The Moos Room™

The Paper - Analysis of Jersey versus Holstein breed profitability on north central US dairies

Michigan State Extension Article - Are Holstein or Jersey cows more profitable?

The OG3 discuss one of their oldest debates - which is better, Jerseys or Holsteins? A new paper has some new insights to help answer the question. Should you switch from milking Holsteins to milking Jerseys? Listen and find out.

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Hosted by members of the University of Minnesota Extension Beef and Dairy Teams, The Moos Room discusses relevant topics to help beef and dairy producers be more successful. The information is evidence-based and presented as an informal conversation between the hosts and guests.

Joe: Welcome to The Moos Room, everybody. It's a great day because the OG3 is back together and it's been a while since we've been together. Em, how are you doing?
Emily: I am doing good. This feels like a reunion, years in the making. It's only been several weeks, but we have been out there grinding, programming, traveling, all of us, and it feels like the last however many weeks has been some mashup of some of us, one of us, and now we're all here.
Bradley: We've seen each other for about 5 or 10 minutes at certain places, and it's like, "Oh, on our way off we go again." Running all over the state.
Joe: That's true. We have seen each other in person a couple of times.
Emily: I wouldn't even call it in person so much as in passing. We've seen each other in passing.
Joe: Very true. We decided after the state fair and recovering from that, we needed a topic that was different. We're still going to learn some stuff today, but it's a little more lighthearted. We have a paper that Bradley found. We have opinions, very strong opinions about this paper. All three of us, the paper itself is called Analysis of Jersey versus Holstein Breed Profitability on North Central US Dairies. We are getting into the thick of our main debate on the show, which is that Jerseys are the best, which it's not much of a debate. Brad and I are clear on that.
Bradley: There is no debate.
Emily: It is a debate because there's one person here that doesn't agree. [laughs] The stunned silence from both of you. It is an age-old debate that we have on this show, and that I think a lot of people have. Which is better, Holstein, jerseys? I personally just think it comes down to personal preference. I like Holstein's better, and you guys like jerseys better, and that's okay. Now we have this article, we have some research that we'll see what it does to this debate. As I was reading this, I'm like, "It'll be very interesting to see what the Jersey--" I was going to say the Jersey boys, but then that's musical. The Jersey fans. What do you think of this?
Joe: Before we get into the meat of this paper, one of the things that I want to make sure everyone is thinking about while we talk about this paper is the question being asked. I think that's the most important piece of this paper, is the question they were asking. Before we get into how they did it, what they looked at, how they chose to look at things, the question being asked is, is it profitable for a dairy that currently milks Holsteins to switch to milking Jerseys? Same facilities, everything across the board. That's the question. We're not talking about a new facility that you're building specifically for jerseys. We're talking about a dairy that's currently milking Holsteins switching, and now they're going to milk jerseys in the same facilities. That's the very key point to keep in mind.
Emily: Would that be profitable?
Bradley: We actually see that a lot. There's a lot of farms out there that either have done this, switched from Holstein to Jersey, or that are contemplating whether they should switch to all Jersey. They might have a split herd. That's what this study showed with some herds that were split with Holstein and Jersey in the same barns.
Emily: That's exactly what I was going to say too, Bradley, and it also makes me wonder, these farms that they did look at is that what those farms were doing? Why did they have both? To expand on what Brad was saying, this study looked at three farms, also keep the sample size in mind. Three farms in the North central US and each of those three farms milked both Holsteins and jerseys. It was a breed-to-breed comparison from within the same farm. Then they looked at three farms like that.
Joe: The setup is simple. Emily just described it, three farms, they both milk Holsteins and Jerseys. Everything as much as they can be is identical. Now they're saying, this is a great comparison to say, "If you were going to switch from a facility that was mostly Holstein and all of these facilities were mostly Holstein with a small Jersey component, would it be profitable or not using the same facilities, the same management system based on how they're handling things right now?" I think you can tell that I have some stipulations on their conclusions in this paper. The assumption that I'm seeing from this paper is that we have facilities that are designed for Holsteins, and you're going to then use them for jerseys.
I think that one of the key reasons that some people might switch to Jerseys is because their facilities were originally designed for Holsteins, but they were designed for Holsteins 50 years ago, or 60 years ago, maybe even longer. Holsteins, if everyone has noticed, they've changed a little bit. One of the recommendations to switch to Jersey has to do with the facilities themselves not being designed for Holsteins anymore. I think that's something that we didn't address here. We're talking about a system that was appropriately designed for Holsteins switching to Jerseys. Is that a fair statement, Brad?
