Brown Swiss cows are robust, a prolific breeder, strong, adaptable, well-balanced in build, and have a good physique with good hooves and limbs. The breed can be used both as dairy and beef cows and produce good milk and meat. Along with the Alpine Brown and British Brown cows, the Brown Swiss cow belongs to the Brown group.

There are approximately 25 “breeds” that can be found everywhere in Europe, with each one having its own local and international name. Examples include the French Brown and the Aubrac in France. There are five distinct breeds of Brown Swiss in Italy, each suited to its region.

The Swiss Braunvieh is thought to be one of the oldest or original breeds of cattle. There were found at least 12 species of brown cattle in the mountains of Switzerland in the 1600s, with a wide variation of size and type depending on the region where they were raised. In the 19th century, export of Brown Swiss cattle to Western Europe, Russia, and other Eastern block countries was common as farmers bred up their local animals with the goal of obtaining improved performance through outcrossing.

A man named Henry M. Clark imported seven cows and one bull to Massachusetts in 1869. These animals and others at that time served as the foundation for the Braunvieh herds in North and Central America. Originally from Mexico, cattle flourished as a primarily beef animal. The first official herdbook was established in 1880 in the United States. Live animal imports were halted in 1906 due to concern over hoof and mouth disease. Yet, Brown Swiss species can still be purchased directly from European breeders. With the time and availability of Brown Swiss semen, big brown cows have made their way to North America and become an established and well-loved part of many family dairy operations.

Feeding Management Brown Swiss Steer

In contrast to most of the feeding systems employed in other European countries, Swiss cattle are fed diets primarily comprised of high-quality forage. Around 77% of all animal feed used in Switzerland is represented by forages (including also those fed to monogastric animals) (SBV 2011). However, the Swiss data may not be equally comparable with the European data where cattle are mostly fed forages.

In addition to the high dietary proportion of forage, other reasons include the fact that a considerable part of the country is surrounded by mountainous areas where only grasslands can be used for feed production. Although crop production can be practiced in a limited area, even croplands are often utilized as grass and clover leys of high productivity and exceptionally good forage quality.

This system enforces a high price for feeds despite the fact that feeds from forage-producing farms are typically produced on their land. This keeps prices high for concentrates even when they are produced on their lands due to the high opportunity costs. In contrast to countries such as New Zealand, Swiss winters are harsh and long, requiring producers to supply large amounts of conserved feed.

The regulations requiring closed farm nutrient cycles prohibit the use of larger amounts of mineral nitrogen fertilizer through the promotion of more intensive land use. Therefore, concentrated feed is typically only given in limited amounts at the beginning of lactation and even then its proportion rarely exceeds 50%. Beef is produced in two main production methods.

The first is suckler beef, in which calves are kept with their mothers until they are naturally weaned and killed after about 10 months of age. There is no use of concentrate, except if calves need to be finished off for a short period in order to meet the 10-month limit. Part of the weaned calves is finished as SwissPrimBeef.

Second is the fattening of bulls in an indoor setting – fattening of steers is unlikely in Switzerland, where a certain amount of concentrate is allocated but its size remains less than 50% of the total diet. Growing calves on milk and milk replacer is relatively rare in Switzerland.

As another example, the IPCC (2006) default values for methane emissions from manure could be incorrect for Swiss cattle feeding systems, in that Hindrichsen et al. should have noted that their findings suggest that forage-only fed dairy cows have lower emissions than suggested.

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