Skip to main content

15 Mar 2021

Breed for better udder health and stay profitable

No matter what production system you use, or what your herd’s current management level is, you can achieve greater efficiency and reduce your costs by breeding for stronger resistance to mastitis.

Mastitis causes direct financial losses to dairy farmers no matter where in the world you farm. It reduces milk yield, the milk can be contaminated with antibiotics and unsellable, plus the associated veterinary expenses, antibiotic and labour costs. There are also economic losses related to subclinical mastitis.

A higher culling rate and occasional fatalities occur as a result of poor udder health in your cows.  Mastitis is among the top reasons for culling dairy cows. It not only reduces animal welfare but also results in great economic loss for your business.


Prevent mastitis in your herd

To avoid extra charges and ensure the profitability of your dairy farm, the prevention of mastitis infection is the best approach. Choosing the right bull has a significant impact.

In the table, you can see the number of daughters with mastitis in relation to the bull’s index for mastitis resistance – Udder health index.


Effect of bulls with different breeding values on an average daughter

Breeding value






Mastitis %







Mastitis %







Mastitis %







How much of a reduction in mastitis cases can you expect?

By selecting a sire with a breeding value (EBV) 110 for Udder health index you achieve a high reduction in the frequency of mastitis cases:

  • VikingHolstein 25%
  • VikingRed 23%
  • VikingJersey 19%

 Sustainable genetic improvement for udder health

From 2000 to 2019, the Nordic countries have significantly improved the genetic level of udder health for the three dairy breeds:

  • +18 index units for VikingHolstein bulls
  • +12 index units for VikingRed bulls
  • +17 index units for VikingJersey bulls

Here you can see the genetic trends for the Udder health index for VikingHolstein, VikingRed and VikingJersey bulls for the period 2000-2019.

Reliable mastitis registrations

In the Nordic countries, we use both:

  • the direct measure, clinical mastitis
  • indirect measures like conformation traits (fore udder attachment and udder depth) and SCC, where the latter is only an indicator of mastitis.

Mastitis registrations come from veterinary and farmer records on clinical mastitis. Official registrations are done for 90% of cows in Finland, Sweden and Denmark

By breeding for higher Nordic Total Merit (NTM), you automatically get fewer mastitis cases in your herd. Achieving higher genetic progress for udder health is an important focus in VikingGenetics breeding programmes.

The Udder health index has a high economic weighting in NTM:

  • VikingHolstein – 11% weight, third highest after production and daughter fertility
  • VikingRed – 9% weight, third highest after production and daughter fertility
  • VikingJersey – 17% weight, second highest after production

VikingRed has a naturally strong resistance to mastitis (7.8% mastitis frequency), and therefore the weight for Udder health for VikingRed is lower compared to the other two breeds.   

The Nordic countries introduced the first mastitis resistance index as early as 1982. With the Udder health index in NTM, you are tapping into almost 40 years of systematic data collection and breeding expertise for improving health and production.   

See the available bulls