Crossbreeding data involving Ghana Shorthorn, Sokoto Gudali and their Jersey F1s and backcrosses collected over a 16-year period were analysed to estimate additive and heterotic effects for milk production, reproduction and calf growth traits. Sokoto Gudali was significantly better than Ghana Shorthorn in all milk production traits. Calving interval and annualized milk production were better in Gudali than in the Shorthorn. The F1s had higher lactation milk yield, milked longer, produced their first calves earlier and had shorter dry periods and calving intervals than their corresponding purebreds. However, genotype was not significant for number of services per conception. Both F1s had higher average daily gain and weaning weight than their corresponding purebreds. Sokoto Gudali backcross (Jersey × F1) was significantly (P < 0·05) better than the F1 in lactation length. However, in Gudali crosses, there was no advantage in increasing the proportion of Jersey genes beyond 0·5 for milk production traits. Additive effects were significantly (at least P < 0·05) lower in the Shorthorn and the Gudali than in Jersey for milk production traits except proportion of butterfat. Heterosis estimates were significant (P < 0·01) for milk production traits for the Shorthorn but not for the Gudali. Heterotic effects were large and significant (at least P < 0·05) in improving annualized milk production in Shorthorn crosses, whilst none of the heterotic effects for reproductive traits was significant. At both 0 and 0·5 levels of Jersey inheritance, the Gudali was superior (P < 0·01) to the Shorthorn in birth weight, weaning weight and pre-weaning average daily gain. Heterotic effects for calf traits were positive and much larger in Gudali crosses than in Shorthorn crosses. In general, backcrosses were, at best, similar to the F1s implying that upgrading these indigenous breeds beyond 0·5 European inheritance may not be desirable.