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 the genes. 

Straight to the core

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 direct incidence, instead of going for a correlated trait, the breeding values are much more reliable. For instance, in the Nordic countries we register clinical diseases, 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. Same goes for hoof health and the ”feet & leg” index, where the correlation is only 0.25, meaning that only one out of four times you get better hoof health when relying on the feet & leg index.

The figure shows that by registering the same thing that you aim to improve, you go straight to the core.
If using a correlated trait, you might reach the goal eventually, but much slower.


Even though the heritability of health traits may be rather low compared to other traits, like production and conformation traits, it has been confirmed that there is sufficient variation in the population. Data proves that the prevalence of health problems is considerably lower in progeny of sires with favorable breeding values for the specific health traits. Being treated in the same way, some cows will have health problems, and others will not.  Moreover, some of the cows will recover easier, 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 effort-free! You just need to focus on important health traits as part of your breeding strategy and follow the plan and rely on NTM (the 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 achieve the 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 for each generation, so the investment will pay off more and more by each generation. Genetic improvement that you achieve is a permanent and desired improvement accumulated through generations.