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Versatile crossbreeding boosts profits and fertility

Switching to ProCROSS crossbreeding has boosted herd health and fertility at a UK dairy herd. With improvements across the board, times have never been so good.

Patrick Cock, who farms at Younghouse Farm near Ashburton in Devon alongside his brother Graeme, previously milked pedigree Holsteins three times a day with yields peaking at 12,000 litres.

Holsteins predominately calved in the summer, but the herd’s calving index had slipped to 420 days, extending the block significantly to 10 months. Patrick says he had also become disillusioned by higher vet costs.

Transitioning to ProCROSS and the subsequent fertility gains that came with it have enabled Patrick to move back to a lower-cost system and get cows back out to grass.

ProCROSS is a crossbreeding concept that uses the VikingHolstein, VikingRed and Coopex Montbéliarde in a three-way rotation to optimise hybrid vigour at 86%.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Holstein Montbeliarde VikingRed UK Patrick Cock

Making the change

Patrick started using VikingRed semen on his Holsteins in 2012 and then served the two-way cross heifers to Montbéliarde.

The Cocks have been shut down with TB for 20 years, and Mr Cock admits this created initial hesitation, and he was reluctant to crossbreed 100% of the herd.

“We have lost 1,200 reactors to TB over the years, and I dithered a bit because I was worried about losing my pedigree status and how it would affect TB valuation. It is a big step when you have had a pedigree herd, and I started by doing it for periods of the year and bred back to Holsteins,” he admits.

But looking back, he says he wished he had been more decisive. Although he no longer commands pedigree valuation for TB-stricken stock, he says the benefits outweigh this.

For example, cull cows have a higher value of £150 on average, with the Montbeliarde improving fleshing ability.

“The VikingRed brings the health traits and fertility that the Holstein lacks, and the Coopex Montbéliarde brings robustness and strength,” explains Patrick.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Holstein Montbeliarde VikingRed UK Patrick Cock

Versatile, profitable cows

The transition in breeding led to a complete reversion of his system. After milking the ProCROSS cows three times a day initially, they went back to twice a day in September 2019, enabling Patrick to fulfil his desire to get cows back outside to graze.

“The ProCROSS animals are very versatile and were producing 750kg of milk solids when we were milking them three times a day – only 100kg less than the pure Holsteins but with fewer problems. Heifers were doing 10,000 litres no sweat,” explains Patrick.

Having reduced the calving block suitably, he felt it would reduce labour pressure by going back to his roots and running a grass-based system.

Cows now calve in two blocks. Approximately 230 cows calve from February for 13 weeks. The remaining cows calve from July for 17 weeks.

“Animals are averaging 660kg of milk solids annually. The lower production is countered by lower input costs,” says Patrick.

Heifers have always been reared outside from one month old on a milk taxi and will stay on grass for their first winter and are supplemented with a blend.

Patrick believes the hardiness of the ProCROSS is better suited to outwintering.

“The ProCROSS are stronger animals, and they are slightly more robust in comparison to the dainty, modern Holstein,” he adds.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Holstein Montbeliarde VikingRed UK Patrick Cock

Rotational grazing

The grazing platform is just 247 acres (100ha), so autumn calvers that are safely in-calf take priority and will graze from March. Spring calvers join them when there are sufficient covers later in the season.

At peak, the platform will be stocked at 4 cows/ha, with the stocking density on the platform constantly being balanced as autumn calvers are dried off.

Cows are rotationally grazed with grass covers measured weekly and recorded using AgriNet.

“We graze slightly higher covers in the spring because I’m nervous about grazing myself into a drought at such a high stocking rate on the platform, so we have a longer round of 30 days,” explains Patrick.

Multi-species leys are also being used to improve drought tolerance. This spring, 50 acres (20ha) of a herbal mix of chicory and plantain was over-seeded after silage or grazing. It established well and is currently being grazed by late autumn calvers.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Holstein Montbeliarde VikingRed UK Patrick Cock

Crossbreeding made simple

The herd is now 98% ProCROSS, and despite Patrick’s initial hesitation, he wishes he had made the transition sooner.

“In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t dithered, and I had started [crossbreeding] earlier,” says Patrick, who has recently been on a trip with VikingGenetics to the USA in June, visiting dairy farms using the ProCROSS.

“It reinforced the fact I had made the right decision with those herds mirroring my own improvements,” he adds.

Contrary to belief, Patrick says running a three-way breeding programme is very easy.

“Breeding is very simple, and the upside is I don’t have to worry about inbreeding because we are crossbreeding, which brings hybrid vigour,” he says.

Leg pedometers are used to monitor heats alongside scratch cards, with the farm undertaking their own artificial insemination (AI).

Although computer breeding records are kept, visual aids are used to make breeding easier.

Coloured button tags are inserted into the ears of heifer calves during rearing.

Montbéliarde sired animals receive blue tags, and they are mated to Holstein. VikingRed heifers are given an orange tag, and these are served to Montbéliarde, and Holsteins have white tags and get VikingRed semen.

The best cows are served with sexed semen and, after seven weeks, will be mated to Blue sires. Heifers are synchronised and served to sexed semen; Aberdeen Angus and Longhorn bulls sweep up any returns.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding Holstein Montbeliarde VikingRed UK Patrick Cock

Improvements across the board

Conception rates have improved from 28% to 44%, on average, since 2012.

“Everything you can measure is less with the ProCROSS – lower death rate, fewer lame cows, and fewer cases of mastitis,” says Patrick. “Herd management is a pleasure instead of a chore. We haven’t had any displaced abomasums for the past three years,” he adds.

With 70% of cows calving within six weeks in the autumn, the target is now to shorten the autumn block to 12 weeks in total and continue to drive herd improvements.

Text and pictures by Rhian Price.

Click “+” to see a breakdown of the improvements in Patrick's herd.




Holstein conception rate



Second calving ProCROSS conception rate



Third calving ProCROSS conception rate



Heifers, conception rate



Death rate






Farm facts

  • Milking 600 ProCROSS cows
  • Farming 1,500 acres/607 ha (rented and owned)
  • Spring and autumn calving
  • Cows milked twice daily through a 40:40 parlour
  • Yielding 4.45% fat and 3.63% protein
  • Supplying Arla
Learn more about ProCROSS
ProCROSS Crossbreeding Holstein Montbeliarde VikingRed UK Patrick Cock

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