Project code: D-10-00

Duration 6 years commencing Spring 2000

Team and Leader Sinclair Mayne, Fred Gordon, Conrad Ferris and Maurice McCoy.

Organisations involved Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland, Veterinary Science Division.

Background and Summary

Dairy her infertility, mastitis and lameness have been highlighted as the three most significant problems on dairy farms in Northern Ireland in both recent surveys undertaken by AgriSearch. It has long been established that fertility and mastitis are strongly negatively correlated with genetic improvement of milk production traits. 

For example, current estimates suggest that conception rate to first insemination is decreasing by 0.5% per annum (Lamming, 1998). This reflects the high proportion of Holstein genetics within the UK dairy herd, and the fact that breeding goals within the Holstein breed place a very high emphasis (until recently 100% of total selection pressure) on milk production traits. In contrast, for almost 20 years the Scandinavian countries (particularly Norway and Sweden) have used breeding programmes based on Total Merit Selection Indices (TMSI) which place a very high weighting on fertility (14%) and mastitis (21%), with considerably less emphasis on milk production traits (21%). Whilst these TMSI have resulted in approximately 50% of the genetic progress in milk production, there is strong evidence that real improvements in fertility and reductions in the incidence of mastitis have been achieved.

The objective of this proposal is to investigate if the Norwegian NRF offers a real alternative to the Holstein Friesian as a means of improving the fertility and health status of the Northern Ireland dairy herd.


1. March and April 2000

a) Import 100+ Norwegian NRF animals between 1 and 2 years old.

b) Import 100+ Norwegian NRF animals between 0 and 1 year old.

c) Allocate these across 20 farms and pair with Holstein heifers on these farms.

2. April - December 2000 Inseminate first batches of animals on farms.

3. September 2000 - September 2001 Calve first 100 heifers on farms and undertake recording.

4. September 2001 - September 2002 Have all animals calved.

5. September 2002 - 2005 Monitor/record all animals


1. Project will provide valuable information on potential of SRB breeds to reduce the incidence of mastitis, lameness and reproductive problems.

2. Reduced need for antibiotic treatment and or hormonal therapy will improve consumer image of milk production and hence protect market share.

3. Reduced labour requirement for managing large herds.

Project News Update

Breeding programmes within Norway with the Norwegian Dairy Cattle breed (NRF) have focused on improving cow fertility and health, with a reduced emphasis on milk yield. In contrast, breeding programmes with the Holstein breed have focused primarily on milk yield. This study, which is being conducted on 19 dairy farms across Northern Ireland, seeks to identify if the NRF breed can make a positive contribution to improving the health, fertility and overall profitability of the Northrn Ireland dairy herd. Data available to date indicates that animals of the NRF breed are easier to calve, and have a greater proportion of calves born alive, compared to animals of the Holstein breed. First lactation 305 day milk yields were 5720 and 5940 kg. for the NRF and Holstein breeds respectively, with the NRF animals having a slightly higher milk protein content compared to the Holstein animals. Conception to first AI with heifers was 62% and 54% for the NRF and Holstein animals respectivly. As the project continues, information on animal longevity will increasingly become available.

See the final report here.

FileDescriptionFile size
Download this file (Booklet 22- Norwegian Red Study.pdf)Farmers Booklet 22 - Norwegian Red StudyFarmers Booklet 22 - A comparison of the performance of Holstein-Friesian and Norwegian Red cows on Northern Ireland dairy farms5187 kB
Download this file (D-10-00.pdf)D-10-00 Norwegian Red Final ReportD-10-00 Norwegian Red Final Report878 kB