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Biodiversity within and between European Red dairy breeds – conservation through utilization

European Red Dairy Breeds (ERDB) represent a unique source of genetic diversity and are well adapted to local conditions providing regional identity of products for consumers. REDIVERSE aims to develop and implement integrated novel breeding and management concepts to achieve a resilient and competitive use of these resources. The challenge of establishing appropriate breeding and maintenance strategies for diverse farm systems and regional markets is met by considering economic, structural and social diversity in participating countries. The holistic approach relies on integrative research of scientists in the fields of animal genetics, proteomics, economy and social sciences. Cutting edge technology such as large scale genomic and proteomic tools will be implemented to enhance genetic progress and to characterize specific properties of ERDB. Innovative survey approaches will assess the impact of the sector on social acceptance and the needs of farmers. The project will generate novel knowledge and concepts that will be timely disseminated to the breeding and dairy industry, food sector, farmer cooperatives and farmers. The trade-off between economic, environmental and social interests will ensure sustainable dairy production, improve animal welfare and help to develop rural landscape.

Towards the implementation of genomic selection (GS) across ERDB, we have estimated a parameter that summarizes the relationship between different ERDB. Per population at least 100 animals should be genotyped to accurately compute this population parameter. First results suggest that ERDB with known shared recent history, may benefit from each other in GS.

Optimal economic values (EV) of breeding traits (production, reproduction, health) have been derived for the breeds Angler and Red-and-White Dual Purpose using a herd simulation model. Sensitivity analyses confirmed the robustness of calculated EV. These calculations are carried out for all ERDB. Breeding goal scenarios for ERDB are simulated for different production systems, to study the impact on genetic gain and genetic diversity. Breeding organizations will be involved in this work.

A Discrete Choice Experiment conducted with German farmers has revealed important factors affecting their willingness to participate in conservation programs: bonus payments, duration of contracts and keeping existing conditions on their dairy farm. A follow-up survey detected farmers´ motivations for keeping ERDB: farmers prefer ERDB because of good health (lower veterinary costs), robustness and higher content of milk components compared to Holstein Friesian. Further, the farmers mentioned reasons related to tradition and cultural value of ERDB.

An important achievement is bringing together a consortium of researchers and industries with a shared interest in improving and sustaining ERDB. This directly contributes to the expected outcomes in generating shared genomic resources, for instance through the compilation of a European reference population for ERDB, and collaboration in evaluation. Within the consortium, a joint pedigree across animals of ~10 different breeds and 7 different countries has been compiled and verified. Across all the partners, a total of 418 animals across 13 different breeds have been sequenced.

Further expected outcomes include sustainable management of genetic diversity provided by European Red Dairy Breeds, formation of aligned breeding objectives, and insight into the main drivers of farmers to keep and sustain ERDB. The ultimately goal is to preserve ERDB by improved breeding strategies that make them more competitive, while utilizing their unique characteristics.

As the main outcome of REDIVERSE, a sustainable use and an increased competitiveness of ERDB is expected. The REDIVERSE project is characterized by an intensive participation of breeding companies. This promotes a fast implementation of research findings and developed tools in the practical breeding work. One example is that we will derive for several ERDB whether it is beneficial to use information of other ERDB to improve the accuracy of genomic selection. The breeding companies involved can directly team up and implement this in their breeding program. Results and their associated benefits will also be available to farmers by organising regional information events. A workshop with breeding organizations responsible for ERDB is planned this summer to evaluate developed breeding goals.

Messages to:

A) Actors from private sector (Breeding organizations, Dairy farmers)

• REDIVERSE develops a breeding model and genome based future conservation concepts for ERDB.

• Milk of ERDB has a favourable composition.

B) Civil society and practitioners organisations (e.g. National conservation boards, European Regional Focal Point for Animal Genetic Resources)

• REDIVERSE develops a comprehensive strategy for conservation of small ERDB populations.

• Awareness for the value of genetic resources by end-users will be raised through dissemination.

C) Policy makers

• REDIVERSE aims to demonstration socio-economic advantages of ERDB.

Knowledge products:

Presented project objectives and initial results via scientific conferences:

Hinrichs, D., M.P.L. Calus, D.J. de Koning, J. Bennewitz, T.H.E. Meuwissen, G. Thaller, J. Szyda, J. Tetens, V. Juskiene, and B. Guldbrandtsen. 2017. Biodiversity within and between European Red dairy breeds – conservation through utilization. Proc. 68th Ann. Meeting of the EAAP, Tallinn, Estonia. p 82.

Marjanovic, J., B. Hulsegge, A. Schurink, & M.P.L. Calus. 2018. Improving genomic prediction in numerically small Red dairy cattle populations. Proc. 69th Ann. Meeting of the EAAP, Dubrovnik, Croatia. p 121.

Knowledge networks:

REDIVERSE has established a link with the Horizon2020 project IMAGE ( An overview of IMAGE has been presented during the annual meeting of REDIVERSE, and an overview of REDIVERSE has been presented during the annual meeting of IMAGE. REDIVERSE has also established a link with the International Red Dairy Breed Federation ( and has been present during the International Red Dairy Breed Federation World Congress in 2019.

Coordinated by: Prof. Dirk Hinrichs / Prof. Georg Thaller - Kiel University (GERMANY) - Contact

Funded by:  BMEL, DAFA, VIAA, Moa ZUM, CRV BV, NWO, RCN, NCBR, Formas and Swedisch University of Agricultural Science as part of the ERA-NET Cofund SusAn through a virtual common pot model including EU Top-Up funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 696231).

12 research partners:

  • DENMARK: Aarhus University
  • GERMANY: Rinderzucht Schleswig-Holstein eG and University Hohenheim
  • LATVIA: Animal Breeders Association of Latvia
  • LITHUANIA: Lithuanian University of Health Sciences and The Lithuanian Red Cattle Improvement Association
  • THE NETHERLANDS: CRV BV and Wageningen UR Livestock Research
  • NORWAY: Norwegian University of Life Sciences
  • POLAND: Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences
  • SWEDEN: VikingGenetics and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

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