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2007 Dairy Cattel Breeds: Brown Swiss

What breeders say ...

Marc Wailes of Holyoke, Colorado
1,000-cow dairy with 200 registered Brown Swiss cows at Double W Farm Dairy

What makes this breed special?
They give large quantities of quality milk, for one thing. They also have a bit more longevity. They are known for good feet and legs and are a docile and curious animal.

How would you describe the temperament of the Brown Swiss breed?
They are for the most part very easy to work with. When they come to the parlor, the Brown Swiss are the first ones in ready to be milked. They are also the first ones to the feedbunk.

In what ways could crossbreeding with a Brown Swiss, help a commercial dairy producer?
We do have crossbreds. Probably some of our best cows are Holstein-Brown Swiss crosses. To me, that is an excellent cross. You get two animals that are similar in size and milk production. Although the Holstein probably yields more milk, the Brown Swiss probably has higher quality milk as far as protein and butterfat. With the Brown Swiss you will also see slightly lower somatic cell counts. So hopefully by crossbreeding you can lower your somatic cell counts, too.

The Swiss have fewer health problems. I don’t know what to attribute that to other than they are a more powerful and rugged animal.

You also get an easy-to-look at cow. Some of them have spots on them, but most of them are solid. They’re almost a chocolate-colored cow.

What type of management advice would you provide a dairy producer who was going to buy a Brown Swiss?
If a person has Holsteins, the Brown Swiss are similar in size, so you won’t have to make any accommodations for size. You can treat them just like you do the Holsteins. They fit right in.

They are an amazing animal. We just love their temperament and durability.

What producers say ...

Bryan Voegeli of Monticello, Wisconsin
180-cow registered Brown Swiss herd at Voegeli Farm Inc.

What special considerations about the Jersey breed should a producer know about before purchasing a Brown Swiss?
I think calves are probably the toughest issue. People have a preconception that the calves are difficult to raise. I think they are difficult to raise, if the calf is nursed on the cow. That seems to be their bad rap.

We call them smart calves because if a calf nurses from a cow, that’s what it learns. We just don’t let the calf nurse from the cow, and we really have low mortality rates and really don’t have any issues.

Calving ease is very good and metabolic problems and DA issues for us are few.

What advantages does the Brown Swiss breed offer dairy producers that may be unique from other dairy breeds?
We sell a lot of bulls into Holstein herds. I’m going to say Brown Swiss have better feet and legs, higher components, more dairy strength and lower somatic cell counts.

Even though Brown Swiss cows are about the same size and weight as a Holstein, they have a little more bone in the feet and legs, and generally are a little more rugged cow. I know they have a lot more depth of heel on the foot. Component wise, they are a little bit higher in protein and butterfat content.

Brown Swiss CowHistory
The Brown Swiss breed in the United States was declared a dairy breed in 1906, and in 1907 a classification for Brown Swiss was provided at the National Dairy Show. Many writers have suggested the breed is centuries old and that little crossing with other breeds has been done for hundreds of years. As is the case in the origin of the other breeds of livestock, this conclusion seems to be more romantic than correct.

The Brown Swiss, as we know it in the U.S. today, originated in the cantons of Schwyz, Zug, St. Gallen, Glarus, Lucerne and Zurich of Switzerland. The canton of Schwyz was the scene of most of the early improvement, and in Switzerland the breed is often referred to as Schwyer or Brown Schwyzer. Unimproved cattle similar to the Brown Swiss have been in this territory for a considerable period of time.

The Pinzgaur breed, which is apparently a native of Austria, seems to have been the breed from that country used in the improvement of the Brown Swiss. The predominant cattle of Schwyz in about 1860 were of a chestnut to a dull black color, and most of the cattle were darker on their fore- and hindquarters than their bodies. Many of them carried a light-colored or light grayish stripe down their backs. This variation of color pattern was apparently introduced from the Pinzgau, and the Brown Swiss of the modern day seem to have acquired the light dorsal stripe from these cattle brought in from Austria.

The first Brown Swiss cattle were brought to the U.S. in 1869 by Henry M. Clark of Belmont, Massachusetts, who visited the canton of Schwyz and secured a bull and seven females from Col. G. Burgi of Arth, Switzerland. A notable importation of the breed was in 1906 by E.M. Barton who brought 34 cows and five bulls to this country. One of these was the bull Junker 2365, dropped in 1904, which became Grand Champion at the National Dairy Shows in 1907, 1908 and 1909. He sired daughters that made excellent production records and had a very important influence in the breed.

In 1906, importations were stopped because of foot-and-mouth disease, and only three cattle have been brought from Switzerland since that date. There has been a total of only 155 head of Brown Swiss brought from Switzerland and recorded in the herd book in this country. A very steady growth of the breed from this very meager beginning has been most gratifying to those sponsoring the development and improvement of the Brown Swiss. PD

—From Oklahoma State University Department of Animal Science website

The Brown Swiss Association
800 Pleasant Street
Beloit, WI 53511-5456

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