Defence is in the genes

Defence is in the genes

The Nordic countries have the lowest use of antibiotics in Europe and in the world. The reason is that the Nordic countries have a tradition of avoiding antibiotics as a preventative treatment against diseases. We have included health traits in our total merit index from the beginning. As a result, our cows need less antibiotics, because they have a natural defence against diseases in their genes. 

Straight to the heart of the matter

In the Nordic countries, we have a central database where veterinarians and hoof trimmers record all clinical diseases on each and every cow. By registering the actual incidence, instead of going for a correlated trait, the breeding values are much more reliable. For instance, in the Nordic countries we register clinical mastitis, while most countries use somatic cell score as an indicator. The correlation between somatic cell score and clinical mastitis is only 0.6, meaning it is not the same trait. The same goes for hoof health and the “feet & leg” index, where the correlation is only 0.25, meaning that you will only get better hoof health when relying on the feet & leg index in one in four cases.

The figure shows that by registering what you aim to improve, you go straight to the heart of the matter. But using a correlated trait means  you might reach your goal eventually, but much more slowly.

Watch a video of breeding with direct selection below. 


Even though the heritability of health traits may be rather low compared to other traits, such as production and conformation traits, it has been confirmed that there is sufficient variation in the population. Data prove that the prevalence of health problems is considerably lower in progeny of sires with favourable breeding values for specific health traits. Being treated in the same way, some cows will have health problems, others will not.  In addition, some of the cows will recover more easily, while others will have health problems more often and with greater severity.  

While good management and improving the environment are important short-term solutions for health problems in your herd, genetics is an important long-term solution and it is effortless. You simply need to focus on important health traits as part of your breeding strategy, follow the plan and rely on NTM (Nordic Total Merit Index).

VikingDefence™ bulls have strong genes for health traits and all of them have a high NTM. That way, you can be sure to strike a good balance between all economically important traits. 


When you breed for better health, you invest in the future of your herd. You get fewer disease cases in each generation, so your investment will pay off more and more for each generation. Genetic improvement that you achieve is a permanent and desired improvement accumulated through generations.