Crossbred Cows Skyrocket In DHI Herds

Jim Dickrell

The number of crossbred cows in U.S. Dairy Herd Improvement herds has increased some 70-fold since 1990, reports Fiona Guinan, now a graduate student at the University of Georgia who interned at the Council of Dairy Cattle Breeding in 2019. Crossbreds now make up 5% of cows on test.

In 1990, there were just 2,971 crossbred cows identified in DHI herds. By 2018, that number had skyrocketed to 207,368. The number of DHI herds that had crossbred cows shot up from 2.8% in 1990 to 35.5% in 1998.

“The breed combination of the U.S. dairy herd has been evolving for several reasons,” Guinan says. “These include a shifting demand for dairy products, renewed interest in different traits, promotion of breeds with limited U.S. presence and the desire to capitalize on heterosis.”

While the number of crossbred cows in DHI herds have skyrocketed, it is difficult to know if the same trend is true across all herds. The number of DHI herds have plummeted by two thirds in the last 30 years. In 1990, there were 40,196 herds participating in DHI programs. In 1998, that number had fallen to 14,403. (The number of cows on test and the percentage of cows on test, however, have increased. In 1990, there were about 2.4 million cows on test. In 1998, that number had jumped to nearly 4 million.)

It should be noted that Holsteins remain the most popular breed in DHI herds. Of the nearly 4 million cows on test, 3.2 million, or 81%, were Holsteins. Jersey made up the next popular breed, at 12%. Crossbred cows came in third, making up 5.2% of DHI cows.