs has been part of the NRF breeding program since the 1960’s.


Question 7:

Do any Norwegian Red bulls have the A2A2 Beta Casein genotype?



Yes.  Many NRF bulls are A2A2 for the Beta Casein genotype.  Raastad (10115), Bosnes (10402), Hjulstad (10245), Braut (10177) and Oygarden (5848) are all heavily utilized NRF bulls that are A2A2 for Beta Casein.  Nordbo (10553), Motroen (10556), Eggtroen (10579), Skjulestad (10586), Skei (10617), Ruud (10624) and Amdal (10682) are some of many other recently proven A2A2 bulls with more on the way in the future.


Question 8:

Why are some of the Norwegian Red bulls black and white rather than red and white?



The NRF breed has the black gene with a low frequency. The black versus red colour does not have an important economic impact within Norway so the black gene has remained in the NRF population since the merger of the local breeds (some of them carrying black genes) to form the modern NRF breed in the 1940’s.  Other Nordic Red populations do not have the black gene present in their population.  The black gene is dominant to the red gene so it could be easily managed if the NRF breeding program was to decide to change the frequency of the black gene. Producers using NRF for crossbreeding outside of Norway have the option of using either red or black sires if colour is important to them.


Question 9:

Why are some of the sires of Norwegian Red bulls actually Swedish Red or Finnish Ayrshires?



For the NRF breeding program, some semen from the very best Swedish Red and Finnish Ayrshire bulls is used each year to help maintain genetic diversity within the NRF population and to allow the use of the best bulls from these other very closely related populations.  Geno currently progeny tests some sons each year of the very best Swedish and Finnish bulls and sometimes these bulls come through with good breeding values. 


Question 10:

Do the Norwegian Red, Swedish Red, and Finnish Ayrshire all have Ayrshire origins?



Yes, all these populations are Ayrshire based populations and they all have had been impacted by Ayrshires in a significant way.  In addition, these populations have been closely related since their origins during the early to mid -1900’s.  The three populations do have some uniqueness but in general they are closely related breeds that have shared important bulls for at least the last 50 to 60 years. 

Any uniqueness comes from the other original populations that may have influenced each breed in a different fashion.  For example, the NRF population has a much higher percentage of polled cattle compared with the Swedish Red and Finnish Ayrshire because the polled gene was present in some of the original populations that contributed to the NRF population but not to the other two populations.


Question 11:

Is it true that the Norwegian Red and the Swedish Red use the
Ayrshire base for milk production instead of the Holstein base?



Yes, this is correct.  The genetic values for all the Nordic Red bulls are expressed within each country on the Ayrshire base for the local or importing country.


Question 12:

What is heterosis (hybrid vigor) and how much can I expect for different traits when using Norwegian Red bulls on purebred cows of other breeds?



Heterosis or hybrid vigor is added performance that results when we cross two breeds (or species) that have different genetic origins.  Geneticists believe that heterosis results primarily from having individuals that are more variable in their genetic material and less inbred.  Heterosis is measured as the difference in performance from the mean performance of the parental breeds and usually it is expresses as a percentage of the parental breed mean.  Heterosis for milk production traits from crossing NRF on purebred cows of other breeds is likely to be approximately 3 to 6 percent.  Heterosis for cow fertility/reproduction, health and longevity is likely to be 10% or larger.


Question 13:

How would a producer not paid for protein or fat best use the Norwegian Red in a crossbreeding program?



There are currently few modern dairy industries where producers are only paid based on fluid (with no consideration for fat or protein).  In these situations, NRF crosses with Holsteins are likely to be advantageous especially if the management of the herds is intensive.  If the the herds are in a very harsh environment (where feed intake is restricted and feed quality is poor) Holsteins may not be the best to use in a crossing program with NRF.  However, even under these challenging production circumstances, it is likely that the NRF will still work well in a crossing program because of the past selection for health and fertility within the NRF.  In intensive management systems where payment is only for fluid and payment is not influenced by fat or protein, producers should use NRF bulls that are high for milk and not worry too much about the fat and protein of the bull.


Question 14:

Why should I use a Norwegian bull instead of choosing a Holstein bull that has high PTA for Lifetime Net Merit or high PTAs for functional traits?



The use of a highly selected NRF bull on a Holstein cow will result in a more profitable cow.  The combined effects of heterosis and improved breed effects from the NRF for calving traits, cow fertility, cow health, cow survival and lower feed intakes along with similar fat and protein yields will result in a more profitable cow than a purebred Holstein cow under most economic circumstances in the U.S.


Question 15:

How can crossbreeding eliminate inbreeding?



Crossbreeding eliminates inbreeding by creating animals that have variability in the genes where there is no variability in the inbred animals.  Animals receive one copy of each gene from each parent and when the parents are from different breeds (where genes for one breed is not the same as the genes in the other breed) the resulting offspring have one gene from one breed and the second gene from the other breed.  This results in heterozygosity which means that the genes are different within each pair for the crossbred offspring.


Question 16:

How can crossbreeding give you more robust calves and cows?



Crossbreeding can result in more robust calves and cows because of heterosis for cow and calf health, survival and reproduction and because some breeds have better health, survival and reproduction than other breeds.  Heterosis is typically higher for health, survival and reproduction than for milk production traits, which basically means that crossbreeding will generally be more advantageous for health, survival and reproduction than for the production traits.  In addition the NRF has outstanding performance for health, survival and reproduction so adding the NRF breed to a crossbreeding program will improve these traits just because of the improved breed contribution.


Question 17:

How can crossbreeding ensure lower replacement rates?



Crossbreeding will generally result in lower replacement rates because of improved cow health, survival and reproduction due to heterosis and because some breeds have better health, survival and reproduction than other breeds.  The NRF has outstanding performance for health, survival and reproduction so adding the NRF breed to a crossbreeding program will improve replacement rates and increase herd profitability.


Question 18:
How can crossbreeding improve reproductive performance?



Crossbreeding will generally result in improved reproductive performance because heterosis for reproduction is very high and because some breeds like the NRF have much better reproduction than other breeds like Holsteins.  The NRF has outstanding reproduction so adding the NRF breed to a crossbreeding program will improve reproduction dramatically.


Question 19:

How can crossbreeding ensure increased bull calf value?



Crossbreeding with NRF and other breeds that have excellent calf survival and that produce high quality bull calves for meat will increase bull calf values for the herd.  In some countries and locations, bull calf income can be a significant influence on herd profitability and in these herds, bull calf survival is critical.  Crossbreeding with NRF results in a hybrid calf that is very hardy but crossbreeding with NRF also results in cows that are great mothers at calving.  Having great maternal calving traits will also increase bull calf survival rates.


Question 20:

Will crossbreeding solve all problems?



No, crossbreeding will not solve all herd management problems.  However, crossbreeding is one more tool that commercial dairy producers can use to improve their profitability and crossbreeding with NRF will help with many modern dairy management challenges.


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