Crossbreeding cows has become the new normal for Birkstead Holsteins in Elora, Ontario. Thomas Wantenaar and his family have been experimenting with Holstein crosses since the early 2000s, around the same time Wantenaar graduated university and began working on the farm full time. Of the farm’s 310 cows, only 55 are purebred Holsteins, the rest of the herd is a variety of Holstein crosses.
When Wantenaar and his father started experimenting with crossbreeding their cows, they began crossing Holsteins with Brown Swiss and Jersey cows. The results of these crosses left much to be desired. Wantenaar says the Jersey crosses did not milk well, and the Brown Swiss crosses were stubborn and had poor longevity. “Early crosses didn’t last very long; they lasted a couple years, and we abandoned them and went back to purebred Holsteins,” Wantenaar recalls.