News | May 6, 2024

Robust And Resilient Dual-Purpose Breeds For Nature-Inclusive Dairy Farming

A transition to nature-inclusive dairy farming requires adjustments not only from the livestock farmers and company management, but also from the cows. These animals have to deal with more grazing, changing weather conditions and a different ration.

Robustness and resilience are frequently mentioned properties when it comes to the characteristics of animals kept on nature-inclusive farms. However, what exactly does robustness and resilience of cows mean? And how do you measure these characteristics? Within cattle breeding there is increasing interest in being able to breed for such complex, but important characteristics.

Dutch dual-purpose breeds, such as MRIJ (Maas-Rijn-IJsselvee), Fries-Dutch, Groninger Blaarkop, Lakenvelder and Brandrood, are often characterized as robust, strong animals. From the various interviews with participating livestock farmers of the DubbelDoel Natural research project, these characteristics often emerged as one of the most important reasons for their choice for (or crossing with) one of the Dutch dual-purpose breeds. 'Frugal' and 'self-reliant' are also terms that livestock farmers often used to indicate that their cows thrive in low-input conditions and generally have few problems. According to these farmers, Dutch dual-purpose cows fit very well into nature-inclusive (dairy) livestock farming. They can do extremely well with a high proportion of roughage in the ration, have few health problems and good fertility. And the dual-purpose aspect also has added value for the management of natural grassland that is often grazed by young bulls or oxen.

Breeding value for resilience
The Cooperative Cattle Improvement (CRV) also pays attention to breeding cows that can cope well with disturbances in their environment and have good overall health, within both intensive and extensive dairy farms. In order to breed for this, CRV introduced the breeding value 'resilience' this spring. Selection for this characteristic ensures cows that suffer less from disruptions and recover more quickly. For this breeding value, the resilience of a cow is determined based on data about daily milk productions. Many and long dips in milk yield during lactation indicate low resilience, while stable milk production or dips of only a short period indicate high resilience.

The way in which cows deal with changing circumstances or disruptions (“resilience”) is hereditary. Moreover, cows of different breeds appear to differ in their breeding value for resilience. Jersey cows appear to be the most resilient breed, but they are followed with a small difference by the Dutch dual-purpose breeds MRIJ, Blaarkop and Fries-Hollands, while the Holstein scores the lowest. This is therefore an indication that the Dutch dual-purpose varieties are resilient varieties that are less affected by disruptions or recover quickly from them. The experiences of livestock farmers with Dutch dual-purpose breeds that their breed is more robust compared to, for example, Holstein, is confirmed by these new insights.

Double Goal Of course
For livestock farmers with Dutch dual-purpose breeds and a nature-inclusive company, the use of this breeding value can help to further improve the resilience and thus partly the robustness of their cows. Of course, robustness is broader than this and other characteristics are also important in the breeding goal for nature-inclusive dairy farming. In the DubbelDoel Natural project, the relevant characteristics for nature-inclusive business operations are identified and discussed with groups of livestock farmers participating in the project. The results will be further disseminated this autumn via the website www. .

Source: Wageningen University & Research