Bradley: It is. I've been in a lot of old barns and you can look at their stalls and they got big Holstein cows and it's like, "Man, I don't know if these stalls are big enough for these Holstein cows." Over time as Holstein cows have gotten bigger, the stalls that we built 20 years ago or more just don't fit them anymore. It's a logical solution to want to switch to a smaller cow because of your stall size, you don't want to put up another barn and you got to make do with what you have so that it's an option that people are considering.
Joe: That's not something we're talking about here in this paper. I think we need to get into the meat of this paper a little bit to just-- I think you can tell maybe what the conclusions were from this paper.
Emily: Should we maybe just start with the conclusion?
Joe: I think we should because--
Emily: I feel like I'm the one who should say what it was.
Joe: I think so. I think it's only fair that you get to do it.
Emily: What this study found is that, and this is for the cows in this study, the Holstein cows on average were about $456 more profitable annually than Jersey cows. Watering that down, this study found the Holstein cows were more profitable. Again, there's a lot of caveats here and what we're going to do now is dive into what they looked at and what they found because I will admit, they did find some advantages in Jerseys. We probably know what most of those advantages are, but we need to keep in mind that this was a very specific set of farms they used and they used some specific data and they did also have to make some inferences or use averages for certain things. This is what they found. That's what the lens we're looking at it through.
Joe: Brad and I aren't super happy with that conclusion. We will accept it because I do think this paper has done well and they did a good job of looking at all the different factors that go into it. They did conclude that jerseys were more feed-efficient, which we knew. The cool thing I think about this paper is they also looked at, "If we take the scenario in this system and with these farms, what would have to change to make the jersey at least equal to the Holstein?" Overall, the paper was done well. Any disagreement with that, Brad?
Bradley: No. The paper was done well, and it's always tough, you're using producer farm data and to weed through all of that mass sometimes can be difficult. Paper was well done and the results that they found were from the farms that they used, and I accept that.
Emily: Do you really accept it, Bradley? That was a little forced I think.
Bradley: [laughs] Jerseys are better.
Joe: We know that. In the context of this paper, one of the things that I was really interested in looking at was, I just want to see the raw numbers on cow numbers at each farm, and production numbers to make sure that nothing jumped out at me. I didn't see anything that jumped out at me too much other than in the one farm, farm two, there's only 6% of that farm is Jerseys. That's a very small percentage. I wonder about management decisions that are so geared towards the Holstein because it's such a small percentage of the herd being Jersey that maybe that's not enough Jerseys on that farm to dictate management their way in certain things. That's the only thing that really jumps out. Everything else looks really, really good. I'm not surprised by any of it.
Bradley: One thing I think the conclusion from this study is that Holsteins can milk. We know that. They have high production. In these herds, they had high fat and protein as well. We've been breeding Holsteins for a number of years to produce more fat and protein. We're seeing the benefits of that genetically now is Holstein cows can produce a lot of fat. There's a lot of herds even in Minnesota here that are producing well over 4% fat on their Holsteins, which 10 years ago, that was unheard of. I think that's a caveat here that these Holsteins, they can produce. We know that Holsteins can produce. They say that in this paper a lot of the results are because the Holstein cows really milk well, and that's what we would expect. We would expect a Holstein cow to milk a lot.
Joe: They're looking at the biggest difference in the profitability being total components produced per year. When you look at the numbers for what the Holsteins were doing when it comes to fat like Brad was just talking about, these Holsteins and these herds are doing 3, 7, 5 for fat, 4, 4.1, and 3.7. Those are really good fat numbers for Holsteins. Like Brad said, we have gotten to a point where it's very common for me to run into well-managed herds that have Holsteins that are over four.
I think it is a testament to what we've done on the genetic side to make up some ground with those Holsteins to where they're producing components better than they used to. It is the biggest factor in why they're more profitable in this situation and in this paper. There's just a lot of components and a lot of milk coming out of these cows.
Emily: It's very clear that these three farms are really well managed. The thing I like about this paper, it's very diplomatic in that it does kind of prove some of the things we've already known. Like Brad already said, Holsteins are always going to be king in total milk volume production, but then the Jersey guys, their argument is always more components, more components and that's actually what you get paid for. This paper puts those two ideas together and looks at it this way and is like, "Well, the Holstein is still going to produce enough volume that although the content might not be the same, it's still going to be more." That's what it all boiled back down to. Again, just production 100%. This cow makes more milk so that's what's going to be more profitable. I don't know that I agree with that necessarily but it satisfies both of those looks at things. I heard Brad sigh heavily so I'm interested.
