Dual-purpose breeds – an outdated custom or a new opportunity?
The Swiss partners of the two CORE Organic projects “2-Org-Cows” and “OrganicDairyHealth” recently presented their findings to representatives of breeding organizations and farmers.
In this video, Anna Bieber from FiBL and Beat Bapst from Qualitas summarize the results, and workshop participants share their views on dual-purpose cattle.
The organic guidelines recommend the use of locally adapted breeds. “However, there have been no studies to date on how local breeds actually perform under organic conditions when compared to commercial dairy breeds”, says Anna Bieber from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL. This is why the OrganicDairyHealth project focused on evaluating, for the first time ever, herdbook data from local and commercial dairy breeds in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Poland and Switzerland. As expected, commercial breeds performed much better in terms of milk production and lifetime output. However, when it comes to functional traits, such as fertility, the share of milk samples over 100,000 cells, lactation persistency or longevity, the local breeds always fared significantly better than the commercial breeds.
Do cows perform differently in varying environments?
The 2-Org-Cows project also focused on dual-purpose cattle. Dual-purpose breeds are usually fed from the farm's own feed. Their performance is thus more strongly influenced by the site or environment. The question is whether animals perform differently in varying environments. For example, are the best performing animals in the lowlands also the best in the mountain area? Are there differences? If they differ on a genetic level, we speak of genotype-environment interactions. These would then have to be considered in breeding programs.
Beat Bapst from Qualitas has defined the following production environments: organic and conventional agriculture, uplands and lowlands. He then assessed the genetic correlations between them. “However, we have not been able to identify any significant genotype-environment interactions,” he says. Therefore, he added meteorological data to the individual test day data and then looked whether dual-purpose breeds and specialized dairy breeds react differently. There were strong weather dependencies for protein in particular. Brown Swiss cattle reacted very differently from Original Braunvieh. Whether this will have an effect on the breeding value estimation, however, cannot be said yet.
Benefits of dual-purpose breeds
Most of the workshop participants were convinced of the increasing importance of dual-purpose breeds in the future, as marginal and unfavourable areas around the globe cannot be managed well with high-yielding breeds.
In Switzerland, the dual-purpose breed certainly brings economic advantages because of the low milk price and relatively high meat price. The dual-purpose cow is also metabolically more robust. However, many breeders are still influenced by milk-oriented breeding, although one can already see a tendency that more and more farmers are changing their strategy.
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