Braunvieh History

Braunvieh History
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Braunvieh Performance
Brown Swiss Fable
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Fullblood vs Purebred

This is dedicated to all the Braunvieh Breeders of the world via the Internet and to all the ones who are interested in the heritage of the Braunvieh breed.  If you are interested in the history of Ulrich breeding and Braunvieh International look here.


In North America, very few breeds can prove their heritage back over hundreds of years like the Braunvieh breed can. Switzerland is a small country in Europe were there are many mountains, much rain, grass and people. This was not always that way. In the ancient times we did not have as many people but there was much grass. A cow was needed which could use the grass and perform with this grass. That is why right at the beginning, thousands and thousands of years ago they started to use a cow which is called bro brachyceros, known in English as Peat Cow. Their remains were found in the peat bogs of the alpine lakes in Switzerland. These remains date back to the Neolithic period (2000 B.C.- 800 B.C.). The Peat Cow was a small delicate cow with fine extremities and short horns. She was about 2/3 the size of a present day Braunvieh Cow. The domestication of this Peat Cow is believed to have started in Asia and was brought to Europe by Neolithic Man as he migrated West. This was long before Switzerland was a nation in 1291 A.D. At this time there were many monasteries in Switzerland. In these monasteries is were the cattle were started to be improved for there were many smart monks who were interested in cattle raising. They felt that they should start to measure the cattle and to weigh their milk production. They got the idea that they should at least weigh the milk production of every cow before they would go up the mountain in the summer time and weigh it again when they came down in the fall to see which cow had produced the most milk. This became a good habit for in Switzerland the calf is not allowed to suck on the mother but she is milked and the milk is used to make cheese or fed to the calf to make veal. This was the beginning of the making of a dual purpose cow, for they wanted a cow which would produce as much milk as possible and also be able to produce meat. It is in Switzerland more common to feed calves lots of milk and then butcher them as veal, it is not so common as here in North America to let them grow for one and half to two years and then butcher them. But what they wanted was a cow to use the grass, for with all the rain (60-80 inches of rainfall per year) there is much grass to be had. The oldest record is from the year 1050 A.D. for milk production from the Convent Muri where they started to weigh the milk production of their cows. There are many records from the 12 and 1300 from many other monasteries. The best known monastery was the one from Einsiedeln which is in the heart of Switzerland, this was where the Swiss Braunvieh cow originated. Eiensiedeln had a name all through Europe and even over to Asia that they had the biggest and best cows which existed at that time. They sold many bulls to many neighbour countries, to other monasteries and to kings. The Swiss are very independent people so it was very common in the early 1300s and 1400s (and even later) that we had different characteristics in the cows. There were people in valleys high up in the Mountains where they could not use a big, heavy cow so they had to be satisfied with a medium sized cow which produced much milk (always compared to their body weight). In the lower lands they wanted a heavier cow which could eat more roughage. This was so prominent that it even led to different characteristics in different valleys. There was also different markings, some with white bellies and some with white belts. But they were all the same breed. In the 1800s Switzerland started to organize the different breeders and they set a goal of what the breed should be. The cow was to be: brown, medium sized, dual purpose and she was to have good conformation, well muscled, good feet and legs and she has to produce a certain amount of milk or else she is not worth multiplying. This is still the goal today. In the late 1800s, the breeders started to organize themselves because it was impossible in Switzerland for small breeders who only had 5-6 cows (and 7-10 children) to buy and keep a herd bull. So they organized themselves and bought herd bulls as a co-operative. Each breeder would walk with the cow to the bull. One breeder would keep the bull for a year and then the next would keep him, thus they shared the cost of owning a herd bull. With so many breeders using one or two bulls the co-operative would make sure that the bull was a very good one. In the early 1900s the Swiss Braunvieh Association started to set standards for height and depth, and for production from the mother, Father's mother, and mother's mother. There was always a concern to improve the production because the Swiss cattle breeders depended on the export of their cattle. The Braunvieh went mostly to Italy and later on to all the neighbour countries like Germany, France, Austria, etc. The breeders always knew that the breed which had to go to so many countries and to live under so many different conditions has to be easily adaptable. This is one of the traits which is still with the breed today. The Braunvieh breed is found everywhere on the globe (except the two poles).