Bradley: Being a Jersey guy and wanting to root for the breed as always, I look at some of the stuff that they found in this paper regarding fertility and it doesn't look good for the Jerseys. I think we've seen this. You can look at national data. The Jersey is not improving fertility, at least like I think they should and it's probably suffering. We've been selecting Jersey to milk a lot too, so we're seeing the consequences of lower fertility. That was one thing that was surprising was the fertility of the Jersey cows in these herds was not any better than the Holsteins and in some cases, it was worse.
It's like maybe what the Jersey needs to focus on too, is trying to improve the fertility of the breed and not necessarily work. We can get components out of those cows but man, the fertility numbers was a little bit disappointing from my regard to see that. Some were running 26, 23 preg rates and it's like, "Uh, I don't know, maybe that's not very good."
Joe: I totally agree, Brad. When I saw the chart and it showed me the 21-day pregnancy rates, I honestly had to go back to the top and look at the columns and make sure they hadn't been switched on a couple of the farms. The one farm is more to what I would expect. A 31% to 32% preg rate on the Holstein side, but a 43% preg rate on the Jersey side. That is more in line with my thoughts on what I was expecting. I can't explain that here.
There's also some stuff, and I don't know if we have time to get into it, but on the replacement side of things, there was some numbers attributed to the cost of raising replacements and it was weighted based on replacement rate. I'm not sure if that's a fair way to do it in a situation where the Jerseys make up such a small percentage of the herd, but maybe it is because we know potentially there are some more complications with Jersey calves, so maybe there's more replacement costs associated with them. I don't know. There's some things there that make me a little questionable. We're nitpicking here.
Bradley: Yes. Right. Exactly.
Joe: Absolutely nitpicking because this paper is done well and I really like how they worked the economic side of it and accounted for everything and looked at as many different things they could think of. It's really well done.
Bradley: It really comes down to. I like one of their conclusion, and it basically was the Jersey cows. If the Jersey cows would have more production, they would be on equal footing with the Holstein. Now I don't think we need more production out of the Jersey cow. I think we can get lots of good production out of them. I think there's something there with the feed efficiency and trying to figure that all out. I think the jury is still out there whether Holsteins or Jerseys are best. Like I said, it comes down to these farms. They were already set up. They have their barns, they have their management and that's what they found on these farms. It might be different on other farms.
Emily: I'm obviously team Holstein, but I agree with you Brad. I think the jury is still out. We need to temper what we've discussed here a little bit with a reminder this was what happened on three farms that were all very similarly run. Like Brad said, it's going to depend on your setup. Of course, if you listen to the show you know it's going to depend on your management and also what your goals are because that was something I thought about as I was reading this, is like, "Well what's the story of these farms having Jerseys?"
Was it we wanted to bring in a small percentage of Jerseys to help with components? What were some of those decisions from the very beginning? Makes me think that maybe it's not so much looking at, "Oh, we need to transition completely to Jersey, but maybe we need to add a third Jerseys" This paper it answers some questions, but it also asks a lot of questions that would be interesting to know the answers to.
Joe: I'm on the same page. I really like how they did things in this paper. I wish that it had concluded a different thing that Jerseys were better because I still believe they are. Remember, it all comes back to the original question. Would it be profitable to switch from milking Holsteins to Jerseys in a facility that's designed for Holsteins? Based on this, the answer is probably not. We're not talking about a new facility or facilities that aren't designed really anymore for Holsteins. The advantage of the Jersey is they are smaller.
When you are designing a new facility, you can either build a smaller facility overall and keep your costs down, or you can put more cows in the same space. They're not accounting for that. The paper did a great job of saying that and saying that, "Hey, we're talking about a very specific situation here. Should you move from milking Holsteins or Jerseys?" Their conclusion is no. Based on these results, I agree, but it doesn't account for all the different situations. As long as we keep the question in mind, I'm fine with their conclusions.
Emily: Jury is still out on which one is really the best. It's Holsteins.
Joe: It's Not Holsteins.
Bradley: You keep thinking that, Emily. You keep thinking that.
Emily: [laughs] You just let me live in my little world, okay? My little black-and-white spotted world.
Joe: With that, our conclusion is the jury's still out. The conclusion from this paper I think is fair, done very, very well. I encourage you to read it. There are also some extension articles from Michigan State out there summarizing the research. I think those are also done very, very well. We will link to those in the show notes. With that, we're going to leave you guys to have the debate on your own.
Emily: Well, if you have questions, comments, or scathing rebuttals about today's episode, you can email those to That's You can also call and leave us a voicemail at 612-624-3610. Find us online and find us on Twitter @UMNMoosRoom, @UMNFarmSafety, and find Bradley on Instagram @UMNWCROCDairy. That's a wrap. Woo. Holstein's forever.
Joe: No.
Emily: [laughs] No.
Joe: Bye.
Emily: Bye.
Bradley: Bye.
[00:19:39] [END OF AUDIO]