People often ask me why I think the Swiss cattle are better then others, especially the Braunvieh breed. Braunvieh cattle have been developed over a long period of time. What has helped the most since the Braunvieh breeders organized in a Braunvieh organization about 100 years ago is that they set certain standards and cattle which did not meet these standard could not be used as breeding stock. These standards were set to improve the breed and it is different in Switzerland then it is North America, where every animal which is recorded in the herd book can be used as breeding stock and can be multiplied and the offspring will as well be registered. This is not so in Switzerland. Before one is able to use a bull as a herd bull he must appear before two judges and they have to decide if this animal meets the minimal requirements which are set for the breed, if they feel that this bull fulfils the requirements then the offspring of this bull can be registered but this is only good for one year. The next year the bull has to come before two judges to see if he has developed to their satisfaction then if he passes this test he can be used an other year. Thus when he is between two and three years old it is decided definitely if the bull is good enough to be used in the future to produce offspring which can be registered in the herd book. Not every female can be used as breeding stock, they have to go through the same process. Two judges decide before the first calf is born if this animal is good enough to be a part of the seed stock. If the heifer is good enough then the offspring, the first calf can be registered but only if the heifer produces enough milk in the first lactation. The calf will be in the herd book indefinitely unless the heifer is not good enough in production then the first calf will loose the right to be in the herd book, and the heifer can never be registered. There is no upgrading system in Switzerland, they raise 4 different breeds (Braunvieh, Simmental, Eringer, Freiburger) but it was forbidden right from the beginning to cross the different breeds together, the the breeds had to be kept straight and clean. It is also mandatory in Switzerland that every female has to be performance tested, if you do not test them they loose the opportunity to stay in the herd book. The bulls also are performance tested according to their offspring. Switzerland has every year about 180,000 cows which are performance tested. The average production from these cows are adjusted to a lowland cow's 4th lactation. The result is 13,000 lbs. (6000kg) of milk with about 4% butterfat. All the cows are tested for their milk's protein because protein and butterfat are two things which are important to produce cheese and very important to raise big calves. For years a scale of 100 points was used to classify the bulls and females for their appearance or conformation (now a different and more confusing system is used). The association figured that if a bull or female does not have 85 points then it is not worth reproducing or to keep in the herd book and the offspring were not able to be registered. This way many offspring from good cows and bulls were eliminated for there is a policy in Switzerland which is: "keep the best and forget the rest", this is also my policy as long as I am involved in raising cattle. It is not the number of cattle that is important but the quality of the cattle. As stated before, performance testing, measurement taking on cattle is nothing new for the Braunvieh breed, it has been done for hundreds of years and one can see the results. I would encourage you to keep on with performance testing and the Braunvieh breed is not afraid to be tested, weighed, and measured. If you do so you will find out that this is the most balanced breed, the breed where everything is in proportion. I can show you on my cattle what I have stated (I can prove as a fact what other breeds only dream of). I believe this is the reason that I do not need to advertise, the Braunvieh Cattle do their own advertising and this is the best kind of advertising (I make some Braunvieh Awareness Propaganda but very little advertisement). Braunvieh is the oldest breed which is developed as a dual purpose breed, spread the farthest into the most remote countries. This is because the Braunvieh breed is not promoted but proven! It has proven itself as The Breed!


The Braunvieh breed has the characteristics to produce the type of cattle that we need.

A medium sized cow,
which produces a big calf on her own,
who is an easy keeper,
has good pigmentation,
is able to adapt to any kind of environment,
and who doesn't need special feeding.

I want cattle which can not only survive under harsh conditions, but are able to survive and produce. 


They have proven in more then 50 country around the globe that they are the breed which makes the most use of the available feed.  Be this in the lowlands of Europe or in the High Mountains of the Andes of South America or in Tropics of India or Africa, wherever you go you will find brown cattle (with Braunvieh in them).  And where ever you go you can ask the owner of the cattle what the cattle can do for them and you will be surprised by what they tell you.  For instance in India where a project was carried out in which Braunvieh were crossed with an indigenous breed (Zebu), there was an improvement in milk production, as well as other aspects, by over 300% (according to Dr. A. Mathew).   The best advertising for Braunvieh are the neighbouring countries of Switzerland which buy and use Braunvieh.  It is very interesting to notice that in Italy there are now more Braunvieh cattle than in Switzerland.  Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Russia are but a few countries that have and use Braunvieh with great success. Few Breeds can boast the same diversity and success. Some Breeds may be popular in their own country but they are not as widespread as Braunvieh.  This does not happen without the breed being good and useful.  We need a medium sized cow who has enough milk to raise a big calf (half the weight of the cow on the calf in the fall).  Braunvieh have good (black) pigmentation, black eyes therefore no cancer eye, black hooves therefore no cracks and seldom foot rot.  They are not only easy calving but the calf also has a strong will to live, rapid growth, early maturity, and excellent fertility.  Braunvieh have the genetic potential  to become very old.  It is not uncommon to have cows who are 18, 19, or even 20 years old and still producing.  I have had many animals that reached this age in Canada.  One of the most positive aspects of the Braunvieh is their ability to transmit family characteristics over many generations.  This is a result of the centuries of pure (straight) breeding.  The Braunvieh breed was never outcrossed, for it was developed within itself.  The characteristics that were wanted were refined and the rest phased out.  Any good breeder knows that if he is not able to do this then he is not a breeder.  Because this is the only way to keep a breed improving.

1997-2000 Braunvieh International All rights reserved  Last Updated: 18-Nov-2001